It’s well-known that apparel companies make Super Bowl championship gear for both teams in advance, then discard the Buffalo Bills title shirts and other memorabilia that ends up getting donated to foreign charities (somewhat controversially so, in fact). But what you’ve never seen — until now — are the THREE alternate-universe official Super Bowl footballs that Wilson, the manufacturer of every NFL ball since 1941, makes before conference-championship weekend. Wilson emblazons the name of each team on every one of the 216 balls made for the game itself; since they do all of this in the 24 hours after the Super Bowl matchup is determined, they have four prototype balls ready to go beforehand. These balls are also sent ahead of time to ESPN and the network broadcasting the Super Bowl itself so that they can be used immediately in promotional materials once the teams are set.
Below, this year’s unused prototypes. What fate awaits these newly minted collector’s items? A Wilson spokesperson says they keep close tabs on the ones in their possession, and that while they don’t specifically ask the networks for the unused balls back, the company doesn’t want them to end up on eBay. So if you do spot one, bid fast.
1. Atlanta Falcons–Baltimore Ravens
Or, what might have been had Matt Ryan converted that fourth-and-4 late in the NFC Championship.
2. San Francisco 49ers–New England Patriots
What might have happened had Tom Brady not lost his most reliable target to a broken arm.
3. Atlanta Falcons–New England Patriots
What might have happened had everything that occurred on Championship Sunday gone in the complete opposite direction.
Alas, a brotherly battle between the 49ers and Ravens is what the football gods have offered up for this Sunday’s extravaganza, and this football here is the genuine article. Accept no substitute.