The NFL football has eight laces (also known as cross stitches) made of heated and melted plastic pellets that are stitched through sixteen holes in the top of the football. NCAA and high school footballs usually have laces made of rubber and some high school balls can have up to 12 laces. Originally the laces were used to hold the football together but when the forward pass was invented, teams quickly learned that the laces were the best place to grip the ball to get both accuracy and distance on their passes.
As a former quarterback, I never really thought about why the laces existed on a football. I never had the best arm, but prided myself on my accuracy and throwing a tight spiral. But I was amazed to learn the practical history of the laces and cross stitch, and how compatible they were with throwing.
In this article, we’ll explain some terminology that can be confusing like what the difference is between a lace and cross stitch. We’ll also discuss the invention of the forward pass and the early success of St. Louis University and Eddie Cochems, the “Father of the Forward Pass.”
- The NFL and NCAA football have eight stitches. Some high school footballs can have up to 12 laces.
- NFL laces are made of plastic while college and high school balls have laces and stitches usually made of rubber.
- Laces were originally used to stitch the football together, but were found to be the best way to throw when the forward pass was first used in 1906.
What’s a Lace and What’s a Cross Stitch?
If you want to get technical, the long vertical piece that runs vertically to the top of the football’s seam is considered the “lace.” The eight horizontal pieces running perpendicular to it are considered the cross stitches. 
In the NFL, both the laces and the cross stitches are made of heated plastic pellets by a production company based in Massachusetts. 
The laces in college football are much different. The NCAA uses rubber cross stitches and laces for their footballs. These are more flexible and forgiving, but some professional quarterbacks like Matt Ryan prefer the NFL’s more “old school” style. 
“The biggest transition for me was going from the college ball to the NFL ball.” Ryan told ESPN.com. “The laces are different in college; that ball has, like, rubber-molded laces, so your hand has to be further out on the ball. The NFL ball has, like, real old-school laces. I love throwing the NFL ball.” 
Why Does a Football Need Laces?
Originally, laces weren’t used to help quarterbacks throw. Instead, before the forward pass had been “invented,” the laces were used to hold the football together at the seam. These were not the plastic or rubber laces that we know today. The stitching wasn’t as prominent and didn’t stick out from the football, but was used to simply keep it stitched tightly together. 
When the forward pass first started to gain prominence at the college level, teams struggled to find efficient ways to throw the oval-shaped ball accurately. But Eddie Cochems, head coach of St. Louis University discovered in 1906 that the best way to throw a spiral was to grip the football by the laces.
The new throwing method worked fantastically for Cochems and St. Louis and the university went undefeated in 1906. 
I love the story of a football’s laces and how they served as a practical function at the inception of the sport. But with the invention of the forward pass, they became a critical aspect of the sport and Cochem’s invention became probably the most influential and ingenious revolution that football has seen.
Can you imagine football without the forward pass or laces? What would football look like without laces or the forward pass? Let us know in the comments below.