SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
A.J. Jacobs of Esquire Magazine, who is our resident expert on more or less nothing, but he is entertaining, joins us this Super Bowl weekend to promote more myths about football, its history, its origins and its blah, blah, blah. A.J. Jacobs joins us from New York. Thanks so much of being with us AJ.
A.J. JACOBS: Always a pleasure to be here and be mildly insulted.
SIMON: What's a - (laughter) oh, oh. What's a nice Jewish boy like you talking about pigskin?
JACOBS: (Laughter) Well, the good part is the football is not pigskin, so it could be kosher. Footballs are actually cowskin. They're made of cow leather and rubber. No pigs at all. The nickname is probably a holdover from a primitive version of football in the Middle Ages when players use inflated pig bladders.
SIMON: Forgive me for following up on this, but is oblong the shape of a pig's bladder?
JACOBS: Well, yes, they are hard to find regulation spherical pigs' bladders, apparently. But the official name for that oblong shape is actually prolate spheroid - very catchy. Actually, there is one coach in history, John Heisman, the...
SIMON: Heisman Trophy?
JACOBS: Of Heisman Trophy fame, exactly.
JACOBS: And he loved to call it the prolate spheroid. But I guess it didn't catch on. But he was also - he was one of the scariest coaches because one of his lines in his pep talks was, it is better to have died as a small boy than to fumble the football.
JACOBS: So, yeah, basically tough love without the love part.
SIMON: And I understand Edgar Allen Poe has a role in developing modern football?
JACOBS: Well, I do like to say Edgar Allen Poe invented the football helmet even though it's not technically true. First of all, it was Edgar Allen Poe the third, who is the grandnephew of the poet, and he played for Princeton in the early 1900s. And it wasn't the helmet. It was a nose guard, a metal and leather nose guard. But still, it was one of the first steps toward protective headgear. And plus, as you know, Edgar Allen Poe wrote "The Raven," and that's why the Baltimore Ravens are called the Ravens. So you got that Poe/football connection is very strong, undeniable.
SIMON: I want to put you on the spot, A.J. Of course, Super Bowl is tomorrow but next week is the New Hampshire primary. Can you use all of your trivial knowledge to come up with a link between football and politics?
JACOBS: Yes. In fact, the presidents in the past have meddled with professional football, especially JFK. I'm a fan of his in general. But he helped the Green Bay Packers win the 1961 NFL championships and beat the New York Giants, which is my team. So I hold a little grudge. What happened was this was 1961, the Berlin Wall crisis was underway. And one of the Green Bay Packers' star players had been called away on military duty. He was a reservist. So the head coach of the Green Bay Packers, Vince Lombardi, famous coach, friends with JFK. And he called JFK and asked if JFK would release one of the players for the weekend. And JFK did. And the Packers won. And so basically JFK put our country at risk for the sake of the Green Bay Packers.
SIMON: Well, first thing's first, right?
JACOBS: It's true.
SIMON: A.J. Jacobs's current project is to prove he's related to everyone on the planet, including all of us, as part of The Global Family Reunion. A.J., thanks very much.
JACOBS: Thank you, cousin Scott.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.