Superbowl XLIV, here's a post on a football of a different kind. The nuclear football is a briefcase that is carried by a military aide who is always in the presence of the President of the United States. It has the power to unleash a devastating attack the likes of which the world has thankfully never seen.
The briefcase is loaded with communications equipment such that it to functions as a mobile command center when the president is away from the White House situation room. It reportedly contains a the "Black Book" of retaliatory options to respond to a nuclear attack, a book listing classified site locations where the president could be taken in an emergency, a manila folder packet outlining Emergency Broadcast System procedures, and a card with authentication codes. The retaliatory options are ranked in order of severity as "rare, medium, or well done." The president carries a special plastic card nicknamed "the biscuit" which would positively identify him in the event that he authorized a nuclear strike. The orders would then have to be verified by the Secretary of Defense.
The football dates back to the Eisenhower era, but we owe it's current incarnation to JFK. President Kennedy was concerned during the Cuban Missile Crisis that a Cuban commander could launch a nuclear strike without the authorization of Moscow. In response, a retaliatory plan was devised codenamed "Dropkick." Hence, the nuclear football.
The aide who carries the football is an armed United States military officer who has undergone the nation's most rigorous background check, Yankee White. The officer must always keep the football within ready access of the President at all times. Thus, such an officer is always standing near the President, riding in his motorcade, or on Air Force One. The football is usually connected to the wrist of the officer with a leather strap.
Despite all this security, several presidents have left the football behind. Most recently, President Bill Clinton was separated from the football when leaving a NATO summit in haste. The military aide responsible for the football walked the half mile to the White House and President Clinton was reunited with him uneventfully. Past separations include President Reagan being separated from the football after an assassination attempt, President Carter leaving the card containing nuclear launch codes in his jacket when sending it for dry cleaning, and President Ford leaving the football on Air Force One during a summit meeting.
One of the last things a president-elect does before his inauguration is receive a briefing on operating procedures surrounding the football. He doesn't get the card with the launch codes until after the inauguration, however.
Bonus trivia: the briefcase used for the football is manufactured by Zero Halliburton, the preferred maker of iconic aluminum briefcases for spy movies and television shows.