It's been nine years since Brenden Stai last saw a ring he earned with the Steelers when they played in Super Bowl XXX.
But thanks to an alert screener for a company that buys gold, the ring is in the process of being returned while police in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., pursue an investigation. The ring was being used for nefarious activities by someone claiming to be Stai, according to the authorities.
"It's an amazing thing. I thought it was dead and gone," Stai said in a telephone interview yesterday. "Getting that ring back means a lot just for its intrinsic value."
Stai, an offensive guard who played on Nebraska's national championship team, was a rookie with the Steelers in 1995.
The 10-karat gold ring, with onyx and diamonds as insets, was given to the players who won the AFC title game and lost to the Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX. It's been valued at about $3,000.
Stai later signed with the Kansas City Chiefs, and he last remembered seeing it the day he got traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars before the start of the 2000 season.
"It was sitting on my Rolodex when I got the call I had been traded. Then everything became a whirlwind," Stai said.
After the move to Jacksonville, Stai was unable to locate the ring and figured it was lost or stolen. He contacted the Steelers and got permission to have a replica made.
In 2001, while he was playing for the Detroit Lions, Stai was contacted by NFL security and informed that somebody in Florida was using the ring to claim that he was the football player.
The man allegedly tried to extort cash and impress women, and the ring was placed on a stolen property list circulated by law enforcement.
Then in late February, a screener with a company that buys gold items noticed the ring and informed his superiors at Cash4Gold of Pompano Beach, Fla. The company pays cash for gold rings, chains, necklaces and earrings, and business has been booming during the abysmal economy.
"We handle two million individual pieces a week, but this shows you the level of security we use," said Jeff Aronson, chief executive officer of Cash4Gold. "That ring was days away from turning up in a pot of molten metal.
"I can only imagine the thrill of being a rookie and getting a ring only to have it stolen from you. It had to have been gut wrenching."
Cash4Gold has a policy in which it holds an item for 15 days. In Stai's case, police were contacted as the ring was being held. It showed up on a stolen property list, and authorities began putting the pieces of the puzzle together.
With the ring in their possession, Fort Lauderdale police verified its rightful owner and shipped it to Stai, who lives in Nebraska but still has a house in the Pittsburgh area.
They are investigating the person who sent the ring to Cash4Gold and any possible connection to the person who tried to steal Stai's identity.
"My in-laws got the call that the ring had turned up, minus the onyx and the diamonds," Stai said. "Even though I had the replica, it didn't have the sentimental value of the original. I'll always be linked to the Steelers."
Cash4Gold said it was rewarding to be part of a story that has a happy ending.
"To be able to return it to him thrills me," Aronson said. "He's getting his ring back. He's getting those memories back."
Robert Dvorchak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .