Championship rings prized hidden treasures
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Winning two Super Bowls helped John Elway cement his football legacy and punch his ticket to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. So why does Elway seldom, if ever, wear his rings from Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII?
Because given their worth, their weight and how uncomfortable they are to wear, it isn't worth the hassle. He'd be just as likely to wear the Lombardi Trophy on his finger.
"The rings are my prized possessions," Elway said. "They're better than any trophy I ever received. I don't wear them because they're way too big. You can't put your hand in your pocket when you have it on."
So the crown jewels from Elway's storied career rest in a safe, where they'll stay until his kids inherit them.
Likewise, Goose Gossage's 1978 World Series ring sits in a gun safe, having not seen the light of day, or felt the touch of skin for years, if not decades.
"I couldn't tell you the last time I had it on," Gossage said. "I never wear rings. I never wear jewelry, period. If I put that thing on, I'd have to wear my wedding ring or my wife would get mad at me."
All you ever hear from players is that they want to win a ring. But once they finally have one in their grasp, they tuck it away in a dark place?
The answer is yes.
For most players, the ring is the thing only while it's being pursued, not worn out on the town. Championship rings, which typically weigh 2 to 4 ounces and can cost upwards of $30,000, are too gawdy and cumbersome to wear every day.
How cumbersome? The late Georgia Frontiere, who owned the St. Louis Rams when they won Super Bowl XXXIV, had her ring specially made to fit over two fingers because one couldn't accommodate such a blob of bling.
"These rings get gawdier by the year," said Bill Vizas, owner of Bill's Sports Collectibles in Denver. "You have to be 6-6 and 300 pounds to wear one. I put one on one time and it took up half my hand."
What matters to players is the sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that only a championship season can produce. It's the special camaraderie, the unique bond felt by the players on a championship team. The ring typically becomes a family heirloom, not a fashion statement.
"After you take a few pictures, you kind of want to put it away," said Mark Schlereth, Elway's teammate on the Broncos' back-to-back Super Bowl teams. "It's not so much the ring, but what the ring symbolizes. It's about the unselfish attitude on a team, the ability of a bunch of players to put their egos aside and focus on one thing."
Said John Lynch, a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Super Bowl XXXVIII team: "Don't get me wrong, the jewelry is cool, but more than anything, it's a reminder of what it took to win it. That's something they can never take away from you."
Championship rings, a staple in professional sports since the early years of the World Series, don't just symbolize championships. They tell stories, too. Some are funny, others sad.
There's one about New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft whose ring story is borderline unbelievable.
Kraft was part of a group of American businessmen who visited Russia in 2005. During a meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin, Kraft took off his Super Bowl ring and showed it to his host. Putin put it in his pocket and walked away. Today, the ring is part of a display in the Kremlin.
Some championship rings get lost on the street. Others get lost in translation.
Elway almost lost his Super Bowl XXXII ring moments after receiving it at a party at Broncos owner Pat Bowlen's home. Kool and the Gang were entertaining when Elway and teammate Alfred Williams began dancing on stage. When the two tried to high five each other, Elway's ring took flight and his twin sister, Jana, had to chase it down.
Now, more than ever, players are selling their championship rings. First, they are more transient than ever, so they're more likely to leave a team and lose their emotional attachment to their rings. Then there's the economy, which has squeezed many athletes, making a ring that can bring a few thousand dollars -- or tens of thousands, depending on the stature of the player -- an easy option.
California businessman Tim Robins launched Championship-Rings.net in 2002. In an average year, he receives about 1,200 rings, but he estimated the number at closer to 1,900 in 2009.
"I just felt there was a niche," said Robins, who earlier in his career worked for the Home Shopping Network. "We picked up one, we picked up another, and we just kept on growing. It's usually drugs, divorce or death [that prompts a player or the family to sell a ring]. Now you can add the economy to that."
Robins' inventory has varied from a 1913 Philadelphia A's World Series ring to a 1971 Utah Stars ABA championship ring to a 1994 Baltimore Stallions CFL Eastern Division championship ring.
Robins is intensely protective of his clients' identities, but some names have become public. Former Chicago Bull Randy Brown auctioned off his 1996, '97 and '98 NBA championship rings for $53,833 as part of a bankruptcy filing.
Jose Canseco, who blew the whistle on steroid use in baseball, has sold virtually every award he won, including his 1986 American League rookie of the year award for $5,100 and his 1988 AL MVP award for $30,000.
Former running back Cedric Cobbs sold a Super Bowl ring he won with the New England Patriots as part of a bankruptcy filing in Denver. Meanwhile, according to Robins, an unidentified Broncos staff member has attempted to or has sold a Super Bowl XXXII ring for $24,995.
A handful of New York Giants players sold their rings after the team's victory in Super Bowl XLII. Most of the players were still on the Giants' roster.
"One player was called in by the owner and told to buy the ring back," Robins said. "He wound up paying three times what he sold it for."
First Published February 7, 2010 12:00 am