Super Bowl ring auction uncovers factual fumble
An unidentified Steelers fan who didn't want to see pieces of the team's history leave town yesterday purchased two Steelers Super Bowl rings in an eBay auction for more than $66,000.
Even though one of the pieces has a tiny flaw.
The rings, commemorating the team's victories in Super Bowls IX and X in 1975 and 1976, had been the property of a Steelers front-office employee whose estate is undergoing a bankruptcy sale.
A story in the July 11 edition of the Post-Gazette previewed the weeklong Internet auction that came to an end yesterday afternoon. A large photograph of a Super Bowl IX ring, honoring the team's defeat of the Minnesota Vikings, accompanied the story.
The ring has the wrong score for the Steelers-Bills game.
An astute reader -- who could only be described as a die-hard Steelers fan -- took a close look at the ring and noticed something amiss. The score of the Steelers' first-round playoff game against Buffalo, engraved on the side of the ring, was wrong.
The final score of the game was Steelers 32, Bills 14.
The ring says Steelers 32, Bills 6.
A check with Jostens, the Minneapolis-based jeweler that produced the rings, proved that while the Steelers' original design had the accurate score, the ring molds -- which the company keeps in a large vault -- show the wrong score. And no one ever noticed or corrected it.
"I'll be damned," said Joe Gordon, who headed the Steelers public relations and marketing from 1969 to 1998. "I find it almost impossible to believe because so many of us checked it."
Mr. Gordon, who keeps his four Super Bowl rings in a Downtown safe deposit box, estimated that 70 Super Bowl IX rings were made and handed out to players, coaches and front-office workers. As is the case with nearly all Super Bowl rings, the design was penciled out by the team's owner. In this case, he said, that would have been Dan Rooney, acting on behalf of his father, Art Rooney Sr.
"Anytime something of that magnitude is involved, Dan Rooney would have handled it," Mr. Gordon said. "And Dan is so meticulous in everything he does. I find it almost incomprehensible."
If someone had noticed the wrong score, Mr. Gordon said, the team would have had Jostens correct or replace them.
"Because it's an incorrect ring and it has historical significance," he said. "It was the first Super Bowl in Steelers history. I'm positive we would have made Jostens do it over again."
But a Jostens employee confirmed that no such correction request ever came.
Not after 30 days. Not after 30 years.
"That's what blows me away," Mr. Gordon said. "When [a ring is] distributed, you coddle it, you look at it, you stare at it. It's a cherished memento, it's so significant. And you do it again and again. How it could possibly go unnoticed is beyond my belief. It's funny, but I'm also a little bit dismayed."
When told of the error, retired Steelers running back Rocky Bleier, who lives in Mt. Lebanon, checked his ring.
"I wear them all the time," said Mr. Bleier, who scored the Steelers' first touchdown in that Bills playoff game with a 27-yard reception. "I give presentations and people always want to see them. And nobody ever noticed the score.
"But I'd bet most of the guys wouldn't remember the scores anyway. I'm not sure I ever looked at the scores. And now my eyes are so bad, I can't see them."
Still, the error doesn't appear to have affected the ring's worth. It sold yesterday on eBay for $32,751 after receiving 77 bids.
The ring for Super Bowl X against the Dallas Cowboys sold for $34,100 after 55 bids.
Fred Fall, of Fall Liquidators in Oakmont, handled the estate sale and said most of the action was among three determined bidders. In the last five minutes of the auction, he said, the offers shot from $20,000 to more than $32,000.
Mr. Fall would not identify the winning bidder for the rings other than to say he's a local Steelers fan who wanted to make sure "the rings are staying in Steeler Nation."
All of the money from the sale, minus costs, will go to pay the debts of the former Steelers employee.
Asked whether the rings brought in more money than expected, Mr. Fall said, "I've learned over 25-plus years that you try to be conservative, you don't overestimate. I thought in my own heart that $25,000 was a realistic number."
As far as the flaw is concerned, he said, it's unlikely to add to the value of the ring, the way errors impact coins and stamps.
"It's a flaw, but it's a universal flaw," he said. "If there were five wrong and the rest were OK, then it might have been worth a hell of a lot more."
First Published July 22, 2008 12:00 am