Super Bowl VII: Larry Little of the undefeated 1972 Super Bowl Champion Miami Dolphins shows off his super bowl ring after their first White House ceremony honoring their historic season on August 20, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Photo: The Washington Post
Photo: The Washington Post

Archdeacon: The bling is the thing for Super Bowl champs

Super Bowl rings are the preeminent piece of jewelry in sports

He may have lost a step, but he hasn’t lost his Super Bowl ring.

“Everybody always wants to look at it and try it on or take a photo with it and I used to say, ’Yeah, you’re not faster than me, so go ahead, you can put it on,’” Jim Lachey said with a chuckle. “But I can’t say that anymore. Not at 55. So now I just make sure the door is closed first.”

The former St. Henry High School and Ohio State star whose 11-year NFL career was crowned by that championship ring he won with the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XXVI was joking.

And then again, he wasn’t.

Super Bowl rings are the preeminent piece of jewelry in sports. They symbolize the pinnacle of accomplishment in the same way an Oscar, a Grammy or a Pulitzer Prize do, but with much more sparkle.

The most recent ring – awarded to the Philadelphia Eagles for their 41-33 upset the New England Patriots last February – has 219 diamonds and 17 gold sapphires embedded in 10-karat white gold.

Eagles tackle Brandon Brooks – who played at Miami University – got one, making him, like Lachey, part of a select group of some 16 NFL players from the Miami Valley who have won a Super Bowl ring.

But greatness does not guarantee a ring. Players like Dan Marino, Barry Sanders, Jim Kelly, Anthony Munoz, Eric Dickerson, Earl Campbell and Warren Moon have none.

Longevity doesn’t mean a ring either.

Jim Lachey poses with his super bowl ring in his home Friday Jan. 28, 2005 in Marble Cliff, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
Photo: columnist

When he was a young player with the San Diego Chargers, Lachey remembers being in the huddle with veteran guard Ed White: “He played 17 years in the league, went to four Super Bowls with the Vikings and never won once.”

He recalled other guys on that team – wide receiver Charlie Joiner was a pro 18 years, quarterback Dan Fouts played 15 years and receiver Wes Chandler had 11 NFL years – and none of them ever won a ring either.

While it takes good fortune to get one of those oversized, diamond-filled showpieces, it also takes hard work.

Yet, while a ring must be earned, it also can end up lost, seized for back taxes as was the case with Dallas’ linebacker Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson, sold to pay for dental work, which is what Oakland Raiders cornerback Lester Hayes did, or simply stolen.

And that brings us to the brazen encounter Russian president Vladimir Putin had with Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots, who face the Los Angeles Rams today in Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta.

In 2005, Kraft was with some other businessmen on a trip to Moscow. They met Putin and Kraft showed him his ring commemorating the Patriots victory in Super Bowl XXXIX.

The Russian president looked it over, grinned and, supposedly said, “I can kill someone with this ring.”

As Putin continued to hang onto it, Kraft said he put out his hand to get it back. Instead he said the Russian president dropped the ring into his own pocket. That’s when Kraft said “three KGB guys” shielded Putin, who promptly did an about face and walked out.

Kraft wanted the ring back, but has said he was urged by George W. Bush’s White House not to make an issue over the theft, that it might damage U.S.-Russia relations.

So initially, Kraft released a statement saying he gave the ring to Putin as a present to show respect for the Russian people. But a few years ago in an interview, he admitted that was not true. He claimed the ring had been taken by Putin.

The late Senator John McCain is said to have tried — unsuccessfully — to get it back. Putin claims it was a gift and today that ring is on display in the Kremlin.

But at least Kraft knows where it is

The late Gene Upshaw, a Hall of Fame guard on two Oakland Raiders Super Bowl title teams, had no clue about one of his.

He put one of the rings in a miniature safe that looked like a Pepsi can.

The maid, assuming the can was empty, threw it out and it never was found again.

The Super Bowl - By the Numbers

Lachey said he keeps his ring — won when the Redskins topped Buffalo, 37-24, at the Metrodome in Minneapolis — in the box it came in.

“I wear it maybe a dozen times a year when I go to something football related or to an awards banquet,” he said. “Sometimes like this past week – because it’s been Super Bowl Week – I’ll wear it to some events.”

He said it doesn’t quite fit like it once did:

“Back then, my hands were a little more swollen up from punching guys all the time on the line. So now it still fits, but it’s a little bit looser.

“It’s one of those things where I still love to wear it, but I don’t want to lose it. So you’re always double checking: ‘OK, where did I put it? Is it on my dresser? Is it on my desk? Did I leave it in the console in my car? Did I leave it on the sink in the bathroom when I washed my hands?’”

That’s exactly what happened to New England’s rookie linebacker Tully Banta-Cain after the Patriots won Super Bowl XXXVIII. He left his 14-karat white gold ring with 105 diamonds on a restroom sink at a Providence, Rhode Island mall.

New England Patriots tackle Matt Light (72) celebrates the Patriots 24-21 win over the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville, Fla., on Sunday, Feb. 6, 2005. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Photo: columnist

When he realized what he’d done, he went back but it was gone.

Matt Light – the Pro Bowl lineman out of Greenville High School who won three Super Bowl rings with the Patriots and was enshrined in their Hall of Fame last fall – was on that team.

Light’s mom, Marilyn, heard about the anguish the rookie had gone through and told me about it soon after:

“He was sick. He spent the whole next day at church – praying.”

In the end his prayers were answered.

A Waltham, Massachusetts man had found the ring, took it home for a night and slept with it under his pillow. The next day – after showing it off to his friends — he called the Patriots and returned it.

They’ve come a long way

The Green Bay Packers’ ring for winning Super Bowl I was designed by coach Vince Lombardi himself. It was made of 10-karat gold, had a one-carat diamond on the face and the Lombardi family crest on the side. It cost $750.

In contrast, the Patriots’ Super Bowl XLIX ring – designed by Jostens, the Minneapolis company that’s now made 34 of the 52 championship rings – reportedly is the most expensive, costing $36,500.

The NFL contributes $5,000 per ring for 150 rings and the winning team foots the rest of the bill. And teams order anywhere from 300 to 900 rings depending on how many the owner wants to give out.

Besides the 53 players on the roster, coaches, players’ wives, ball boys, secretaries and many others associated with the team may receive rings. The more marginal the person, the more scaled down the ring might be.

After one of Oakland’s victories, owner Al Davis gave Frank Sinatra a ring.

The largest championship ring ever made went to Chicago Bears defensive lineman William “Refrigerator” Perry, whose Super Bowl XX keepsake was a size 25.

New England quarterback Tom Brady and retired linebacker Charles Haley, who played with San Francisco and Dallas, have each won five Super Bowl rings, the most by any player.

From the Miami Valley, Light and former Dallas Cowboys offensive tackle Erik Williams, who played and briefly coached at Central State, have won three Super Bowl rings.

FILE — Dallas Cowboys’ Erik Williams is shown in this 1997 file photo. After spending the last month deciding whether he still wanted to play football, Williams rejoined his Dallas Cowboys teammates Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2000 to finally start preparing for the upcoming season. (AP Photo/File)
Photo: columnist

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who first played for the Miami RedHawks, has two. And today the Patriot’s young offensive guard, Joe Thuney from Alter High School, will be going for his second ring, as well.

At least 12 other players, as well as several coaches and front office people with Miami Valley ties, have won one ring.

While the great Walter Payton won just one — as part of the Super Bowl XX champion Chicago Bears – the story of his ring is one of the most unbelievable in NFL history.In the mid-1990s, he was a volunteer assistant basketball coach at Hoffman Estates High outside Chicago. One of the player’s parents hosted a team party and Payton — who had retired from the NFL nearly a decade earlier — brought along his Super Bowl ring so the kids could try it on.

But what began as a lesson in trust ended up in a hectic search for a ring suddenly missing. The police were brought in, there were rumors, but in the end, no ring.

That’s where Los Angeles Times reporter Sam Farmer picked up the story recently and told about a guy named Phil Hong, who was not at the party or on the team, but was friends with family who hosted the gathering.

A few years later they moved away and gave him any of their leftover furniture he wanted. He took an old couch, which in the coming years made seven moves with him.

Farmer told how when Hong was finishing his degree at Purdue University in 2001, his new red Dobermann puppy was trying to reach a chewed-up ball that had rolled under the couch. The dog kept swiping his paw at it and in the process tore the lining on the bottom of the couch.

Out dropped Walter Payton’s Super Bowl ring.

It likely had fallen between the cushions at that party many years before.

Sadly, by the time Hong made the discovery, Payton had died of cancer. After several attempts to connect with the family, he finally was able to return the ring to Payton’s appreciative widow, Connie.

From St. Henry to Columbus

Before he was an All American guard at Ohio State and then a first round draft pick of the Chargers in 1985, Lachey helped lead St. Henry to a 26-0 basketball season and the state crown in 1979.

That’s when he first got a taste of the bonds that come among players on a championship team.

6 Oct 1991: Offensive lineman Jim Lachey of the Washington Redskins blocks a Chicago Bears player during a game at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Redskins won the game, 20-7. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Daniel /Allsport
Photo: columnist

In the NFL, Lachey — who had become an all All-Pro tackle with San Diego and then was traded to the Raiders and on to Washington — said he felt that champion connection again the Saturday night before Super Bowl XXVI:

“We had a guy named Monte Coleman. He was in the league 16 years. We used to call him ‘Three Decades’ because he had played in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s.

“We were pretty close. We flew next to each other on the (team) flights. We had an exit row and he was on the outside and I was on the inside. We did that for probably six or seven years.

“And that night he gets up and says, ‘Hey guys, I’ve been blessed to have gone to a couple of these Super Bowls, but look around the room.’ He paused, then finally said, ‘This room won’t be the same next year. It never is. It’s constantly changing. Hell, it’s not the same as the opening day roster.

“’So just look at this group ‘cause the guys in here have done something special. And now let’s go finish it.’

“That’s when it hit me: ‘That’s what this is about. It’s this group of guys, this moment when you’ve put it all together to win it all.’

“And that’s what the ring means to me. The money comes and goes, but with the ring I think about all the guys, all the situations of the season.

“I think about Monte Coleman and Mark Rypien, Art Monk and The Hogs (as the offensive line as known.) I think of trying to block Charles Mann (the Pro Bowl defensive end) in practice and Donnie Warner, who busted his ankle in a preseason scrimmage with Pittsburgh.

“We thought, ‘Oh no! This is not good!’ But then a guy named Ronnie Middleton out of Auburn steps up and we had Mike Tice come in.

“There are just so many memories, so many stories and this ring brings them all back.”

With that in mind, I remember going to Oxford to visit Weeb Ewbank a few years before he died in 1998. A former Miami University player and coach, he later had led the New York Jets to a stunning 16-7 Super Bowl III upset of the Baltimore Colts.

He and his wife Lucy – the local postmaster’s daughter whom he’d married in 1926 – lived in a red brick home surrounded by flower beds. On my visit, Glenn Miller was on the radio and the smell of just-baked pumpkin bread came from the kitchen.

As Weeb led the way to the basement – where he had a museum crammed with memorabilia – Lucy chided him for still wearing an old, ratty Jets’ sweatshirt he’d worn while working in the yard. It was stained with dirt, but all I noticed was his left hand, where nearly 2 carats of diamonds sparkled on a Super Bowl ring which also was engraved with his mantra, “Poise and Execution.”

That’s when he confirmed a story I’d once heard.

After his team won, he decided the players should get championship watches rather than rings like the Packers had gotten for winning Super Bowls I and II.

He ended up relenting when a group of players — led by quarterback Joe Namath – put a foot down and then stuck out their ring fingers.

As we talked, Weeb looked down at his ring and said the same thing Lachey did:

“Brings back a lot of memories.”

Players with three Super Bowl rings:

Matt Light – Greenville High, New England Patriots tackle.

Erik Williams – Central State, Dallas Cowboys tackle.

Player with two rings:

Ben Roethlisberger - Miami RedHawks, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback

Players with one ring:

Jake Ballad – Springboro High, Ohio State, New York Giants tight end

Brandon Brooks – Miami University, Philadelphia Eagles guard

David Bruton – Miamisburg High, Denver Broncos safety

Derek Bunch – Meadowdale High, Washington Redskins linebacker replacement player

Tom Crabtree – Miami University, Green Bay Packers tight end

Jim Cordle – current Urbana University assistant coach, Ohio State, New York Giants center

Na’Shan Goddard – Dunbar High, New York Giants practice squad tackle

Shane Hannah – Valley View High, Dallas Cowboys guard

Jeff Hartings – St. Henry High, Pittsburgh Steelers center

A.J. Hawk – Centerville High, Ohio State, Green Bay Packers linebacker

Jim Lachey – St. Henry High, Ohio State, Washington Redskins tackle

Cody Latimer – Jefferson High, Denver Broncos receiver

Joe Thuney – Alter High, New England Patriots tackle

Jordan Hicks, Lakota West High, Philadelphia Eagles

Troy Evans, Lakota High, New Orleans Saints

NFL Head Coaches with a ring:

Weeb Ewbank – Miami University player and coach, New York Jets

John Harbaugh – Miami University player, Baltimore Ravens

Jon Gruden – University of Dayton player, Tampa Bay

Chuck Noll – University of Dayton player, Pittsburgh Steelers (4 rings)

Sean Payton – Miami University coach, New Orleans

Top front office executives with rings:

John McVay – University of Dayton coach, San Francisco 49ers (5 rings)

Chuck Noll – University of Dayton player, former Steelers coach, then exec. (2 rings)

Rick Smith – Meadowdale High, Denver Broncos (2 rings)

Several assistant coaches and other front office people have won rings, as well.

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