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Author Topic: Super Bowl bling  (Read 739 times)
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« on: February 03, 2007, 12:43:30 PM »

MIAMI — The call came at 2 a.m., jarring Dallas Cowboys executive Gil Brandt from his sleep.

It was the sheriff of Amarillo, Texas. He said he had quarterback Roger Staubach in jail, arrested for being drunk and disorderly.

"Roger?" sputtered Brandt, knowing Staubach to be one of the most straight-arrow members of the team. "Are you sure? How do you know it's really him?"

But the sheriff had Staubach cold: The boozer was wearing his Super Bowl ring.

"I don't think that's Roger," Brandt said. "Check if he's a ring salesman and call me back."

Sure enough, the fellow behind bars was a ring peddler wearing his most impressive sample, one sure to turn every head in the bar.

"It's a badge of honor, an attention-getter," Brandt said. "If I'm on an airplane wearing mine, people will walk up the aisle to see it. … Everybody says, 'Can I wear it? Can I put it on my finger?' And it doesn't hurt when you're trying to get into a restaurant with an hour wait either."

Players from this year's Super Bowl champion will each take home winner's shares of $73,000, but somewhere along the line — there doesn't appear to have been a seminal moment — winning "the ring" became a euphemism for every athlete's ultimate goal. Never mind that each ring is worth only a fraction of what a title is worth in bonuses.

In the NFL, the bling-bling is the thing.

Consider the oft-told tale of Phil Hong, a Purdue student, who in 2001 made an astounding discovery in his off-campus apartment while playing with his dog.

Fishing out a toy from under his beat-up brown couch, Hong retrieved something heavy and metal — the diamond-encrusted Super Bowl ring of Chicago Bears great Walter Payton.

Although Payton had died two years earlier, the mystery of his missing ring had baffled his family since the mid-1990s. It was lost, according to numerous reports, when he was a volunteer assistant basketball coach at Hoffman Estates High outside Chicago.

In order to build trust among the players and teach them to take risks, Payton put the ring in their care. The players, in turn, set up a schedule allowing them each to take the ring home overnight.

Then, the worst. Nick Abruzzo, one of the players, lost the ring while it was in his care. That triggered a frantic search by team members and parents, but to no avail.

Hong was friends with Nick's younger brother, Joe, and got the sagging sofa from him, dragging it through three moves. Finally, the ring fell out of the torn fabric on the bottom, and Hong discovered it and promptly drove to Chicago to return it to Payton's widow, Connie.

Like Payton was, Lynn Swann is comfortable putting his Super Bowl rings — he has four of them — into the hands of starry-eyed kids. The former star receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who last year failed in his bid to become governor of Pennsylvania, typically takes a couple of rings with him when he makes public appearances. Invariably, they wind up on someone else's finger.

"I've given them away in parades," he said. "I'm campaigning and a kid would chase after me and say, 'Can I see your Super Bowl ring?' I'd take it off, I'd give it to him and I'd leave. Go off and do my thing …"

An assistant was charged with staying behind to make sure it was returned.

"People are curious," Swann said. "A Super Bowl ring is hard to get, and how many people get a chance to hold one or put it on? Very often I'll give it to people and they'll put it on and take pictures with the ring on. Why wear a piece of jewelry that big if you didn't want people to see it? And if they see it, why not let them hold it?"

Holding it is one thing. Keeping it is another. But New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft knows all about that.

Two years ago, during a business meeting in Russia between American business executives and Vladimir V. Putin, Kraft removed his Super Bowl XXXIX ring and let the Russian president admire it.

But something was lost in translation — namely, the ring.

Putin thought Kraft was giving it to him, putting the five-karat, $25,000 bauble on his finger and thanking his new friend for his generous gift.

A team spokesman said that Kraft, pleased that Putin liked it so much — and perhaps wanting to avoid an international incident — let him keep it, and ordered a replacement.

Vince Lombardi designed the first pro football championship ring for his 1965 Green Bay Packers a couple of years before the first Super Bowl. It was round with a single diamond, a ring as unpretentious as the coach. Each year, it seems, the bauble gets a bit bigger.

The Patriots' most recent keepsake, representing their third championship in four seasons, was the largest Super Bowl ring ever produced by Jostens, the Denton, Texas company that has designed 27 of the league's 40 rings. It weighs 4.06 ounces and features 124 diamonds set in white gold. On the crown is a depiction of three Lombardi Trophies. One New England player referred to it as a "three-bar-stool ring," meaning a person three seats away could make out its detail.

The NFL helps foot the bill for the rings, paying up to $5,000 each for up to 150 rings for the championship teams, and up to $2,500 each for the same number of runner-up rings or charms. It's a far cry from when legendary Chicago Bears coach George Halas rewarded the players on the 1933 NFL championship team with bear-shaped blankets.

The biggest individual ring Jostens has made belongs to former Bears defensive tackle William "Refrigerator" Perry, a size-23 large enough to pass a half-dollar through. The one said to be the most valuable as far as collectors are concerned belongs to former New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath, who in 1969 made good on his bold prediction of an improbable Super Bowl victory over Baltimore. That one is valued at more than $100,000.

"The Super Bowl ring is a sports championship icon," Jostens spokesman Rich Stoebe said. "When you think about 'the ring,' there's only one thing you think about and that's the Super Bowl ring."

Not surprisingly, some down-on-their-luck players are forced to part with their rings. In 1996, as part of bankruptcy and divorce procedures, Steelers running back Rocky Bleier reportedly sold his four rings to a friend for $40,000 then was allowed to "lease" them back over three years for $1,368 per month. Three of his rings were later stolen while he was at a speaking engagement. The ring belonging to Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson, the former Cowboys linebacker, was seized to pay back taxes. And Raiders cornerback Lester Hayes said he pawned his ring so he could pay a dentist bill, only to find the ring had already been sold when he returned to the pawnshop to buy it back.

Impressive as the rings are, many players keep them stashed away except for special occasions.

"I don't wear a lot of jewelry, and they're heavy," Swann said. "When you're wearing them all the time and you're shaking hands, it hurts."

Indianapolis receiver Ricky Proehl, who will play in Sunday's Super Bowl, almost never wears the ring he won as a member of the St. Louis Rams. If that ring sees the light of day, it's usually on the hand of his father.

Proehl was asked this week if he gave it to his dad on loan.

"No," he said, smiling. "My dad loans it to me."
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« Reply #1 on: February 03, 2007, 05:03:36 PM »

Far Away, Super Bowl’s Losers Will Be Champs

In some parts of the world, the Seattle Seahawks are the reigning Super Bowl champions, the Buffalo Bills are the last great football dynasty and Tom Brady is some frustrated quarterback from New England who can never win it all.

So say the T-shirts and the caps worn in guy, Uganda and Sierra Leone.

The Super Bowl will end about 10 p.m. Sunday, and by 10:01 every player on the winning team — along with coaches, executives, family members and ball boys — could be outfitted in colorful T-shirts and caps proclaiming them champions.

The other set of championship gear — the 288 T-shirts and caps made for the team that did not win — will be hidden behind a locked door at Dolphin Stadium. By order of the National Football League, those items are never to appear on television or on eBay. They are never even to be seen on American soil.

They will be shipped Monday morning to a warehouse in Sewickley, Pa., near Pittsburgh, where they will become property of World Vision, a relief organization that will package the clothing in wooden boxes and send it to a developing nation, usually in Africa.

This way, the N.F.L. can help one of its charities and avoid traumatizing one of its teams.

“Where these items go, the people don’t have electricity or running water,” said Jeff Fields, a corporate relations officer for World Vision. “They wouldn’t know who won the Super Bowl. They wouldn’t even know about football.”

The gear is flown, along with school and medical supplies, into a major city. It is then driven to one of the villages where World Vision staff members work. They distribute the shirts and caps at a community center, about two per family.

Beth Colleton, the N.F.L.’s director for community ventures, worked for a month at a World Vision service area in Ethiopia. One day, she saw a boy in the village wearing a Green Bay Packers 1998 Super Bowl champions T-shirt.

Ms. Colleton might have been the only person in the village to do a double take. The Denver Broncos were the 1998 Super Bowl champions.

After she returned home, she watched a documentary about Romanian orphans. One of them was wearing a Buffalo Bills Super Bowl champions T-shirt. “I almost fell out of my chair,” she said.

The Bills, losers of four consecutive Super Bowls in the 1990s, at least have a following in Romania. Some of their Super Bowl champions T-shirts were relegated to a trash heap in Tampa, Fla.

In the final seconds of the 1991 Super Bowl at Tampa Stadium, Buffalo place-kicker Scott Norwood lined up for a potential 47-yard game-winning field goal against the Giants. Eddie White, a Reebok vice president, ran onto the field with an armful of Bills championship shirts.

He had to position himself to get a shirt to Buffalo’s best players after the field goal was converted. But Norwood’s kick drifted right, and Mr. White did a 180-degree turn, sprinting from the field and tossing the shirts in the closest trash bin.

He talked about such moments as if he were a coach deconstructing a memorable fourth-down play. “We need to have a game plan just like the teams do,” he said.

Ten days ago, Reebok printed 288 championship T-shirts and caps each for the Indianapolis Colts and for the Chicago Bears, participants in this year’s Super Bowl. The gear was driven by van to Dolphin Stadium on Monday and presented to the N.F.L.

“Don’t worry,” Mr. White said. “It’s protected as well as Elizabeth Taylor’s diamonds.”

He is referring, of course, to $20 T-shirts and $30 caps. But to players and coaches, these are cotton-and-polyester trophies, the first of many tangible rewards they receive upon winning the Super Bowl.

When Green Bay beat New England in the 1997 Super Bowl, and the defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur saw his shirt and cap for the first time, he started to cry. “I’ve waited my whole life for that shirt and that hat,” he said.

Distribution is a science. Twelve employees from Reebok and the N.F.L. huddle midway through the fourth quarter and handicap the game. If the score is lopsided, they stalk the sideline of the winning team, keeping the boxes out of sight.

But if the game is close, half the group goes to one side and half goes to the other. Each employee is assigned a star player to outfit. If the Colts win, for instance, someone immediately has to get a shirt and cap to quarterback Peyton Manning. If the Bears win, someone has to find linebacker Brian Urlacher.

This can be a difficult job, dodging joyous 300-pound linemen. But the advertising potential is priceless. Once the scoreboard clock hits 00:00, clothing manufacturers around the country start churning out championship merchandise. If Manning is seen wearing a T-shirt Sunday night, it will be flying off shelves in Indianapolis by Monday.

For the past 20 years, the shirts and caps have become as much a part of championship games as the coaches’ Gatorade showers. At the end of the World Series, the N.B.A. finals and the Final Four, all the winners get to celebrate in fresh threads.

The losers, meanwhile, trudge back to their locker room in sweaty jerseys. Major League Baseball destroys the clothing that was made for its runners-up. The N.B.A. donates it to an overseas charity. And the N.F.L. sends it to a place far away.

There, and only there, the losers get to be winners.
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