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Old 09-28-2011, 03:07 PM   #1
1998 Yankees
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In sports, [a] ring is the thing.

An interesting story in yesterday's USA Today. I love Mark Cuban's comments. He really is a Maverick.

In sports, ring is the thing
Title jewel serves as status symbol, career validation
By Ryan Kartje USA TODAY

Whitey Ford can’t remember offhand how many championships he won in his 16-year career. The former New York Yankees pitcher, 82, thinks he had 11 or 12 rings, but he can’t be sure. All he knows is everyone in his family has their own World Series ring.

But his 1953 ring is for him. He has not forgotten that it is his favorite.

Bright gold with an unmistakable, golden No. 5 in the center, it commemorates the Yankees’ most cherished accomplishment — five consecutive World Series championships. No baseball team has matched the feat. But 58 years have taken a toll on Ford’s ring.

“I lost the diamond,” Ford said at this year’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y. “But I still wear it.”

While many others sport more ornate rings in Cooperstown, Ford wears his diamond-less ring proudly.

Yogi Berra, another member of the ’53 team, knows rings like no one else — that’s because no one has as many World Series rings. Berra has 10 rings as a player, to Ford’s six, but the ’53 edition is his favorite.

In June, the Green Bay Packers received their own 18-karat legacies — four months removed from their Super Bowl win vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers. The ring meant enough to Packers cornerback Sam Shields that he had the design tattooed on his neck. With their 27-17 win against the Chicago Bears on Sunday, it appears the Packers (3-0) could be on their way to another one.

Starting Friday and Saturday, eight teams will begin their quests for a World Series ring.

The legacy of the championship ring is one rooted in pride. For more than a century, rings have celebrated the highest accomplishment in sports. Lately, it’s been an unsettling few years for such a time-honored institution: The downturn in the economy has created higher stakes for the owners of such high-priced assets, and the memorabilia market has given fans a chance to buy items that once were untouchable.

And with time, the tradition has been called into question. After so long, has the championship ring lost some of its luster? Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban thinks so.

“Rings are done,” Cuban told NBA TV after the Mavericks won their first championship in June. “It’s time to take it to the next level.” []

But judging by player and fan reactions, the next level seems to be awfully far away.

After winning the World Series last October, San Francisco Giants right fielder Nate Schierholtz looked forward to the moment, six months later, when he could receive his World Series ring.

“There’s all this buildup (about) what it’s going to look like,” says Schierholtz, 27. “For me, it was just staying proud that we brought a World Series to the city and reliving those moments.”

Schierholtz’s ring looks much different than Berra’s or Ford’s. After all, fashion has changed a lot in 58 years. The Giants’ rings are loaded with 77 diamonds that weigh just less than a carat.

“I can’t believe how big these rings are today,” Berra says. “They’re not rings. They’re weapons.” []

The Mavericks’ Jason Terry understands the pride that accompanies the ring. Terry played 12 seasons before winning his first title in June. NBA players are in a holding pattern, however, and won’t get their rings until the league’s lockout is resolved.

“Once you get that ring, you know that you’re a champion,” Terry says. “You have to have that piece, and you can show it to all the world. If you go up to someone and you shake their hand and they see that ring, it changes things.”

To sell or not to sell

Giants outfielder Cody Ross says he would never sell his championship ring.

As a kid, Ross says he sold his prized 1970 Nolan Ryan baseball card for $100 to buy a new pool stick. Six months later, he grew tired of pool. And the regret of selling his most prized possession tore him apart.

He has learned his lesson, he says. And his 2010 World Series ring will never be for sale. He likes it where it is — on his right middle finger. []

Plenty of players share Ross’ sentiment. They say they will not part with their rings under any circumstances.

But things change for many after their playing days are over. And when assets begin to disappear, a ring starts to look more like a lifeline than a symbol of success.

Tim Robins has seen this happen more times than he can count. He started selling rings almost a decade ago and owns Championship-Rings.net. After frequenting sports memorabilia shows, Robins started to buy rings. Eventually, word began to spread to players and staff about his collecting.

“Eventually I didn’t have to look anymore,” Robins said. “They were just coming to me.”

And now Robins says he has seen it all when it comes to rings. A jealous fiancée who is reminded of her boyfriend’s ex when she looks at his ring. A man paying to save his granddaughter’s eyesight. Debilitating debt. Drug problems. Divorces.

“Some of them are losing everything,” Robins says. “And they know the most valuable commodity they currently own is their championship ring. . . . As much as they don’t want to part with a ring, sometimes they don’t have a choice.”

Robins envisions himself as a helping hand for those who need it most. But he also understands that a ring can be the crown jewel of a sports fan’s collection, costing anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000.

He says his clients usually come to terms with their ring’s fate when they realize that they still have the memories of that championship.

But is that enough for most athletes?

Put that on your résumé

Neal Dahlen, a former NFL executive for the San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos, owns seven Super Bowl rings, the most of any player or staff member in NFL history.

“(Players) all talk about how they wouldn’t be satisfied with their very good careers unless they get one,” Dahlen says.

On the surface, that seems to be a common conclusion: a championship ring makes a career. Without it, as Dahlen says, something will always be missing from that player’s résumé.

Once in a while, when he was still working, Dahlen would wear one of his rings for good luck on an important trip or for a crucial game. But he’s retired, and so are his rings — they sit lonely in a safe deposit box in a Colorado bank.

Dahlen has no idea when he’ll see his rings next.

“Until somebody comes up with a request, I can’t think of a reason to go do it,” Dahlen says. “Maybe on a cold winter day and I haven’t done it in a year, I might go to the bank and bring them home for a night just for the fun of it. But that’s all I would do.”

David Wells, who pitched for 21 seasons in the major leagues and is now a TBS analyst, doesn’t understand why some players don’t hold their rings in the same regard as he does. And he hates jewelry.

“I don’t even wear my wedding ring half the time,” Wells joked. []

But his two World Series rings — both won as a member of the Yankees — still sit prominently in his trophy case at home.

“I know a few guys who could care less,” Wells said. “I mean, at least put it someplace in the house where people could look at it.”

Je’Rod Cherry, a former NFL safety who won three Super Bowls with the New England Patriots, has two of his three rings today.

He says he got something more valuable in return than just keeping it in a safety deposit box or a trophy case.

While attending a Christian youth conference in 2008, Cherry noticed the conference was $10,000 short of its goal to build homes for orphans in Cambodia. And at the joking request of one of the organizers, Cherry got to thinking: What if he sold his ring to help?

He had always cherished his first Super Bowl ring, from the 2001 season, most. But Cherry was eager to sacrifice something for a good cause. So he raffled off his ring, raising more than $200,000. Months later, he was able to see pictures of the new Cambodian homes. []

“For me, being able to do more than just go around town and show it off, it meant so much more to me,” Cherry said.

Bracelets? Not so fast

After Cuban eulogized the championship ring, calling it “old school,” he had one suggestion that would trump the ring’s tradition and history: bracelets. []

“Are you kidding me?” Terry said recently. “A bracelet is something that you buy your wife.”

Shawn Marion, a forward on the Mavericks’ championship team, doesn’t think Cuban was serious about the bracelets.

“He knew there was going to be rings,” Marion said. “He just was doing something to keep the sizzle out there.”

That sizzle was the talk of the sports world for a few days. And although his players and fans might have quickly shut down Cuban’s bracelet remarks, it does raise the question: Will the championship ring always be around?

Steve Kerr thinks so. The former guard won NBA championship rings with the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs. He has five rings to his name, and although he doesn’t wear them much, he says winning a ring might be even more important today than it was 20 or so years ago.

“There’s so much more coverage and scrutiny now,” said Kerr, who won his first ring in 1996. “So if you’re lucky enough to be a part of (a championship), it means an incredible amount to have a ring for your reputation.”

And with more attention comes more money. Robins’ business continues to grow, and rarer rings have started to show up in his collection. Just recently, Robins sold a ring identical to Ford’s and Berra’s 1953 ring — its golden No. 5 in surprisingly good condition. It was a ring that belonged to former teammate Irv Noren.

It’s hard to tell the direction the ring will go in the future. “You could see a 3-D hologram ring for all we know,” Terry says. []

Athletes likely will continue to sell the cherished memorabilia if their situation becomes dire. And talk of bracelets or watches or something else might always raise questions. But to say the mystique of the ring is gone would be premature.

“So much of sports is about history and tradition, and the ring has always been the Holy Grail for professional athletes,” Kerr says. “The ring is here to stay.”

Seventh heaven: Neal Dahlen owns a record seven Super Bowl rings, won as an executive with the 49ers and the Broncos.

Collectors’ items: Tim Robins, who buys and sells title rings, says sellers sometimes have no choice but to part with their jewelry.

To the winners go the spoils: In 1996, former Celtics great Bill Russell showed off some of his 11 NBA championship rings.

Last edited by 1998 Yankees; 09-28-2011 at 03:14 PM.
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