Sunday, January 30, 2011

One Ring to Rule Them All - 1966 (Super Bowl I)

This is it - the true Super Bowl prize. Jerry Kramer's ring from Super Bowl I, then officially if long-windedly known as the "AFL-NFL World Championship Game."

Salaries have risen to the point where a Super Bowl share isn't the windfall it once was. Players consider themselves bigger than the sport. But the ring endures.
"The ultimate goal for (your) legacy is everybody talks about us to get that Super Bowl ring. If you get that, then everything, you've accomplished everything."
–Donald Driver
The word has become a shorthand for the game itself. The phrase "doesn't have a ring" is a serious knock on the Hall of Fame hopes of all-too-many players.

The tradition of a football championship ring was borrowed, as were so many early team names, from baseball. The New York Giants were the first to issue them, after sweeping the Yankees (their Polo Grounds tenants) in the 1922 World Series.

Before a ring became the standard symbol of victory, players were rewarded with lapel pins, watch fobs, tie bars and pocket watches. Rings had been worn by triumphant NFL teams at least as far back as the 1950s, but with the advent of the Super Bowl rings began to take on a particular significance (not to mention heft).

The following four pictures are of a salesman's sample of the first Super Bowl ring, worn by Vince Lombardi and his World Champion 1966 Packers.

(photo credit: Heritage Auctions)

The story goes that Ken Westerlund of Jostens met with Lombardi to review sketches. Lombardi arrived knowing exactly what he wanted, and Westerlund had to borrow an airbrush from a Green Bay TV station to quickly rework the design based on the coach's notes.

(photo credit: Heritage Auctions)

The first shank features the iconic Packers helmet, while the other holds the results of both championship games above a very clever NFL/AFL combination logo.

(photo credit: Heritage Auctions)

The crown under the shield comes from the Lombardi family crest.

(photo credit: Heritage Auctions)

The 1966 ring (along with a pair of its older brothers) is also featured in this ad for Josten's, from a 1967 Packers game program:

(photo credit:

There's an interesting story behind Jerry Kramer's Super Bowl I ring. He wore it proudly for fifteen years before it was stolen on a United Airlines flight from Chicago to New York in 1981. Kramer, heartbroken, commissioned a replacement ring, which he continued to wear.

The original surfaced 25 years later in Mastro Auctions' April 2006 auction. The auction catalogue was noticed by Ray Nitchke's son, who didn't believe his father's teammate would sell the ring, and who subsequently called Kramer. Kramer in turn contacted the auction house, who removed the listing, but not before bidding had topped $20,000.

Once the original ring was returned to its rightful owner, Kramer let Mastro auction off the replacement. It sold for $22,000, which Kramer used as start-up capital for the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund, which "provides hands-on assistance and financial aid to help retired NFL players deal with some of the hardships they may encounter after football."

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