Sports

The Sad, Lonely And Ridiculously Valuable Story Of A Championship Ring

Last June, I read the story of former University of Kentucky basketball player Walter McCarty’s 1996 NCAA Championship ring being for sale and I thought, “Big deal, athletes sell their rings all the time.” But McCarty’s situation was a little more interesting than most others, because he had just received that ring last February, and he was so excited about reuniting with his former teammates and celebrating their incredible accomplishment in front of an arena packed with Kentucky fans. Why on Earth would a guy who was so pumped about this gift be so willing to turn around and sell it for $5,000 on eBay?

It turned out that McCarty had nothing to do with it. In fact, he was pretty upset that someone had taken the ring from him and posted it on eBay, so he was doing whatever he could to actually get the ring back, because he cherished it far beyond the four digits that a family member was trying to get for it. But not all of these stories end like McCarty’s. Sometimes it really is just about the extra cash. Just ask former Baltimore Ravens running back Damien Berry.

Beginning today, fans have the opportunity to bid on more than a dozen NFL Championship rings that have been sold by players over the years, and Berry’s is a little more unique than most. His was just earned last year for Super Bowl XLVII, which makes it one of the most “exciting” opportunities for a fan to get his hands on something that the team just won. Most Ravens players – Ray Lewis especially, as you can see in the banner – are still wearing their rings with pride, despite the fact that the team missed this year’s playoffs. “F*ck it,” I’m sure they’re saying, because they’re still the champs until another team’s players hoist that Lombardi Trophy in the air next month.

But not Berry. Having never actually played a down for the Ravens, Berry’s time with the champs was spent on the practice squad two years ago and the IR during the team’s Super Bowl run. So for him, it would seem, there’s no association between 243 round cut diamonds and an overwhelming sense of pride. It’s possibly just a matter of cash, which leaves the pride to whoever pays a ridiculous amount for the ring that a bunch of other guys busted their asses to win. Except Berry denies that theory and also claims that a friend took the ring and sold it to Goldin Auction without his permission. It’s a standard excuse for what has become a sad pastime.

At some point in the last few years, I started my own sports memorabilia collection for the sake of just having some things that I can look at and think, “Maybe someday I’ll tell my son about how Blake Bortles won the Fiesta Bowl when nobody thought he could.” Or maybe I’ll sell it all to pay for my daughter’s college so she won’t spend her 20s and 30s with a crippling fear inspired by five figures of student loan debt. Either way, I’ve grown fond of looking for new items to add to my collection, and any time that I’ve seen a championship ring for sale, I’ve thought, “Wouldn’t that be fun to own?”

Except what I’ve also learned is that every ring has its story, and I’ve grown increasingly fascinated reading about these stories as more and more rings become available – just look at the rings that have been available through SportsRings.net – as I wonder whether or not a guy will come to my door one day and tell me I need to hand over his ring. In case you were also looking into buying some former athlete’s championship ring as an investment, here are some stories that might make you think twice.

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An Inaugural XFL Championship Ring, Price Tag: $16,000

It has been 13 years since Vince McMahon learned the hard way that it’s basically impossible to compete with the NFL, and I remember very few things about the XFL:

  • He Hate Me.
  • A guy broke his arm or leg on the opening race to the ball.
  • Super Dave was a sideline analyst.
  • A lady at the Orlando Rage’s first game told me that cursing wasn’t allowed in a family atmosphere.
  • It lasted one season.
  • The NFL still uses the overhead cam.

Ultimately, the XFL was a good idea in theory – people can now have football year round! – that never took into account that we didn’t want year round football, as much as we just wanted really good football. Still, that didn’t stop someone from paying $16,000 for an XFL Championship Ring in 2009, as a former Los Angeles Xtreme player decided to sell high on something that is barely a punchline among BuzzFeed’s “Hey, Remember the 00s?” 30-something crowd anymore. Which player was it? Tommy Maddox, maybe. Perhaps it was Tinker Keck. Either way, kudos to anyone for getting that much cash for a novelty item.

The question remains: Would I buy an XFL Championship ring today? The answer is also a question: Do you have change for a twenty?

A 1977 AFC Champions Ring, Price Tag: Unknown

In 2010, a businessman named Todd Hill realized that payday loans weren’t just for working class suckers. Through a new venture called Boomerang Lending – not to be confused with my company, Didgeridoo Donations – Hill was offering emergency loans of up to $100,000 in cash to wealthier customers, as long as they were willing to put up their luxury accessories – Rolex watches, Porsches and Picasso sketches, among others – as collateral. Basically, it was a pawn shop for rich people who were too proud to be walking into an actual pawn shop.

One of those affluent customers had something to do with the Denver Broncos winning the franchise’s first AFC Championship in 1977, because one of the items that Boomerang boasted for sale at the time was an AFC Championship ring. If it sold, who it sold to and how much it sold for is unknown. Maybe it belonged to Craig Morton or Otis Armstrong and one of them bought it back, but it was still clearly worth as much in nostalgia as a few mortgage payments.

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Blake Burgess’s 2010 BCS Championship Ring, Price Tag: $0, Under Warranty

It takes a lot of balls to break into the apartment of a 6-3, 250-pound collegiate offensive lineman and steal from him, but that’s exactly what one person did to Auburn’s Blake Burgess one year ago. Among the items stolen from his apartment were his SEC and BCS Championship rings, which sound like they’d command a pretty nice payday for anybody trying to sell them. Though you’d have to consider that anyone who might be offered the rings would turn around and report the seller to the authorities.

Whether or not the thief was apprehended seems to be unknown – or at least I couldn’t readily find any updates – and it doesn’t appear that anyone who might have bought the rings was bragging about them too much. But it seems that Burgess may have been covered by Auburn, which would at least put a somewhat happy ending on this story.

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Warren Wilhoite’s Big 8 Championship Ring, Price Tag: Priceless

Not all college championship rings are from football and basketball and not all of them are as big as a golf ball. For former Kansas Jayhawks track star Warren Wilhoite, his Big 8 Championship ring was just something that he carried with him to always remind him of his great athletic success. Unfortunately, one day, while he was working for a trucking company in Jacksonville, Wilhoite returned to his hotel room to discover his bag open and the ring missing. Wilhoite checked out some pawn shops but never found the ring, which wasn’t exactly something that would have carried a hefty asking price in memorabilia circles (no offense to the track stars out there).

In 2011, after two newspapers ran stories about a woman, Katie Dompe, who found the ring in Jacksonville, Wilhoite was contacted by a Kansas man who brought her discovery to his attention. With no reward mentioned, Dompe happily returned the ring to Wilhoite, who couldn’t believe his luck.

Three of AC Green’s NBA Championship Rings, Price Tag: A Nice Headache

Last March, the Palos Verdes Estates police department reported that former NBA player AC Green had been robbed and thieves made off with, among other things, three of his NBA Championship rings. In the report, Green estimated that the stolen rings were worth about $25,000 each, and the police were focused on some day laborers that Green had hired for work on his home as the prime suspects. The case, however, eventually went inactive because of the lack of leads, and it seemed that Green never got his rings back.

Except, the strangest thing happened in November. Of all people, a TMZ photographer caught up with Green and asked him about the rings, and Green told him that the rings were never stolen or missing. Green blamed the police for filing an erroneous report, but the police had never heard anything about the rings still being in Green’s possession. I guess the only victim in this story is someone who may have purchased what was advertised as an AC Green championship ring.

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Kemory Mann’s CUSA Championship Ring, Price Tag: $200

The ECU Fightin’ Macho Man Randy Savages, I mean, Pirates won the Conference USA Championship in 2008, and the players were probably really excited about the rings that they’d eventually receive for their big season. The following year, offensive lineman Kemory Mann’s excitement would disappear – you know, if he was still excited about winning the CUSA Championship – as someone stole his ring and pawned it.

The problem with pawning a 2008 CUSA Championship ring is that it’s pretty unique and it’s really not worth that much money, as opposed to the personal value for the player who earned it. The person who sold the ring (it was never certain if it was the thief or not) received $200, but Mann eventually got his ring back.

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A Green Bay Packers Employee’s Super Bowl XLV Ring, Price Tag: $9,999 plus tax

If you’re looking for a Super Bowl ring at a bargain, you’re better off looking to purchase the ring of a former team employee, as opposed to a player. At least that’s the lesson that Pawn America taught us in 2012, when the company excitedly Tweeted that it had a Super Bowl XLV ring for sale, after someone in the organization decided to sell it. The thing about the Packers’ rings, though, was that they all had names on the side, so the “Pace” on the side meant that it belonged to Sarah Pace, the team’s Atrium Operations Lead.

Pace didn’t need to get it back, however, because she sold it outright and it was Pawn America’s to sell to anyone willing to fork over approximately $10,000. While that sounds like a mighty high price to pay for a random woman’s ring, it would have been significantly higher had it been a player selling the ring, so consider this a hell of a deal.

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Antoine Walker’s 2006 NBA Championship Ring, Price Tag: $21,500

Some athletes sell their rings for quick cash, while others lose them to thieves who sell them elsewhere. Sadly, some are forced to sell them whether they want to or not, like Antoine Walker, who was forced to sell his 2006 NBA Championship ring that he won with the Miami Heat as part of his bankruptcy settlement last year. According to TMZ, Walker owed $12.7 to creditors and was required to liquidate everything he had, which led to a man purchasing the bling for roughly one teacher’s salary.

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Brock Williams’s Super Bowl XXXVI Ring, Price Tag: $2,000

I’d like to think that a guy looking to sell his Super Bowl ring – perhaps a guy like Damien Berry or his “friend” – would try to score as much cash for it as possible, seeing as these things are really quite valuable, some even more than others. For example, a Baltimore Ravens fan might not be willing to pay, say, $60,000 for Berry’s ring because, whatever, it’s just Super Bowl XLVII. But a New England Patriots fan would pay $60,000 for a Super Bowl XXXVI ring, because that’s what the owner of a Las Vegas pawn shop claimed he was offered for Brock Williams’s ring after the defensive back failed to retrieve it before the store’s 120-day grace expired.

Williams only received $2,000 for the ring that went on to sit in a display case in the store and simply collect value and demand after the owner refused to sell it. On an episode of Pawn Stars, the shop’s owner claimed the ring did, in fact, have a price tag – $100,000. That’s a hell of an investment return.

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David Deuser’s Div. II Volleyball Championship Ring, Price Tag: $220

There’s a lesson to take away from these stories for several types of people:

  • For the people who have won a championship ring and hold it near and dear to them, quit leaving your rings in stupid places where people can easily steal them.
  • For the people who are stealing these rings and pawning them, you should probably look at the ring and realize that the ones with names engraved on them will be traced back to their owners.
  • And for the pawn shop owners buying these rings, well, keep doing whatever you’re doing, because you don’t lose anything.

That’s what I’m taking away from the story of former Lewis University Division II Men’s Volleyball Championship coach David Deuser, who lost his 2003 ring when his car was stolen from his driveway in 2009. After he called some pawn shops, Deuser got the ring back for $220, which seems unfair, but that’s pretty much life in a nutshell.

Rumeal Robinson’s 1989 NCAA Championship Ring, Price Tag: $89,999,89

I’d be willing to bet that Rumeal Robinson isn’t too concerned with what happens to his ’89 NCAA Championship ring, what with the fact that he’s serving a prison sentence for bank fraud and bribery, among other things, but it is still currently available for the low, low price of $90,000 from one pawn broker who deals exclusively in sports memorabilia. According to Pawn Times, Yee Mar knows the price on the ring belonging to the man who sealed the ’89 title with two free throws is steep, but there’s always a chance there’s a Wolverines fan out there with the deep pockets and love of the program.

Oh, who am I kidding? Just call Stephen Ross and tell him that it costs $500,000 and he’ll probably send it via endangered bird.

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Ray Small’s Four Big Ten Championship Rings, Price Tag: How Much Ya Got?

Some athletes don’t know how their rings ended up for sale. They blame their friends and family members and beg whoever has them to find it in their hearts to return them to their rightful owners. Then there’s Ray Small, the former Ohio State wide receiver, who had no problem telling the student newspaper how he had four Big Ten Championship rings and “there was enough to go around.” Small reportedly claimed that he sold his rings and other memorabilia while a Buckeye in exchange for cash and cars.

Eventually, after enough people were irate with him for saying that “everyone was doing it,” he tried to place the blame on the student newspaper and claim that the reporter used his words to make him look like the bad guy. Either way, four rings will probably only get a guy so far, so let’s hope that he invested the cash wisely. Wait… he didn’t.

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Dylan McCrory’s Ivy League Championship Ring, Price Tag: Priceless

Remember that thing that I wrote about how pawn shop owners seem to be the only parties involved in these random championship ring thefts that make it out unscathed? I take that back. In 2010, former Harvard linebacker Dylan McCrory was devastated to learn that his apartment had been robbed, and the thieves made off with his Ivy League Cup ring. He was so upset that he’d never see the ring again that he even had a replica commissioned, because it simply meant so much to him.

Fortunately, the police did a sweep of Tampa-area pawn shops and discovered the ring – thanks to McCrory’s name engraved on the side – at Liberty Jewelers. Unfortunately for the store’s owner, the police didn’t appreciate his inconsistent stories and he was arrested. McCrory eventually gave the replica to his parents.

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A Tampa Bay Rays’ Employee’s 2008 AL Championship Ring, Price Tag: $695

In 2010, a pest control employee named Scott Richardson took advantage of a crappy economy and a trusting pawn shop owner (if that is such a thing) when he sold a 2008 Tampa Bay Rays AL Championship ring to R&W Pawn in Clearwater for $695. How’d he get his hands on the ring? He said that a customer paid him with it because he didn’t have the cash. Honestly, as much as I hate having cockroaches and ants in my house, if I can’t afford to pay for pest control services, I’m pretty sure that it would be the first thing I’d cut out of my budget in lieu of, I don’t know, eating and paying my rent, but Richardson had sold items at the store before, so he had a nice face.

The ring turned out to be the property of a Rays sales manager named Robert Windheim, and Richardson snagged it from his dresser while on the job. Even worse, the ring was valued at $3,600, which means that Richardson wasn’t as greedy as he was stupid.

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Warren Sapp’s Super Bowl and NCAA Championship Rings, Price Tags: Eh, Whatever

Warren Sapp’s financial woes have never been a secret, as the Hall of Fame defensive tackle and NFL Network analyst filed for bankruptcy in 2012, as he reportedly had less than $1,000 in the bank and his house was later auctioned off. So when he admitted that he didn’t have his Super Bowl XXXVII ring or his Miami Hurricanes National Championship ring anymore, one would tend to believe that he sold them somewhere along the line for some extra cash.

Not so, said Sapp, though. Instead, Sapp claims he “lost” his Tampa Bay Bucs ring while traveling, and the same for his Canes ring. Even better, he claimed that the college ring was cheap and wouldn’t have fetched more than $300. I’ll tell you what – you find me an actual Hurricanes National Championship ring that belongs or belonged to any player on that 1991 team for sale for $300 and I’ll pay $301 for it.

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Matt Stairs’s ALCS and NLCS Championship Rings, Price Tag: 4 Months

While Matt Stairs was being inducted into the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame in June of 2012, some burglars broke into his home in Bangor, Maine and made off with his ALCS and NLCS Championship rings, among other items. The silver lining at the time was that he had chosen to wear his 2008 World Series ring to the ceremony, but that matters little in the grand scheme of a home invasion. In fact, as soon as Stairs learned that he’d been robbed, he immediately drove the five hours back home.

The thieves were eventually caught and sentenced to four months in jail, but it would have been a lot better if they’d been left in a soundproof room with Stairs and a bat.

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Lawrence Phillips’s Big 8 Championship Ring, Price Tag: Twenty F*cking Dollars

Whereas Warren Sapp may or may not have actually thought that his Miami Hurricanes NCAA Championship ring was worth about $300, Lawrence Phillips didn’t think much of his Big 8 Championship ring at all. Stuck in Las Vegas and desperate to get home, Phillips sold the ring to Steve’s Buy & Sell for just $20. The owner of the shop, however, would go on to sell the ring on eBay for $1,700.

Obviously, there have been plenty of desperate people in the history of Vegas, and Phillips had to do what he had to do to get home. Hell, I’m willing to bet that the ring didn’t mean anything to him, both in value and sentimental worth, so maybe he got the $20 and never thought about it again. On top of that, does a sports collector really want to tell people that he owns the Big 8 Championship ring that was earned by someone with such a horrible reputation as Phillips?

Yes. Yes we all would.

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Ultimately, a championship ring carries three values. For the people who have won them, there’s the sentimental value and the value of memories of bonds built on victories and career achievements. To some athletes, that value is obviously high, while others ballpark it around, well, $20. The second value is set by the middle men and the pawn shop owners who inevitably end up with these highly sought after pieces of memorabilia that realistically shouldn’t be owned by anyone but the people who earned them. And the third value is set by us, the morons who freak out and spend five figures on these rings because they carry as much worth as the Holy Grail.

We can mock it and laugh at the notion of spending so much money on something that someone else earned, but the fact remains that as long as people have money to burn, they’ll probably spend whatever it takes to own the same ring that Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls won for their Threepeat. Because that would still be something pretty damn incredible to have on your finger.

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