6 Reasons People Gave Up Their Super Bowl Rings

Former New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor’s ring from Super Bowl XXV fetched $230,401 in an auction over the weekend. Over the years, several athletes and at least one owner have relinquished ownership of their championship bling for various reasons. Here are some examples.

1. Because a Little Girl Made You

In 2008, New England Patriots safety Je’Rod Cherry was challenged by a girl at a youth conference to sell his Super Bowl XXXVI ring to raise money for charity. Cherry did, helping raise nearly $150,000. “I do not disrespect the idea of what the ring represents,” Cherry told reporters. “I tried to elevate it to something even better.” It probably made Cherry’s decision to sell the ring a little easier knowing that he still had two others.

2. For Good Dental Hygiene

Legendary cornerback Lester Hayes won two rings with the Raiders and took out a loan on one of them to pay for an emergency dental procedure in 2000. According to Hayes, his cash was tied up in a “Charles Barkley-kind of bet” and he didn’t want to tip his family and friends off that he had a gambling addiction by asking for help. When Hayes failed to return to the pawn shop to claim the ring within the requisite seven-day window, it sold for more than $18,000 on eBay. Hayes has since purchased a replica Super Bowl ring from the manufacturer. “It taught me a valuable lesson,” he said. “To stop gambling.”

3. Because Vladimir Putin Wanted It

In 2005, Patriots owner Robert Kraft and a group of American executives met with Russian president Vladimir Putin. When Kraft showed Putin his latest Super Bowl ring, which was encrusted with 124 diamonds, Putin put the ring on his finger and then in his pocket.

The Russian media initially speculated that Kraft had not meant to give the ring to Putin, but Kraft released a statement the following day that quelled those concerns: “The Russian president was clearly taken with its uniqueness,” Kraft said. “At that point, I decided to give him the ring as a symbol of the respect and admiration that I have for the Russian people and the leadership of President Putin.” We're not convinced.

4. For Drug Money

In 1999, lawyer John O’Quinn surprised Dexter Manley with the Super Bowl ring the Washington Redskins star had previously sold to buy cocaine. “I believe in miracles,” Manley said, “and it’s an act of God that I have my ring back in my possession.” Manley returned the ring to O’Quinn, a friend who had previously employed the defensive lineman, for safekeeping until he fully overcame his addiction. After O’Quinn died in a car crash in 2009, Manley recovered the ring from O’Quinn’s estate.

Former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Joe Gilliam also sold his Super Bowl ring to buy drugs before changing his ways and becoming a counselor for drug abusers. In a case of good fortune, John Cannick, a Boston businessman who overcame a drug addiction, recovered the ring and returned it to Gilliam.

5. Because the IRS Came Calling

In 1984, the IRS confiscated the 1978 Super Bowl ring belonging to Dallas Cowboys star Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson and auctioned it for $11,000. Former Steelers running back Rocky Bleier sold his four Super Bowl rings in the 1990s to help pay back taxes. Former Raiders punter Ray Guy was ordered by a judge to sell his three Super Bowl rings after filing for bankruptcy last year. The rings fetched $96,000 in an online auction.

6. Plain Old Theft

In 1987, a man who identified himself as “Bill” put the following classified ad in several newspapers across the country: "Super Bowl Ring, (NU) 1. Best offer. Write: PO Box 8116, Fort Collins, Colo. 80526." Former Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Greene wrote the man and got his story.

Bill had bought the ring for $75 from a man who had reportedly found it on the floor of a Green Bay bar. Bill told Greene that the ring was engraved with the name Tommy Joe Crutcher, a second-string linebacker with the Packers. The best offer he had received was $18,000. Greene called Crutcher, who had purchased a replacement ring for $700 after his original ring was stolen by one of three women he had invited back to his hotel one night. When Greene alerted Crutcher to the ad, he responded, “I’m nostalgic, but I ain’t $18,000 worth. … Tell him I’m not a buyer, but good luck in selling it.”

About Super Bowl Rings

The NFL covers the cost for up to 150 Super Bowl rings at $5,000 per ring; teams pick up any additional costs. In 2009, for instance, the Pittsburgh Steelers bought every one of their full-time employees a Super Bowl ring, though the rings for the lower-level employees had less gold and fewer diamonds.

Jostens, which also designs yearbooks and class rings, has worked with team officials to design the majority of the Super Bowl rings. While diamonds remain the most popular gem, emeralds, aquamarines, rubies and sapphires have also been used. Rings typically feature the Lombardi trophy and are often engraved with the final score in addition to the player’s name.

The Time Baby Ruth Sued Babe Ruth

Allsport/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Allsport/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1920, the Curtiss Candy Company introduced the Baby Ruth candy bar, causing a certain baseball player with a very similar name to take notice. Babe Ruth was having a monstrous year—his 54 home runs in the 1920 season were more than any other team in the American League. If you were going to misappropriate someone’s name for a candy bar, Ruth’s was a logical choice.

Sensing opportunity, the Great Bambino struck back by creating his own Babe Ruth Home Run Bar. Curtiss quickly sued Ruth’s company for trademark infringement. But what happened next was surprising: When the Sultan of Swat accused the company of using his name, Curtiss feigned shock. Its bar was named after “Baby” Ruth Cleveland, daughter of President Grover Cleveland.

For years, this has been the oft-repeated explanation, but the argument makes no sense. Cleveland had been out of office for more than two decades and dead for 12 years when the bar debuted. “Baby” Ruth herself had died of diphtheria in 1904, at just 12 years old. Although the country’s most famous baseball star would seem much more likely to have a namesake candy than a former president's departed child, the courts sided with Curtiss.

When Ruth learned of the verdict, he bellowed, “Well, I ain’t eatin’ your damned candy bar anymore!” Somehow, the Baby Ruth bar survived without his support.

10 Winning Facts about Wheaties

General Mills
General Mills

Famous for its vivid orange boxes featuring star athletes and its classic "breakfast of champions" tagline, Wheaties might be the only cereal that's better known for its packaging than its taste. The whole wheat cereal has been around since the 1920s, becoming an icon not just of the breakfast aisle, but the sports and advertising worlds, too. Here are 10 winning facts about it.

1. IT WAS INVENTED BY ACCIDENT.

The Washburn Crosby Company wasn't initially in the cereal business. At the time, the Minnesota-based company—which became General Mills in 1928—primarily sold flour. But in 1921, the story goes, a dietitian in Minneapolis spilled bran gruel on a hot stove. The bran hardened into crispy, delicious flakes, and a new cereal was born. In 1924, the Washburn Crosby Company began selling a version of the flakes as a boxed cereal it called Washburn's Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flakes. A year later, after a company-wide contest, the company changed the name to Wheaties.

2. ITS JINGLE FEATURED A SINGING UNDERTAKER AND A COURT BAILIFF.

Wheaties sales were slow at first, but the Washburn Crosby Company already had a built-in advertising platform: It owned the Minneapolis radio station WCCO. Starting on December 24, 1926, the station began airing a jingle for the cereal sung by a barbershop quartet called the Wheaties Quartet. The foursome sang "Have You Tried Wheaties" live over the radio every week, earning $15 (about $200 today) per performance. In addition to their weekly singing gig, the men of the Wheaties Quartet all also had day jobs: One was an undertaker, one was a court bailiff, one worked in the grain industry, and one worked in printing. The ad campaign eventually went national, helping boost Wheaties sales across the country and becoming an advertising legend.

3. WHEATIES HAS BEEN TIED TO SPORTS SINCE ALMOST THE BEGINNING.

Carl Lewis signs a Wheaties box with his image on it for a young boy.
Track and field Olympic medalist Carl Lewis
Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

Wheaties has aligned itself with the sports world since its early days. In 1927, Wheaties bought ad space at Minneapolis's Nicollet Park, home to a minor league baseball team called the Millers, and in 1933, the cereal brand started sponsoring the team's game-day radio broadcasts on WCCO. Eventually, Wheaties baseball broadcasts expanded to 95 different radio stations, covering teams all over the country and further cementing its association with the sport. Since then, generations of endorsements from athletes of all stripes have helped sell consumers on the idea that eating Wheaties can make them strong and successful just like their favorite players. The branding association has been so successful that appearing on a Wheaties box has itself become a symbol of athletic achievement.

4. WHEATIES HELPED KICK-START RONALD REAGAN'S ACTING CAREER.

In the 1930s, a young sports broadcaster named Ronald Reagan was working at a radio station in Des Moines, Iowa, narrating Wheaties-sponsored Chicago Cubs and White Sox games. As part of this job, Reagan went to California to visit the Cubs' spring training camp in 1937. While he was there, he also did a screen test at Warner Bros. The studio ended up offering him a seven-year contract, and later that year, he appeared in his first starring role as a radio commentator in Love Is On The Air.

5. ATHLETES' PHOTOS DIDN'T ALWAYS APPEAR ON THE FRONT OF BOXES.

Three Wheaties boxes featuring Michael Phelps
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Although a Wheaties box wouldn't seem complete without an athlete's photo on it today, the cereal didn't always feature athletes front and center. In the early years, the boxes had photos of athletes like baseball legend Lou Gehrig (the first celebrity to be featured, in 1934) on the back or side panels of boxes. Athletes didn't start to appear on the front of the box until 1958, when the cereal featured Olympic pole vaulter Bob Richards.

6. THE FIRST WOMAN ON A WHEATIES BOX WAS A PILOT.

Former Track and Field Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersey stands with a poster of her new Wheaties box after it was unveiled in 2004.
Former Track and Field Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersey stands with a poster of her new Wheaties box after it was unveiled in 2004.
Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton became the first woman to appear on the front of a Wheaties box in 1984, but women did appear elsewhere on the box in the brand's early years. The first was pioneering aviator and stunt pilot Elinor Smith. Smith, whose picture graced the back of the box in 1934, set numerous world aviation records for endurance and altitude in the 1920s and 1930s.

7. IT USED TO HAVE A MASCOT.

Though we now associate Wheaties with athletes rather than an animal mascot, the cereal did have the latter during the 1950s. In an attempt to appeal to children, Wheaties adopted a puppet lion named Champy (short for "Champion") as the brand's mascot. Champy and his puppet friends sang about the benefits of Wheaties in commercials that ran during The Mickey Mouse Club, and kids could order their own Champy hand puppets for 50 cents (less than $5 today) if they mailed in Wheaties box tops.

8. MICHAEL JORDAN IS THE WHEATIES KING.

Of all the athletes who have graced the cover of a Wheaties box, basketball superstar Michael Jordan takes the cake for most appearances. He's been featured on the box 18 times, both alone and with the Chicago Bulls. He also served as a spokesperson for the cereal, appearing in numerous Wheaties commercials in the '80s and '90s.

9. FANS ONCE GOT THE CHANCE TO PICK A WHEATIES STAR.

MMA star Anthony Pettis on the front of a Wheaties box.
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The public hasn't often gotten a chance to weigh in on who will appear on the Wheaties box. But in 2014, Wheaties customers got to decide for the first time which athlete would be featured nationally. Called the Wheaties NEXT Challenge, the contest allowed people to vote for the next Wheaties Champion by logging their workouts on an app platform called MapMyFitness. Every workout of 30 minutes or more counted as one vote. Participants could choose between Paralympic sprinter Blake Leeper, motocross rider Ryan Dungey, mixed-martial-artist Anthony Pettis, lacrosse player Rob Pannell, or soccer player Christen Press. Pettis won, becoming the first MMA fighter to appear on the box in early 2015.

10. THERE WERE SEVERAL SPINOFFS THAT DIDN'T CATCH ON.

Three different Wheaties boxes featuring Tiger Woods sitting together on a table
Tiger Woods's Wheaties covers, 1998
Getty Images

Faced with declining sales, Wheaties introduced several spinoff cereals during the 1990s and early 2000s, including Honey Frosted Wheaties, Crispy Wheaties 'n Raisins, and Wheaties Energy Crunch. None of them sold very well, and they were all discontinued after a few years. The brand kept trying to expand its offerings, though. In 2009, General Mills introduced Wheaties Fuel, a version of the cereal it claimed was more tailored to men's dietary needs. Wheaties Fuel had more vitamin E and—unlike the original—no folic acid, which is commonly associated with women's prenatal supplements. Men didn't love Wheaties Fuel, though, and it was eventually discontinued too. Now, only the original "breakfast of champions" remains.

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