Lori Nickel said:
Dave Robinson lived in a town in New Jersey, and his mail regularly arrived every afternoon. But in April 1967, his postal carrier was rapping at the door at 6:30 a.m.
It had arrived.
Robinson tore off the parcel wrapping, pulled aside the flaps and pulled out a giant gold ring.
Then the mailman grabbed it - and tried it on.
"Wow!" was about all the breathless postal carrier could say.
The star linebacker for the Green Bay Packers and the postman talked about the ring that morning and what it stood for: great men and great moments. Robinson declared that this bejeweled token was proof the Packers were the best team in all of professional football.
The mailman then turned away, reluctantly, for a mountain of mailbags and his route, leaving Robinson at his doorstep, beholding the first Super Bowl championship ring. He slipped it on, the single bold diamond refracting light, for the first time.
"It was something else," recalls Robinson.
Forty-four years later, in the atrium of Lambeau Field, the current members of the Green Bay Packers, victors of Super Bowl XLV, will get to open their Super Bowl championship rings in a private ceremony Thursday night.
"I'm looking forward to it," said receiver Greg Jennings. "Everywhere we go, people ask, 'Do you have the ring?' So I'm very excited."
Details of the Super Bowl XLV ring's design and the ceremony are being kept secret by the Packers in an effort to create a special, meaningful and surprising event for the players, coaches and staff who contributed to winning the 45th Super Bowl.
That ring will come to symbolize something different to each man: Sacrifice. Hope. Determination. Will. Strength. Triumph. Immortality.
And while the Vince Lombardi Trophy always will rest inside Lambeau, the rings belong to individuals.
"When you actually put it on, you feel like you're not even worthy of it," said LeRoy Butler, an all-pro safety on the Packers' 1997 Super Bowl team.
1997 ring ceremony
Vince Lombardi's teams got their Super Bowl rings in the mail, but the Super Bowl XXXI champion Packers had a private ring ceremony in 1997. Then-president Bob Harlan, general manager Ron Wolf and coach Mike Holmgren were among the small group that designed the ring, and the three of them counted down at the Oneida Country Club as everyone opened their Jostens ring cases together. The Packers "oohed" and "aahed" over the diamond-studded giant 'G' on the top.
"Some teams get it in front of the home crowd; ours was very peaceful," said former center Frank Winters. "Just coaches and players and certain board of directors. Small setting but very special."
Former defensive end Reggie White was not happy. His ring was far too small for the NFL's 300-pound sack leader, and he was visibly upset - until someone explained that the wives were getting rings, too, and he must have accidentally opened his wife's.
It was a memorable day. It was the one time in their lives when star quarterbacks and receivers stood equal with special teams captains and backup fullbacks. It was the rare time when their families reveled in the moment with their teammates.
"Except for the fans, the most important people in your whole life were in that room to get the ring," said former wide receiver Antonio Freeman.
Butler had the day circled on the calendar "like you do when you play the Vikings or something" and his children had posted it on the refrigerator: ring ceremony for Dad.
He worried about what he was going to wear. He was so nervous that his wife had to tie his tie.
"It was the most emotional night of my life other than watching my kids being born," said Butler. "I've never won anything like a national championship. It was like, this will complete my legacy."
Past Green Bay Super Bowl rings were designed to fit the personalities of the men who would wear them and the era they represented.
Lombardi's first Super Bowl ring is engraved with the words "Harmony, Courage and Valor."
Lombardi's second Super Bowl ring has three diamonds signifying the three straight championships - the '65 title game and then Super Bowls I and II. It also has "Run to Win" on it.
"Before we played the Los Angeles Rams in Milwaukee in 1967, a lot of our players were hurt," said former defensive back Tom Brown. "Apparently, he got it out of a Bible verse."
The Super Bowl XXXI ring is "kind of big - I wouldn't say flashy," said Winters. "I only wear it on special occasions."
For Butler, the classic Green Bay 'G' on his ring is a symbol for the history, tradition and loyal following of his team.
"That 'G' stands for all of the fans, the alumni, the players back to the Acme days in the '20s," said Butler. "Having that 'G' with those diamonds was special. I've seen the Patriots'. They have a really nice ring; they have the colors in it. I've seen Emmitt Smith's with the Cowboys. Some are so big, almost too big, you can see it a mile away. Ours are not real gaudy. Ours fits if you're a bigger guy, or a smaller guy."
"The ring shows all the work you put in to it," said Winters. "You've got to cherish it, the fact that you were one of the great teams of your time."
Many players say they have the ring insured against theft. But they still worry.
Freeman only feels comfortable letting a fan try on his ring occasionally, and only if he's in a secure group, like the Wisconsin-based unit he met recently in Iraq.
He couldn't resist in Iraq, seeing all those tanks and soldiers trimmed with Cheeseheads and Packers gear. "It was a highlight for a lot of those troops to put that ring on," said Freeman. "They knew I was coming; it was like I was the fifth member of the Beatles."
Robinson keeps his Super Bowl I ring on him at all times. Butler? No way. He has heard "horror" stories.
"Remember Matt LaBounty? He was a defensive end who played for us," said Butler. "After 9-11, when you had to take off all your jewelry - well, he left his ring in an airport. He was calling insurance, ready to file a claim, he was so upset.
"A lady in my church found it! She did the most beautiful thing; she brought it to church, gave it to me. That was the happiest day of his life."
Butler only brings his Super Bowl ring to special occasions. "And the only reason I do that is to let other people see it; they want to try it on all the time," said Butler.
Robinson has heard an estimate of $27,000 to replace a lost or stolen Super Bowl I ring. He's also heard estimates of what the rings are worth today.
Former Green Bay tackle Steve Wright (1964-'67) auctioned off his Super Bowl I ring and it sold for $73,409, according to Pro Football Talk, which quoted Grey Flannel Auctions President Richard Russek as saying it is the only player's ring from the first Super Bowl to be offered in a public sale.
Robinson has heard some could fetch more: around $85,000 to $100,000 for a starter on that team and maybe even $125,000 or more for a Hall of Famer.
Brown can't imagine selling his rings - two for the Super Bowls and another for the 1965 championship. He just got them back.
He said that when he divorced his wife in 1971, two of the rings were missing; he suspected all along that she had them, though she denied it.
"The judge told her, 'If I ever find out that you have them, I'm going to hold you in contempt of court,'" said Brown. "He was serious. And she had them, she had them all along. And we got them back. I signed a paper that we would not prosecute her."
He got the rings back just three years ago and now keeps them in a safe-deposit box. They're heirlooms, something to pass down to children.
"The rings mean a lot," said Brown. "You have Hall of Famers. To have one, to have three is wonderful. It's a badge of honor."
The symbolism is different for everyone. Sometimes it is personal. Freeman specifically brings his Super Bowl ring when he talks to kids, to get their attention.
"I want them to know that, yes, I came from the inner city. I came from your school, your rec program," said Freeman. Then he shows them his ring. "But if you sacrifice, if you go to school, listen to your parents, you can make it, too."
Other times, the ring represents something bigger.
"I remember the 1970s and '80s, and they were not very kind to us," said Harlan, the former team president. "Four winning seasons, two playoff appearances. I got the calls from fans who said the league has passed you by.
"So for us to be back on top was the biggest thrill for me."