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Super Bowl rings: A glitzy history of NFL championship bling

BY Alexis James

7th Feb 2023 Sport

Super Bowl rings: A glitzy history of NFL championship bling

A new Super Bowl ring will soon be forged to celebrate the NFL championship's winning team. We investigate the luxe history of this American football tradition

State Farm Stadium in Glendale plays host to the biggest event in the US sporting calendar this month as AFC champions Kansas City Chiefs take on the NFC’s Philadelphia Eagles.

This is the Chiefs' third Super Bowl appearance in four years as they enjoy a golden era with the brilliant Patrick Mahomes at its heart.

A generational talent who many believe can emulate the great Tom Brady, Mahomes' dazzling throws combine with a steely fortitude that saw him play with a sprained ankle in the AFC Championship victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Eagles make a Super Bowl return following their first title in 2017, and are marginal favourites thanks to the stingiest defence in the NFL.

In Jalen Hurts, a 24-year-old quarterback playing only his second full season, they also have their own MVP contender. Let's just hope he leaves the singing to Rihanna.

It’ll be apt if the singer includes 2012 hit "Diamonds" as part of her half-time show, given what’s on offer for the team who reign on the night.

For as the Vince Lombardi trophy heads to a stadium museum moments after it’s raised aloft, the prize the players truly covet is the one they get to take home on their finger.

All-American tradition

Vince Lombardi and Green Bay Packers at Super Bowl 1967Vince Lombardi commissioned the original super bowl ring after his Green Bay Packers won the 1967 Super Bowl 

Vince Lombardi—who else?—is credited with designing the original Super Bowl ring. The pioneering coach came up with the 0.5 carat single-diamond design after his Green Bay Packers team won the first ever Super Bowl in 1967.

But Lombardi can’t take all the credit. The NBA has been awarding its best basketballers rings since 1947, while Babe Ruth’s 1927 World Series ring—baseball’s first—earned actor Charlie Sheen over $2 million when he sold the prized memorabilia in 2017.

Nevertheless the Packers coach, with the help of jeweller Jostens, crafted that first ring in his own image, featuring his credo (“harmony, courage, valor”) and the Lombardi family’s coat of arms.

"Vince Lombardi came up with the 0.5 carat single-diamond design after his Green Bay Packers team won the first ever Super Bowl"

This personalisation set a precedent that has been followed by generations of NFL greats since, and ensured that America’s top jewellers are always striving to improve on previous designs.

The result is that when the LA Rams won Super Bowl LVI in 2022, each ring featured 20 carats of white diamonds set in gold, and a Rams logo formed of blue and yellow sapphires.

Today’s gridiron bling makes Lombardi’s original effort look like a Christmas cracker insert.

Charm offensive

It takes around four months to produce the rings, and the process begins the moment the full-time whistle goes. But no sooner. Pitching designs before the game would aggrieve notoriously-superstitious footballers.

“Immediately following the Super Bowl, companies will reach out and start sending in design ideas,” says Jason Arasheben.

In 2021, his company Jason of Beverly Hills disrupted Jostens’ near-monopoly on the space (they’d created 36 of the previous 54 Super Bowl rings) when they were picked to design the winning rock for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Jason was already Hollywood’s go-to jeweller with a client list that included Jennifer Lopez, Kim Kardashian, Drake, and Justin Bieber (a diamond-encrusted Stewie Griffin, if you must know) when he received a ringing endorsement from a certain Bucs’ quarterback who was well accustomed to championship jewellery.

“When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl, we had numerous clients on that team, including Tom Brady, who went to the ownership and said they wanted to have something different,” remembers Jason.

Crafting a Super Bowl ring

Los Angeles Rams' super bowl ring featuring removable lidCourtesy of Brevin Townsell/LA Rams. The Los Angeles Rams' super bowl ring features a removable top, which conceals a statuette of the stadium

Brady had been impressed by Jason’s work on the NBA championship rings, and wanted a similar treatment for his record-breaking seventh. With the most successful player in NFL history holding significant sway, Jason got to work.

“We write out a storyline of the team. Their record, statistics—we want to know about the organisation as a whole, the colour palette, their logos, then we want to understand the city. What are the important monuments?”

Also under consideration are locker room sayings that proved inspirational. For Tampa Bay, that was their “one team, one cause” mantra.

That design was the first to feature a removable lid, underneath which was a hand-engraved Raymond James Stadium, commemorating the Bucs becoming the first team to win the Super Bowl on home turf. Its 319 diamonds represented the 31-9 scoreline.

"Its 319 diamonds represented the 31-9 scoreline"

Given the level of intricacy and detail, not to mention Jason’s location, it was no surprise when he won the contract for the LA Rams a year later.

“The LA Rams ring was probably my favourite,” says Jason.

Again, the ring featured a removable top, plus innovative new elements that Jason couldn’t wait to share.

“We also had a piece of the ball that was used on the inside of the cap. We did a statuette of the stadium, and the green that's on the field is made up of the actual turf the players played on. It makes for an amazing storytelling experience when you're showing the ring.”

Show me the money

There are around 50 players in an NFL squad but owners, management, and dozens of coaches also get to add to their jewellery collection. Medics, cheerleaders, and stadium staff have been known to benefit too.

“Some owners will give one to every single employee, down to the person who's sweeping the floors,” says Jason, remembering the generosity of LA Rams owner Stan Kroenke. “Every employee that did anything for the Rams, Mr Kroenke and his family delivered them a ring. Which was amazing.”

It’s certainly amazing for the chosen jeweller, often invoicing for hundreds of pieces of jewellery.

Rings are tiered according to seniority, so while the dinner ladies in the Rams canteen may not be boasting a gem as weighty as LA star Aaron Donald’s, it’ll still be worth a pretty penny.

For while the NFL is thought to offer around $5,000 per ring, franchise owners are left to foot a considerable remainder on the bill.

“Ultimately, the decision lies in the hands of the ownership on how big they're going to go, how flashy, and how expensive” says Jason, who remains tight-lipped on costs.

In 2015, it was widely reported that New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft paid Jostens over $5.5 million for 150 rings.

Putin's bling ring, and other lost treasure

New England Patriots super bowl ring from NFL championship on displayCredit: Erik Frost, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr. Putin reportedly took a shine to Robert Kraft's New England Patriots' super bowl ring and took it for himself

Given the astronomical sums involved, it’s no wonder that these hallowed bands present a security risk. Thefts over the years have ranged from opportunist nabs by petty thieves to warehouse heists from sophisticated criminal gangs.

Sadly some footballers, bankrupt and crestfallen, have been forced to auction their prized asset. Other sorry tales have had happier endings. When New York Jets centre John Schmitt lost his Super Bowl III ring while surfing in Hawaii in 1971, he probably never expected to be reunited with it 40 years later.

But perhaps the strangest case is the one that sees Patriots silver on display in the Kremlin. Following a 2005 meeting in St Petersburg between Vladimir Putin and the aforementioned New England owner Kraft, the Russian president took a shine to his visitor’s digit diamonds.

"Putin placed the Super Bowl XXXIX ring on his finger, uttered the words 'I could kill someone with this', then walked off"

According to Kraft, Putin placed the Super Bowl XXXIX ring on his finger, uttered the words “I could kill someone with this", then walked off surrounded by KGB henchmen.

At the time, a dejected Pats owner was asked by the Bush administration to play down the furore and insist it was a gift. Kraft would reveal the truth about pickpocket Putin some years later.

It’s coming home

Whether you think championship rings are a gaudy symbol of American brashness, or a proud tradition lauding elite achievement, there are signs that the trend is catching on closer to home.

After Chelsea’s Champions League win in 2012, Jason was contacted by an unexpected customer. “Didier Drogba texted me and said, ‘Can you do championship rings for us?’ And they had their own private ceremony.”

More recently, Paul Pogba commissioned the jeweller to celebrate France’s World Cup win in 2018, while Antoine Griezmann followed suit after Atletico Madrid’s Super Cup victory over rivals Real Madrid that same year.

But while Jason is seeing increasing interest from Europe, there’s only one job on his mind this month.

“Whoever wins the Super Bowl, they can expect to hear from me the very next morning. We are already prepping. And we're excited by the opportunity. We have new ideas ready to go.”

Banner image: John Tornow, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Alexis James is the author of Unsung: Not All Heroes Wear Kits out now on Pitch Publishing. Find out more on the Unsung website

You can find out more on the history of America's favourite sport with NFL Football: A History of America's New National Pastime.

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