- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Not again!

Yes, again. Mercury Morris’ Super Bowl ring from the ‘72 Dolphins has been stolen for the second time — which, come to think of it, might be an NFL record.

The original ring was swiped back in ‘78; its replacement vanished from a hotel men’s room Friday, when Morris removed it to wash his hands, got caught up in a conversation and left it behind on the sink. Bye-bye, bauble.

There’s a lot of that going around in sports — championship rings suddenly disappearing on their owners. In January, Kansas basketball star Keith Langford had two Final Four rings and two Big 12 championship rings burglarized from his mother’s house. In December, Eddie Litzenberger’s missing Stanley Cup ring from the ‘61 Blackhawks turned up on EBay, for goodness sakes. A month earlier, Geno Auriemma left his car unlocked in a parking lot, and two teens made off with four national championship rings he won as coach of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team.

“Just because somebody steals something and wears it around,” Auriemma grumped, “doesn’t make them good at anything.”

Except maybe breaking and entering.

It’s hard to decide who’s dumber in some of these cases, the owners or the thieves. I mean, taking a Super Bowl ring off in the bathroom and forgetting to put it back on … What kind of knucklehead would do something like that?

Uh, actually, Morris isn’t the first one. Just last June, the Patriots’ Tully Banta-Cain did the same thing at a mall in Providence, R.I. Talk about a rookie mistake.

OK, but what about leaving a whole cache of rings behind in a briefcase, for anyone to help himself to? That’s gotta be a once-in-a-millennium thing, right?

Not exactly. Five months before Auriemma’s gaffe, Rocky Bleier was speaking at a convention in Charlotte and put an attache case containing three of his Super Bowl rings in an unlocked room offstage. You know the rest. (Fortunately, the former Steelers star was wearing his fourth ring.)

It’s a wonder the robber didn’t get a hernia hauling them away. Have you ever seen a Super Bowl ring? It’s about the size of a defensive tackle. Morris’, by no means the gaudiest, has 16 diamonds. Which raises the question: Why would anybody go out in public with these things — without an armed guard, that is, or at least someone to accompany him to the men’s room?

And yet, a few years back at a fund-raiser, Rusty Staub actually let fans try one of his rings on — the one he got for winning the ‘73 National League pennant with the Mets. Now there’s an athlete asking for trouble. Staub turned away for a second and … that’s the last he saw of the ring.

“I can’t say someone definitely stole it,” he told New York magazine, “but we looked everywhere for it and never found it.”

I can’t say someone definitely stole it? Repeat after me, Monsieur Grand Orange: Someone … stole … it.

People’s desire to possess these rings — any kind of ring — knows no bounds. Chester Marcol’s Packers Hall of Fame ring? Swiped. Dexter Jackson’s 1996 Florida State Orange Bowl championship ring? Lifted. David Wells’ bathtub ring? I’ll have to get back to you on that one.

If we’ve learned anything over the years, though, it’s that no ring is safe — not Keith Hernandez’s, not Joe Torre’s, not Joe DiMaggio’s. (The latter was the Brinks Job of the ‘80s. Joltin’ Joe lost nine World Series rings in a hotel heist.) Heck, somebody even filched a ‘66 Orioles World Series ring from the archives room of a library at Western Maryland College. Imagine the planning involved — not just to steal such a valuable piece of sports memorabilia, but to actually find the archives room of a library at Western Maryland College.

Of course, these trinkets aren’t that easy to dispose of, as thieves often find out. There are certainly better places to fence a championship ring than EBay (where Ritzenberger’s and Jackson’s were found). Wearing the rings around can also be problematical. People are apt to notice a 13-year-old brandishing a UConn national championship ring (which was the breakthrough in the Auriemma case).

So there’s hope for Mercury Morris yet. If his ring doesn’t turn up, though, it’s not the end of the world. He knows how he can get another one — just like he did before.

Teams, fortunately, are smart enough to keep the molds.

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