Only a phone call prevented an international incident

Updated: July 5, 2005, 11:20 AM ET
By Ray Ratto | Special to ESPN.com

Super Bowl titles come and go, but some actions carry much greater importance.

Thus was the phone call, made Wednesday by Bill Belichick on behalf of his employer, Robert Kraft, and intercepted by an American spy satellite hovering thousands of miles above Kaliningrad. Belichick was in charge of gauging Vladimir Putin's interest in returning Kraft's ring, which, contrary to Kraft's statement on the record, really wasn't intended to be a gift.

"Prime Minister Putin, please."

"And who might I say is calling?"

"Bill Belichick. Tell him I'm breaking down film, and I don't have a lot of time to screw around here."

"No, I do not think I will tell him that, sir. What is the nature of your call?"

"He's got something that belongs to my boss."

"Your boss … "

"My boss. Robert Kraft. They met the other day. Look, just tell him it's Belichick. He's heard of me."

"Please hold, you brutish American tool."

"Say what?"

"Please hold."


"Yes, this is Prime Minister Putin. Mr. Kraft, it is good to speak with you again. I will cherish your very generous gift forever. You are a true friend to the Russian people."

"Hello, Mr. Prime Minister. This is Bill Belichick, Mr. Kraft's associate, and speaking of the gift, we need to speak on a matter of some delicacy."

"Please, anything. Let me assure you that our conversation will be kept completely confidential."

"Yeah, sure. Who do you think I am, Steve Mariucci?"

"I'm sorry?"

"Never mind. Let me be frank here. The ring he showed you? Well, and I want to say this without causing any offense, but it was never meant to be a gift."

"Really?"

"Really. And he wants it back."

"Oh, dear. I've already sent it to our Prezzies From Rich Capitalists Museum in Minsk."

"Well, can you get it back?"

"That would create a problem. You see, we Russians are very sensitive about such matters. To ask for the return of a gift is considered a great insult, and while I completely understand that Mr. Kraft may not have understood this, I was under the impression that he was giving it to the great Russian people as a sign of friendship and cooperation."

"No, he just wanted you to see it."

"Why? So we could be impressed by the ostentation of your ring fingers? So we could see your taste in headlight-sized accoutrements? So we could feel shame at the extraordinary extent of your vanity?"

"No, Mr. Prime Minister. It's a Super Bowl ring, and very few people have them. It is very special to him, and he was sharing it with you to see something he is very proud of."

"Well, Mr. Betchilick … "

"Belichick."

"Of course. It is my understanding after speaking with our Foreign Service that hundreds of them are awarded each year for winning a football game that comes at the end of a week-long drunk. It is my understanding that you give them to your secretaries, and your night janitors, and even your backup long snappers. So clearly more than a few people have them."

"True, Vladimir, and may I call you Vladimir?"

"No."

"Fine. Anyway, Vladimir, he would like you to know that he means no offense, and wishes to compensate you for the return of the ring, and for any awkwardness he might have caused by not explaining ahead of time that the damned thing wasn't supposed to end up in your pocket!"

"I'm sorry?"

"Please excuse me. My cell phone seems to be picking up some interference."

"Yes, we have trouble with technology as well."

"I apologize again. Let me call you back on a land line. "


"There we go. Much better. I must tell you I hate cell phones."

"And I must tell you I'm beginning to hate this conversation."

"Fine. Whatever. Anyway, is there some sort of exchange we could agree upon so that nobody leaves with hard feelings?"

"You are a fair and honorable man, Mr. Bestichuk. How are you fixed for uranium?"

"Sorry, Not much call for it here on the football side. How about an autographed football?"

"You're kidding, right?"

"Can't blame a guy for trying."

"Of course not. What do you think would be Mr. Kraft's opinion of having one of your Super Bowls held in Moscow?"

"Way above my pay grade, sir. You'd have to speak with a Mr. Tagliabue."

"That guy? Forget it. He gives me the willies."

"He gives all of us the willies. What say I pass along your interest in hosting a preseason game? I hear the 49ers and Cardinals are playing in Mexico this year."

"One, no preseason. Only ones that count. We don't want to see your Mr. Brady and Mr. Dillon plays three plays and then stand on the sidelines the rest of the night singing your hip-hop music things. And two, no 49ers and no Cardinals under any circumstances. We would, of course, want your team to come, as I understand you win jewelry and many other riches when you play."

"Yes, but that's mostly because … er, a trip to your lovely country would only distract our players and cause them to perform badly, and we would not wish to insult me … er, you by giving a substandard effort."

"I understand. Perhaps, then you could provide us with some technical support so that we might begin our own football league. I understand you have a Russian gentleman on your team already."

"Russian? Russian? I don't think … uhh, you mean Tedy Bruschi?"

"Yes, yes. This Brewski fellow would be just the person."

"Well, maybe, but he isn't Russian, and in any event is recuperating from a recent illness, and really isn't available to travel."

"Mr. Bezhstastnik, I am beginning to think you do not wish to deal fairly with us after all. We are not asking for all that much, and in any event we do have the ring, which I believe is already being broken down into its component parts by our scientists for analysis. But perhaps we could speak again on this subject soon … "

"Yeah, maybe you and Mr. Kraft ought to get together and hash this out. But just so you know, I'm going to tell him that we're just going to win him another one anyway, so it isn't like he really needs that one, and he may as well just say it was a gift and be done with it. I mean, he's already got one for each ring finger, and anything else would just make him look like some Biggie Smalls impersonator."

"Uhh, who?"

"Think Khrushchev, only much cooler."

Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle is a regular contributor to ESPN.com

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