Kramer gets missing SB I ring back after 25 years

Updated: May 16, 2006, 5:43 PM ET
Associated Press

MILWAUKEE -- Jerry Kramer, star right guard of the Green Bay Packers under legendary coach Vince Lombardi, got back his Super Bowl I championship ring that disappeared 25 years ago and said he would sell a replica of it to raise money for needy retired NFL players.

Kramer received the ring at a ceremony Tuesday in front of a statue of Lombardi at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

"This is a historic heirloom from Super Bowl I and an important piece of my legacy, one that I had anticipated passing on to my children," Kramer, 70, said in a statement.

"It is a symbol of all my experiences and all my emotions from that era of my life."

Kramer, who lives in Boise, Idaho, has said the ring disappeared in 1981 when he was on an airline flight. He said he went into a restroom and removed the ring to wash his hands. When he returned to his seat, he realized he did not have it on -- and it wasn't in the restroom when he went back to retrieve it.

The ring showed up last month in an auction on the Web site of Mastro Auctions Inc. of Burr Ridge, Ill. Kramer contacted Mastro on April 21 after a former teammate's son told him about it. Mastro President Doug Allen pulled the ring from auction after Kramer called him.

Allen said he purchased the ring from the person who had put it up for auction through his business, and then turned it over to Kramer at no cost to the former Packer. Allen declined to name the man, or to specify how much was paid.

"There were a number of legal and business steps we had to go through with our consignor to make this work, but we agreed that Jerry deserved to get his ring back at no cost," Allen said.

Kramer, who played with the Packers from 1958 to 1968, said he was grateful Mastro returned the ring. He has been wearing a replica of it made from the same mold used for the original in 1966.

He said money raised by auctioning off the replica will go toward needy retired players, who he said are receiving inadequate pension and disability compensation from the league.

"I have always felt great concern and frustration regarding the condition of some of the retired players who helped build the league," he said. "The physical and economic conditions they deal with due to the lack of a sufficient pension and disability compensation is reprehensible."

Kramer said he was prompted to act by seeing the situations of some former teammates and opponents.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said players prior to 1959 were not originally in the NFL pension plan, though they were added years ago.

"We do more than most industries for former employees, and every collective bargaining negotiation with the union has resulted in improvements for retired players," he said. "We spend $5 million a month on retirement and disability benefits for more than 2,500 players as other industries are closing down their pension plans."

The auction house was helping Kramer organize the sale of the replica ring, to take place May 22-26 online. He hopes to raise $30,000 or $40,000.

Kramer said he intends to work with Allen to put together a larger auction of items from the NFL's history to raise more money for his trust fund to help retired players, and hoped to raise $2 million from that.

"If we can't raise that much, I'd be very disappointed," he said.

Allen said the person who put the original ring up for auction had gotten it about five years ago from a San Francisco business, which the auction house owner said he believed was a jewelry store.

Kramer's spokeswoman, Jennifer Smith, identified the person who took the ring to Mastro Auctions as Steven Mitnick, a Frenchtown, N.J., attorney. Mitnick declined comment when contacted by The Associated Press.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press