The Super Bowl ring is one of the greatest symbols of athletic triumph. NFL players have been known to break down when they can finally fit that particular bit of jewelry on their fingers, and I've met enough former players, coaches, and executives who would never be separated from their rings to know that the buzz lasts forever. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft has three such rings from his team's wins in Super Bowls XXXVI, XXXVIII, and XXXIX. The ring Kraft won for that last Super Bowl, at the end of the 2004 season, went missing in a very unusual way.
As the story goes, Kraft met Russian President Vladimir Putin at a gathering of business and political leaders at Konstantinovsky Palace near St. Petersburg, Russia, in June of 2005. Kraft and Putin talked a while, Kraft took off his ring to show it to Putin, and Putin promptly put the ring in his pocket and walked off.
"I showed the president my most recent Super Bowl ring,” Kraft said in a subsequent statement. Putin “was clearly taken with its uniqueness."
“At that point, I decided to give him the ring as a symbol of the respect and admiration that I have for the Russian people and the leadership of President Putin."
But as Kraft said recently, per the New York Post, that's not what really happened.
“I took out the ring and showed it to [Putin], and he put it on and he goes, ‘I can kill someone with this ring,’” Kraft said during the Carnegie Hall’s Medal of Excellence gala in New York City.“I put my hand out, and he put it in his pocket, and three KGB guys got around him and walked out.”
On Sunday, Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied the allegation.
"What Mr. Kraft is saying now is weird," Peskov told CNN. "I was standing 20 centimeters away from him and Mr. Putin and saw and heard how Mr. Kraft gave this ring as a gift."
Through NFL.com, the team seemed to want this story to go away very quickly.
"It's a humorous, anecdotal story that Robert re-tells for laughs. He loves that his ring is at the Kremlin and, as he stated back in 2005, he continues to have great respect for Russia and the leadership of President Putin," a team spokesman said. "In particular, he credits President Putin for modernizing the Russian economy."
As Kraft told it more recently, were it not for the intervention of the White House, this could have gotten ugly. Kraft wanted his ring back, obviously not intimidated by Putin's alleged ability to kill somebody with it. The ring came in at 4.94 carats and was worth over $25,000, and Kraft was not amused. He said that he got a call from the George W. Bush-led White House, telling him that it would really be in the best interests of relations between the two countries if Kraft would change the story and say the ring was a gift.
Kraft was unmoved.
“I really didn’t [want to]. I had an emotional tie to the ring, it has my name on it. I don’t want to see it on eBay. There was a pause on the other end of the line, and the voice repeated, ‘It would really be in the best interest if you meant to give the ring as a present.’”
According to the Post, the ring is now kept in the Kremlin library -- presumably in the "Ill-Gotten Booty" section. No word yet as to whether Roger Goodell has fined Putin.
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