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Friday, September 16, 2011
Updated: September 17, 10:56 AM ET
Lost Super Bowl ring to be returned

By Rich Cimini
Associated Press

The 1968 New York Jets have produced another miracle.

A Super Bowl ring, lost 40 years ago off the shores of Hawaii, has turned up in Honolulu and will be returned to former Jets center John Schmitt.

Schmitt, 68, who started on the Super Bowl III team that stunned the Baltimore Colts in January 1969, lost the ring in 1971 while taking surfing lessons off Waikiki Beach, according to KGMB-TV in Honolulu.

John Schmitt
A Super Bowl ring lost four decades ago off Waikiki will soon be returned to former New York Jets center John Schmitt, right, shown in 2005.

"That that ring was found is a bloody miracle," Schmitt told the TV station. "It really is a miracle, you know."

Schmitt said he didn't realize the ring was missing until he got back to shore. He searched for hours, finally surrendering.

"I got a snorkel and some flippers and I went out and I dove until I was blue," Schmitt said. "I'm not kidding you. It must have been three hours I was out there looking. I couldn't find it anywhere. I was just exhausted. I virtually could not swim or flip my legs anymore. And I just went in broken-hearted."

What happened next was something out of a novel. A lifeguard named John Ernstberg found the ring and gave it to his wife, Mary. The couple died in the 1990s. Their great niece, Cindy Saffery, inherited the estate along with her husband and discovered the ring while sorting through the Ernstbergs' possessions. They took it to a jeweler, who confirmed its authenticity. The 14-karat gold ring had diamonds, the trademark of the ringmaker, Schmitt's No. 52 and his last name and the score of the Super Bowl as well as the AFL championship, the jeweler told the Associated Press.

Schmitt and the Safferys finally hooked up Wednesday by phone. Schmitt, who lives on Long Island, invited them to New York so he can thank them in person -- on his dime.

When Jets fans read about Schmitt's ring discovery Friday night on the Internet, some began tweeting it's a sign of luck and that the current team is destined for the Super Bowl. They haven't been back since 1969.

For Schmitt, who grew up on Long Island and attended Hofstra University (where the Jets trained for 40 years), his time with the Jets (1964-1973) was a lifelong dream. He played through Joe Namath's heyday, and the pinnacle, of course, was the historic win over the Colts.

Schmitt, in a 2008 interview with the New York Daily News, said he played Super Bowl III with pneumonia. By the fourth quarter, he was on the verge of exhaustion. He was so ill that, during the postgame prayer in the locker room, he vomited. Namath, kneeling beside Schmitt, scooted away in a hurry.

Also in that interview, Schmitt said, "I wear my Super Bowl ring every day and when I look at it, I can recall every play in the game." He didn't mention that it was a replica. Soon he will have the real thing.

Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com.