Super Bowl ring found 40 years after lost in ocean off Waikiki

Published: Sep. 15, 2011 at 11:53 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 17, 2011 at 4:37 AM HST
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John Schmitt
John Schmitt
Schmitt paddled out in front of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.
Schmitt paddled out in front of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.
John Ernstberg
John Ernstberg
Samuel & Cindy Saffery
Samuel & Cindy Saffery

By Brooks Baehr - bio | email

WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) – John Schmitt cherished his Super Bowl ring. He earned it as the starting center of the New York Jets when the AFL Jets upset the Baltimore Colts of the NFL in Super Bowl III on January 12, 1969.

"Nobody gave us a cut dogs chance of winning that Super Bowl. I mean even our own league made fun of us," Schmitt once told someone who asked about the Jets upset victory.

Two years after the Jets victory, in February of 1971, Schmitt took his first surfing lesson in the waves off Waikiki Beach while on vacation in Hawaii. He paddled out in front of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, his Super Bowl ring snug on his finger.

"I never thought about the fact that if you stay out in the water for 5 or 6 hours, your hands shrink and the ring fell off about a quarter mile out from the shore," Schmitt told Hawaii News Now.

When he got back to the beach he noticed the ring was missing and immediately launched his own search mission.

"I got a snorkel and some flippers and I went out and I dove until I was blue. 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," Schmitt said.

Few knew of the treasure that lay somewhere on the ocean floor off Waikiki. John Ernstberg certainly did not know. Ernstberg was a Waikiki lifeguard living the beach boy life. He was always at the beach rescuing visitors who got in too deep, taking people on canoe rides, and surfing the gentle swells that help make Waikiki such a popular attraction.

"One day he came home. He handed my aunt Mary Ernstberg a ring and both of them, not thinking about looking at it, just put it in a little box and put it way. And all he stated to her was, he found this in the water of Waikiki," said Cindy Saffery, John Ernstberg's great niece.

Ernstberg died in 1991. His wife Mary passed away in 1995. Their estate went to Saffery and her husband Samuel. Curiosity eventually prompted them to take the ring to a jeweler to find out if it is authentic.

They went to Brenda Reichel, an accredited gemologist and owner of Carats & Karats fine jewelry, antiques, and collectibles store in the Aina Haina Shopping Center. After examining the ring – she was sure. It is a real Super Bowl ring, the ring given to #52 of the Jets, John Schmitt.

"It was made by the Balfour Company which had the contract to do the Super Bowl rings that year," Reichel said while looking at the ring through jewelers magnifying glass.

Reichel and the Safferys contacted the Jets, discovered Schmitt lives on Long Island, and gave him a call.

"He actually called back yesterday and said, 'Yes, I lost my ring in 1971 off the shore of Waikiki at the Royal Hawaiian and I went looking for it and I never found it and you mean to tell me after 40 years someone has my ring?'" Reichel explained.

"I couldn't believe it. I mean I honestly couldn't believe it. I mean 40 years," Schmitt said after contacted by Hawaii News Now.

Reichel is confident the ring could easily be sold for as much as $10,000. But the Safferys are not interested in Schmitt's money. They just want to get the ring back on his finger.

"It's a legacy. He put a lot of hard work into this to earn this. This is not something that you just can buy off the street. This is something that you earn, so for Mr. Schmitt he earned this ring so by right it'll make me feel good to put it personally back into his hand," Samuel Saffery explained.

Schmitt is offering to fly the Safferys to New York so he can thank them in person and they can be there when his personal piece of history is returned.

"That that ring was found is a bloody miracle. It really is a miracle, you know," Schmitt concluded.

Copyright 2011 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.