Naturally, play stopped when the final gun sounded at Super Bowl XXIII in Miami's Joe Robbie Stadium Sunday. But despite San Franciso's 20-16 victory, one key aspect of the National Football League championship game remained unsettled as the teams left the field.

The 49er officials still must decide on the design and cost of Super Bowl rings, those gaudy emblems of NFL supremacy. Forget about tasteful understatement; when it comes to sports championship rings, glitter is the measure of glory. Tradition dictates the piling on of as much gold and as many diamonds and lesser gems as the budget will allow.In a typical year, eight to 10 jewelry manufacturers vie for the right to produce Super Bowl rings. But during the 22-year history of the game, only four companies have submitted winning bids. Jostens Inc. of Minneapolis is the pacesetter, with 14 Super Bowls to its credit. L.G. Balfour Co. Inc. of Attleboro, Mass., follows with four and Lenox Awards Inc. of St. Charles, Ill., with three, all involving the Oakland-Los Angeles Raiders.

Last year, a newcomer joined this elite group. Tiffany & Co. of New York City produced the Washington Redskins' championship rings.

Actually, Tiffany's has been closely associated with the Super Bowl from the beginning. Oscar Riedener, one of the company's designers, devised the sterling silver trophy presented to the Green Bay Packers after Super Bowl I and to every subsequent NFL champion. The trophy has since been named for the Packers' legendary coach, Vince Lombardi.

Firms competing for the right to make championship rings for the NFL, or any other pro sports league, usually make preliminary contact with contending teams during the playoffs. Serious bargaining does not begin until after a titlist is crowned.

"We do some speculative designs before the first meeting based on our feeling about what types of symbolism and logo integration would be meaningful to that organization," says Nick Cookas, central area manager for the Jostens recognition division. According to Cookas, the time needed to hammer out a contract can range all the way from several months to a few days. Negotiations on the New York Giants' rings for Super Bowl XXI were especially fast and smooth, he recalls.

Though a distant second in the Super Bowl ring derby, Balfour scored a rare "grand slam" in 1981-82. During that sports year, the company was chosen to make rings not only for the NFL titlist but also for the World Series winner and the champions of the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League.

For its part, Jostens boasts of having crafted the largest Super Bowl ring to date. Made for Chicago Bears lineman William "the Refrigerator" Perry in 1986, the size 23 ring is about the circumference of a half-dollar and weighs 34.4 pennyweight - approximately one-seventh of a pound.