In today's Super Bowl, Tom Brady, Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel and other New England Patriots will be going for their fourth championship rings. That's exclusive company.
But even if that happens, they won't be the first. Neal Dahlen, a front office staffer with San Francisco and Denver, owns seven Super Bowl rings. New England and Dallas conditioning coach Mike Woicik has six.
Charles Haley won five rings as a player, while Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Lynn Swann, Ronnie Lott and Bill Romanowski collected four.
Another who has four rings is former University of Utah tight end Marv Fleming.
Trouble is, he doesn't want to talk about it.
At least that's what he said eight years ago.
I had called him maybe 10 times in 13 months, at his home in L.A., to ask about his claim to be the first player to get four rings two with Green Bay and two with Miami. He was also on one losing Super Bowl team.
But he never picked up his phone or returned messages. Finally in January 2000, Fleming answered. When I told him I was hoping to write about his Super Bowl success, he treated me like I was selling timeshares. Couldn't get off the phone fast enough. He said reporters only write what they want, regardless of facts, so no thanks. Minus the thanks.
I reminded him that several years earlier, he had two Super Bowl rings stolen from the Snowbird Canyon Racquet Club and that I had written a story to help get them back. Though they were never returned, I said I thought he owed me a few minutes, to which he distantly replied, "I just don't need that anymore."
So there it was. Marv Fleming, long-ago tight end of the Packers and Dolphins, was calling no mas on Super Bowl interviews.
Eight years later, I finally found out why.
This week, I reached him on the first try and asked if he would be willing to talk about his championship rings.
"No," he said, "I really wouldn't."
He said he was on long distance and to call back in 10 minutes.
To my surprise, he answered my second call, too.
We didn't exactly hit it off. He seemed to think I was shallow and obsessed with trivial issues. I thought he was an arrogant ex-player who believed he was still in demand. For a few minutes it seemed a race to see who would hang up.
He said he didn't want to talk about rings or the undefeated '72 Dolphins. I told him I understood and that I didn't see a need to extend the conversation beyond that. Before hanging up, I asked if there was actually anything he did want to talk about. Turned out there was.
He said retired NFL players get only $36,000 in annual pension, after 10 years' service. That, he said, was deplorable. He went on to claim some of his colleagues died penniless.
He spoke of charity work to separate conjoined twins. We talked about insurance, poverty and pensions. Eventually we came to an agreement: Football isn't life.
Suddenly, surprisingly, the football stories started to flow.
Fleming, who played at Utah in the early 1960s, logged 13 starts in 17 career playoff games. Five Super Bowls is a lot of big games. He was on the 1972 Dolphins team that went undefeated, something New England is trying to duplicate.
In his day, there were fewer players and teams. Some say the competition is better now, but Fleming disagrees. He points out that when he played, there were only 36 players on a team.
He recalled that in one game, when he was with Green Bay, receiver Max McGee came into a huddle and said to Fleming, "Quit looking over at the bench."
"Why?" said Fleming.
"Because," said McGee, "you're the only tight end we've got."
Fleming considers today's teams "so watered down, the Patriots just walk through people."
As president of something called "The Perfect Season Team" a collection of former Dolphins he guards the gate to history.
"If they win, congratulations to the Patriots," said Fleming. "If you lose, you lost and you start over again."
As for whether the 2007 Patriots or the '72 Dolphins were better, he added, "The way I feel is that for the last 35 years, we were fortunate to keep the record. We were first. They (the Patriots) would be second. If that happens, we will welcome them aboard."
We eventually got around to the rings.
He said he felt happy and blessed to have been involved. But rings just don't matter to him anymore. That's why he avoided my calls eight years ago. And why he didn't want to talk about them again, this week.
It all became clear to him about 10 years ago, at a large social gathering.
"A lady comes up to me and says everybody wants to see my rings. She said, 'You think you're big stuff, don't you?' I said, 'Excuse me?' She said, 'Just because you have those two Super Bowl rings on, you think you're big stuff.' I said, 'I don't understand where you're going with this.'
"It bothered me the rest of the evening," continued Fleming. "Later at home, I'm brushing my teeth, and I see the rings. I took them both off and looked in the mirror and said, 'You're still big stuff, Marvin, without the rings.' I like to present myself as more than just Super Bowl rings."
He said you can "get caught up in the moment, when you think it's a big thing, but once you get out in life, and start seeing what life is about, helping other people ... things like that are a big thing to me."
So if the Patriots become the second team to go undefeated, and if Brady, Bruschi and the others get their fourth rings, they may think it's an all-important deal.
Fleming would probably disagree.He ended up thanking me for the call.
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