EDITOR’S NOTE: Front Row’s Jillian Derscheid (pronounced CHEEZ-HED!) found herself mesmerized by ESPN.com’s sparkly spectacle featured on the site this week. Following several lost work hours reveling in the joys of her beloved Green Bay Packers’ jewelry, Derscheid had lingering questions on how such a visually stunning masterpiece came together. Like the rings themselves, the piece is the result of careful planning, meticulous execution and a championship performance by Heather Burns, deputy editor for ESPN.com, Jeremy Willis, senior editor for ESPN.com and a cast of bling believers.
JD: O.K., this is a super cool Super Bowl story – how did the idea for this feature come about?
HB: The idea for the project actually began about five years ago. I did a story with Adam Teicher, our [Kansas City] Chiefs reporter, on the 45th anniversary of their Super Bowl. He sent me picture of one of their rings, and the pic sat on my desktop for years as we formulated a plan to get access to the full set of rings at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Then, at last year’s Super Bowl, Jeff Legwold, our Denver Broncos reporter and a Hall of Fame voter, got access to the Hall for some stories about the 100th anniversary of the NFL. We then came up with the idea of telling short stories about the rings based off a story our New York Jets reporter did last year. I went on a fact-finding mission to the Hall of Fame last March, and Jeremy and Rob Booth, senior photo editor, went back to take the photos in April. We assigned the stories in May. And Wednesday, it all came together!
JD: I heard that there were some challenges in photographing the rings, true?
JW: The photographers had a special rig to shoot 360-degree photos, and that created the spinning ring effect you see in the final piece. We spent two days shooting all 52 of the rings, and then returned once the 53rd ring had been made – that was the 2018 Patriots ring.
The 2018 Patriots ring is so large, and its face is really elongated. The face kept it from sitting flat, and the weight kept turning the ring over when the filming began. The photographers had to use a clear mount to keep it from tipping over.
JD: I’m a deeply-biased Packers fan, so all of those rings are my favorites. Which rings did you each appreciate the most?
HB: I’m a Cowboys fan, so I’m partial to all of their rings. My favorite is actually the one from Super Bowl VI. I like the blue stones behind the diamond that form the star.
JW: Though I’m a Cowboys fan too, my favorite designs are the Saints and the Seahawks. I love the shape of the rings and the brightness of the metal.
JD: How did you choose which ring holders to highlight, and whose anecdotes really stood out to you?
HB: We really looked for the best story. Our Ravens reporter spoke to more than 20 people before he found the right anecdote!
JW: My favorite player story was [former Dallas Cowboys receiver] Drew Pearson’s, from Super Bowl XII. For starters, going to Studio 54 with the ring sounds about as cool as it got in the 1970s. That story, along with several others, showed the “living with” quality of these rings – they’re unattainable items, historical artifacts to fans, but to these players they’re real things and sometimes crazy stuff happens with them.
HB: My favorite story was probably the one about the Broncos offensive line getting their rings fitted for their middle fingers. There was a lot of talk that year about how their line would get crushed by the Panthers in the big game, and their response is pretty clear by their ring fittings.
Paul Lanterman/OMS for ESPN photographed the rings.