The fire in the fall of 2001 took almost all that Tim Crowe and his family cherished. The home in Watkinsville, Ga., the furniture, the mementos - almost everything except Crowe, his wife and their five children.
Included was the ring Crowe earned for helping Georgia's football team win the 1981 Southeastern Conference title.
"We lost everything," Crowe said Thursday.
Since then, Crowe has been working with his alma mater in hopes of getting a replacement for the ring. Even if he succeeds, though, it still won't ever truly replace the original.
That's why Crowe, a former defensive lineman for the Bulldogs, finds it so hard to understand why nine current Georgia players decided to sell their 2002 SEC Championship rings.
"What these kids are thinking right now, I don't know," said the 42-year-old Crowe, who works as a firefighter. "I know it's tough without the money. But that little money ain't going to do nothing. Not for long, anyway."
Crowe and other former SEC football champions at Georgia couldn't believe the news Thursday morning that the nine players - receivers Michael Johnson and Fred Gibson, cornerbacks Kenny Bailey, Tim Jennings and Bruce Thornton, defensive tackle Darrius Swain, nose tackle Kedric Golston, linebacker Tony Taylor and walk-on Trey Young - sold their rings and were declared ineligible by the NCAA.
Danny Rodgers, who won an SEC title with the Bulldogs in 1976, doesn't even wear his ring anymore for fear of damaging it. He keeps it in a box at his home in Athens, Ga.
"I can't believe these kids would take something they've worked so hard for, that means so much to the university - and means so much to us ex-players, too - and sell them like that," said Rodgers, a former linebacker who is the general manager of a concrete company in Athens. "It's disheartening, I can tell you that. ... They don't realize what this means to us old dogs."
For many former Georgia players with rings, they treasure showing them off almost as much as owning them. They wear them on special occasions and proudly extend their fists whenever someone asks to "show me the ring."
"People to this day take a lot of interest in it," said Marty Ballard, an offensive lineman on the 1980 team that won national and SEC titles. "I don't wear it a whole lot, just on certain occasions. People are just really interested in looking at it."
The nine players reprimanded were interested in selling them, and that disturbs former Bulldogs who watched with pride last season as Georgia went 13-1 and won the SEC for the first time since 1982.
All this started recently when it was discovered that Golston, a freshman, sold his Sugar Bowl jersey and SEC Championship and Sugar Bowl rings. The memorabilia was eventually sold on eBay for $3,500.
In the subsequent investigation, the other eight players were discovered to have sold their SEC Championship rings. According to university compliance director Amy Chisolm, an unidentified person bought the rings from the players for various amounts.
NCAA regulations do not prohibit athletes from selling rings as long as they receive no more than fair-market value. The university, which is working to recover the rings, has not said how much money the players received for the rings.
Charley Trippi never got a ring for winning national and SEC titles in 1942 and 1946. He and his teammates received gold footballs for winning the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl, and he still has them.
The 81-year-old Trippi, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame who still lives in Athens, said players should be able to sell whatever is theirs.
"If something belongs to me personally and I want to sell it, I don't think the NCAA should have any jurisdiction over it," he said. "It's my personal belongings, and it's at my discretion what I want to do with it. I think it's terrible, really."
Past SEC champions for Georgia's football team react to nine current Bulldogs selling their 2002 SEC title rings:
"We never got a ring back when I played. They gave us gold footballs. You want to buy one? I have championship rings from when I played in the NFL with the Cardinals, and a Hall of Fame ring, but they're not for sale. I've also got my college ring and that's not for sale. I value my rings."
- Charley Trippi, won national and SEC titles in 1942 and 1946
"I can't figure it out. It's something that you cherish for the rest of your life. Ain't nothing better than somebody coming up and asking to see your ring. They need to learn 'em, teach 'em or show 'em what a gift is. Because not many folks win these things. I imagine when their children are born and raised, they'll wish they had those rings back."
- Tim Crowe won a national title in 1980 and three SEC titles from 1980-82
"It is discouraging. I think it's more of a generational thing than anything. Nowadays, people just don't care as much for that type of stuff as we did 20 years ago. But I'm sure this has been heartbreaking for a lot of people."
- Marty Ballard on the freshman team when Georgia won the SEC title in 1976, and was a senior on the 1980 team
"I don't think they value it much now. I think down the road they will. I think the'll be sorry they did it. Evidently, it doesn't mean as much to this generation of player. And maybe this generation of player needs a little bit more finances to do what they've got to do."
- Danny Rodgers won an SEC title in 1976
Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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