In an unreservedly delicious moment, the 2009 New Orleans Saints gathered as a team for perhaps the last time Wednesday night, walking the red carpet to the Roosevelt Hotel and heading inside for a private ceremony to receive Super Bowl XLIV championship rings.
The Tiffany pieces, glittering with diamonds and yellow gold, were remarkably valuable in and of themselves -- no one would offer a precise appraisal, although some estimates ran to $30,000 a pop -- but quarterback Drew Brees said they were more priceless than a Faberge egg.
"It symbolizes not just this year, but the culmination of four years of ups and downs," Brees said. "A lot of work and a lot of struggle, but we found a way to become world champions -- and it was never about just one person or even just the team. It was about our city and the community."
Still, from a player and team standpoint, it's not too shabby, Brees said. It seemed impossible the ring could hold so many iconic images of New Orleans, and Brees said some of the touches might resonate only with a Saints insider.
"It's absolutely perfect," he said.
A small crowd gathered on University Place as the Saints trickled in, shouting encouragement to familiar players like tight end Jeremy Shockey and safety Darren Sharper and big roars for Brees, Coach Sean Payton and owner Tom Benson.
Most of the Saints were dressed to the nines, but Benson outshone them all in a bespoke black suit with gold pin stripes that read "Saints world champions." When asked about his duds, Benson gave a sprightly half-spin and said, "If you can't dress up tonight when can you?"
In addition to finery, nearly every member of the organization wore a huge smile -- and the vibe from many was something close to rhapsodic.
General Manager Mickey Loomis was momentarily nonplussed on the runway when a scribe joked, "What are you wearing?' ("Target," he eventually shot back), but there wasn't any doubt about what they would be wearing when they left -- and in case anyone had any doubt, the singular blue Tiffany boxes stacked outside would have removed it.
"I don't know about best behavior tonight. We're going to enjoy it," Loomis said, beaming. "We're going to reflect on the game and celebrate the game, obviously, and the accomplishment."
The Saints rings were, a press release proudly noted, "Handcrafted in yellow gold featuring the New Orleans Saints fleur-de-lis logo set with round diamonds. 'World Champions' is bezel set with eight diamonds on the top of the ring."
Said kicker Garrett Hartley: "I don't really wear too much bling."
So how much will he wear this ring?
"Well, I probably imagine for the first couple of days it would be a little more," said Hartley whose field goal in overtime against the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC championship game at the Superdome put the Saints in Super Bowl XLIV. Also, his three kicks of more than 40 yards against the Indianapolis Colts set a Super Bowl record. "I might sleep in it tonight, I'm not exactly sure yet. After that, I'll probably put it in a safety or a lock box."
Despite all the accomplishments they have racked up over a professional athlete's career, the Saints said nothing compared to this.
"This is special. I've been waiting for a championship ring for a while now," offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod said. "Since high school, actually, and to get it here at the highest level it's a blessing, let me tell you."
Another blessing, several Saints said, was the presence of so many people who had meant so much to the team leading up to that magical 31-17 victory over the Colts. Among the former players included in the ring ceremony were Charles Grant, Mike McKenzie, Scott Fujita, John Carney, Mark Brunell, Paul Spicer, Darnell Dinkins, Billy Miller, Jamar Nesbit, Mike Bell and Deuce McAllister.
As defensive coordinator Gregg Williams noted, he could not wait to hobnob and celebrate with so many former Saints defenders, some of whom he described as his favorite people and, in Fujita's case, a friend off the field as well.
"And then tomorrow that's over, and I'll be dedicated to trying to whip Fujita's butt when he comes here with Cleveland this fall," Williams said.
For all Williams' jocularity, however, there were signs of the world spinning on.
Saints executive vice-president Rita Benson LeBlanc, for instance, stressed the celebration would also take note that one ring -- the one auctioned to raise Gulf Coast oil spill relief money -- would not be awarded inside the Roosevelt.
Payton, who said he couldn't envision a fleur-de-lis and jewelry not matching beautifully, said he felt another familiar juice starting to flow.
"Certainly, we've got the trip in August coming up the White House, but this does put closure on it," he said. "But I'll tell you what else it does. It whets your appetite, and once you achieve something like this, you certainly thirst for more."
Click to view image: '969d64334c83-saintssuperbowlringceremonye7699003146e943f_large.jpg'
|Liveleak on Facebook|