West Liberty coach helps former Jet find SB ring

Imagine losing a ring.

Someone reading this has probably went through that dilemma, be it a wedding, engagement or high school class ring.

Well, imagine if you were lucky enough to play in a Super Bowl.

New York native John Schmitt was one of those lucky enough to have participated in a Super Bowl. In fact, he was the Jets’ starting center in the famous 1969 game in which Joe Namath boldly predicted a New York upset of the favored Baltimore Colts.

Sure enough, Broadway Joe was correct in his pick. This allowed his New York teammates to be rewarded with a flashy diamond-studded ring for their accomplishments.

Two years later, Schmitt realized after a long day of surfing at Waikiki Beach in Hawaii that he was missing his precious ring.

“I was sick,” he said during an interview on the Oprah Winfrey Network last week. “Thousands of men much better than me that played the game a long time and never got a sniff of a Super Bowl ring. And, then to lose it! I felt empty.

“I never took it off,” he added. “It was a dream to have a Super Bowl ring. I never saw a ring like it in my life. It was just amazing.”

After hours or snorkeling and scouring the famed Hawaiian beach for the ring, he finally gave up hope.

It just so happens that a lifeguard (John Ernstberg) working on the beach discovered the ring some 40 years later. It was taken to a church and went through some spiritual rituals, all to no avail of locating the owner, despite Schmitt’s name engraved on the side of the ring.

Finally, one of the church parishoners told the group that they had a cousin in West Virginia that was a college football coach. The cousin, Arviella Benavides, called West Liberty University football coach Roger Waialae, a native Hawaiian, seeking help in finding the ring’s owner.

“My cousin calls me out of the blue two years ago and told me the entire story,” Waialae said in a telephone interview late last week. “She said they had tried everything to find the owner, but couldn’t. I told them I would make a couple of telephone calls to see what I could do to help.”

The Hilltoppers’ coach had some contacts with scouts that frequently visit his campus in search of potential NFL prospects.

“I called one of the scouts and he gave me the number to the Jets’ front office,” Waialae explained of his involvement. “I told the lady that answered the phone that I didn’t have a lot of time to spend on this story, nor did I want to.”

Waialae said the lady told him that Schmitt often called their office on a weekly basis.

“I gave her the number and told her that if Mr. Schmitt would call, give him the number if he wanted his ring back.”

Sure enough, Schmitt contacted the Jets’ front office a fews day later and was given the number to call for his ring’s return.

“No way,” he said when informed that the ring had indeed been discovered. “Are you kidding me? Get out of here.”

Schmitt made that call and found Cindy Saffery on the other end. Saffery is Ernstberg’s great niece. The ring was a part of her inheritance when her uncle passed away.

After exchanging pleasantries, Schmitt asked Saffery’s husband, Samuel, if he would be kind enough to mail the ring to him.

Samuel Saffery quickly answered, “No. Better than that, we want to hand it to you personally.”

So, the Saffery’s boarded a plane in Hawaii and were off to Brookville, N.Y., and the Schmitt’s home.

“On behalf of my uncle and our family, we would like to give you your ring,” Cindy Saffery said.

“Thank you,” a very emotional Schmitt stated over and over. “It’s a miracle.”

And to think, a resident of the Ohio Valley had a small, but large, role in the reuniting of a man and his lost ring – a Super Bowl ring.

North can be reached at knorth@timesleaderonline.com