The Bench Is a Lonely Place

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This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

NFL players speak of the Super Bowl Ring in reverent tones. The Ring is their Holy Grail. You can listen to all the former players. When asked what's most treasured, the records, the Hall of Fame inductions, the Pro Bowl appearances, none of them hesitate. It's the Ring. No matter the money. No matter the fame. It's all about The Ring.

Some of the toughest, smartest, most talented to ever suit up in shoulder pads, who had long-term stellar careers, who continue to do well, financially and personally, after retirement, never did get that ultimate experience whereby their teams put it all together on Super Bowl Sunday. Ask superstars Dan Marino, Warren Moon, Barry Sanders. They will tell you that the end game is bittersweet, indeed, without that big Ring with the inscription "World Champions."

There's another bittersweet scenario when it comes to the Super Bowl Ring. And that's the players who do win one of the coveted mementoes but they don't ever step onto the field for even one play of the game. The Cowboys' Danny White was a Pro Bowl, big-game quarterback in the 70's and 80's. White's career stats are monstrous. Yet the one Super Bowl Ring he was awarded came on a day he warmed the bench from opening kick-off to wild celebration. In 1978, while legend Roger Staubach commandeered the Cowboys to a Super Bowl Championship over the Broncos, White dutifully cheered Staubach's deft throws, cheered his team through the ups and downs of the game, and dived from the sideline into the frenzy of joy at the final horn. But when that beautiful Ring arrived, White never slipped it on his finger. He wound up subsequently starting for the Cowboys in two Super Bowl games, both of which they lost. He wound up with mighty impressive passing yards during his career. But to this day, Roger Staubach proudly wears his Ring each and every day. Danny White does not.

We are led to believe there is nobility to the notion of team in professional sports. It's not the household names, the multi-millionaires, the end zone dancers who are any more valued than the virtually nameless, faceless crunching linemen, than the guys riding the bench, fit and studied and ready to rush to action, should a starter go down. When you wear the uniform, you are an equal. You have gone through the practices. You have memorized the playbook. You have made the sacrifices. If your starters win the Ring, you also are fully entitled to it, right along with them.

That's The Ring in the abstract. Then there's human nature. The bench players want to play for that Ring.

In this weekend's playoffs, one individual has the unique experience of having earned Rings both ways. Seattle Seahawks receiver Brandon Stokley won a Super Bowl, on the field, with the Ravens. His second came in '06, when he was with the Colts and injured. He won the Ring from the bench and says bluntly, "That Super Bowl Ring doesn't have the same meaning." Here's a player who knows all to well the difference between a ring won on the field compared to one won from the bench. As we watch Stokley running downfield on Sunday, arms outstretched for a catch, he will metaphorically be reaching for that third….no, to him, it will be that second precious keepsake ring.

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.



Diana Nyad