More than four decades after the 1968 New York Jets miraculously won Super Bowl III, the center on that team, John Schmitt, is celebrating another miracle.
The championship ring Schmitt thought he lost off the Hawaiian coast in 1971 turned up in a lifeguard's estate that was passed on to his great-niece, CBS News affiliate KGMB-TV in Honolulu reported Thursday.
(Scroll down to watch a report from KGMB-TV)
"I couldn't believe it," Schmitt told KGMB-TV. "I mean I honestly couldn't believe it. I mean 40 years."
Schmitt lost the ring during his first surfing lesson in February 1971, a quarter-mile off the beach behind the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki. He didn't realize the ring slipped off his finger until he returned to the shore.
"I got a snorkel and some flippers and I went out and I dove until I was blue," Schmitt told KGMB-TV. "I'm not kidding you. It must have been three hours I was out there looking. I couldn't find it anywhere. I was just exhausted. I virtually could not swim or flip my legs anymore and I just went in broken hearted."
But, somehow, lifeguard John Ernstberg found the ring. His great-niece Cindy Saffery told the affiliate that Ernstberg came home one day, gave the ring to his wife, Mary, and they put it in a box.
John Ernstberg died in 1991, and Mary Ernstberg died in 1995. Saffery inherited their estate, which included the ring, and recently took it to an expert to determine whether it was authentic. When she and her husband, Samuel Saffery, found out that it belonged to No. 52, they called the Jets.
"It's a legacy," Samuel Saffery told KGMB-TV. "He put a lot of hard work into this to earn this. This is not something that you just can buy off the street. This is something that you earn, so for Mr. Schmitt he earned this ring so by right it'll make me feel good to put it personally back into his hand."
Schmitt, who lives in Long Island, N.Y., wants to fly the Safferys to New York to thank them for returning the ring.
"That that ring was found is a bloody miracle," Schmitt told the affiliate. "It really is a miracle."