OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — John Barresi's 1973 Big Eight championship ring had been missing for more than 17 years.
Now, it's back in the hands of the family of the late University of Oklahoma football player after it was found on the finger of a trucker during a routine traffic stop.
Perhaps it was another stroke of Sooner magic.
Barresi, who died in 2009, was a defensive tackle on the undefeated 1973 and 1974 OU teams. He was the husband of Janet Barresi, the current state schools superintendent.
"I feel like I won the lottery," Janet Barresi said. "It is of such strong sentimental value to us. It symbolizes the hard work that John did. It's just like a little bit of him being back."
The ring was stolen in a burglary at John Barresi's north Oklahoma City home in December 1993, along with his 1974 national championship ring.
The return of the ring also brings great happiness to John Barresi's twin sons, who both played college football.
"It's really an indescribable feeling of happiness," said Ben Barresi, 25. "It is like a piece of him has come back and a connection to his past Sooner glory."
The happy reunion of family and ring may not have been possible without a sharp-eyed Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper. Trooper Jason McAlister, who works in the patrol's size and weight trucking division, was patrolling Interstate 35 south of Goldsby about 4:30 a.m. July 11 when he noticed a southbound tractor-trailer with a headlight out. McAlister pulled the truck over.
A Big Eight championship ring was on the left-hand ring finger of the driver. It was in good shape, but something seemed out of place, McAlister said. The 39-year-old trooper said he didn't think the driver looked like a former OU football player because he was smaller than most football players.
"It just didn't seem right," McAlister said. "He didn't look like what I thought would have been a football player, and I have never seen a football player wearing a championship ring. Most keep them stored away."
The truck driver admitted to McAlister he never played football at OU and claimed to have found the ring while cleaning an apartment in northwest Oklahoma City about a decade ago. He said he'd decided to keep it.
The ring, with a large OU in the center, has the name Barresi on it and the word "Undefeated" with the date 1973 and the words "Big Eight Champions."
Ben and brother Joe Barresi grew up "on stories of great teams and great OU players," Ben Barresi said. John Barresi was a backup tackle behind the legendary All-American Lee Roy Selmon. Ben played for OU, and Joe played for the University of Arizona.
When McAlister showed up at his door with the ring, Ben Barresi, who played at OU from 2005-09, could barely speak.
"He couldn't believe it. He said he thought they would never see it again," McAlister said. "To get it back to the rightful owners is a good feeling."
Janet Barresi said she and her family could not be more thankful to McAlister. Ben Barresi said he was shocked when McAlister showed up just a day after finding it. He said McAlister had a serious look on his face, and he told him he needed to have a more cheery expression when delivering good news like he did.
"This ring symbolizes to me my father's accomplishments," Ben Barresi said.
The name of the truck driver has not been released, patrol spokeswoman Betsy Randolph said. The trucker has not been charged. He reportedly gave up the ring voluntarily.
Now that the ring is back, the Barresis are trying to decide what to do with it. Janet Barresi said she has some of her husband's college mementos on display.
"I have got his letterman's jacket," Janet Barresi said. "I thought about having that done and putting the ring next to it. Right now the boys are so happy, they are wearing it."
Ben Barresi said people should be on the lookout for rings from college football players and not assume they were pawned.
"I know how it hurt my dad and a lot of other guys," Ben Barresi said. "The monetary value is secondary. It is about the hard work that goes into it and winning the championships."
Information from: The Oklahoman