Cherry hopes hollow ring will save children

Je'Rod Cherry was oblivious to the fact he was poor until he was in the second grade. That's when his family moved from North Carolina to cultured and progressive Berkeley, Calif.

"I grew up wearing Toughskins and kids used to pick on me," said Cherry, who played nine seasons in the NFL. "I used to say, 'I'm going to grow up and be a football player and get all these things.'

"Well, I got all those things and thought, 'This is it?'"

The moment that summed up Cherry's restlessness is considered the most joyous moment in New England Patriots history. The special-teams ace anxiously watched from the same sideline as Tom Brady and Willie McGinest and Troy Brown and Bill Belichick while Adam Vinatieri kicked the 48-yard field goal to win the franchise's first Super Bowl.

The last of the confetti hadn't flittered to the turf before a curbing realization struck Cherry.

"I thought there would be a sense of completeness by winning the Super Bowl," Cherry said. "There definitely was a sense of accomplishment, but the sense of completeness didn't last a millisecond.

"I could see the confetti dropping, and then I thought, 'Man, there's got to be more.' There was no sense of fulfillment. You want to do it again. You have to do it again."

The symbol of ultimate victory is the championship ring. Cherry won three of them with the Patriots. None brought total satisfaction, not like he guessed.

Maybe that's what happens when you ripen in a place like Berkeley. You become highly introspective and philosophical about life. You consider the merits of unconventional thought to the point there's a healthy chance somebody eventually will consider you kooky.

All of Cherry's distinctive life experiences have come together for Thanksgiving. Molded by his upbringing, influenced by his three Super Bowl victories and inspired by his profound religious beliefs, Cherry is making what many would consider the ultimate sporting sacrifice.

Cherry on Thanksgiving -- against the wishes of some adamant he keep it -- will raffle off his first Super Bowl ring, the one that started a dynasty, to raise money for several charities: Asia's Hope, Boston for Africa, Feed My Starving Children, the Italian Home for Children and the Celebrities for Charity Foundation.

Cherry wants to build orphanages in Thailand and Cambodia to save children from the sex trafficking that's common there. He also wants to feed poverty-stricken children in Massachusetts and Ohio, where he splits his time.

"He has a bigger purpose, and Super Bowl rings are just stuff," said Don Davis, who played special teams alongside Cherry with the Patriots and New Orleans Saints. "To most it might sound crazy, but he's got three of them.

"It's a great tribute to what kind of man he is. He's willing to show the world all that stuff is meaningless."

Cherry said that by Monday afternoon the raffle had generated $140,000 in tickets sold, but he's hoping a late push will increase the figure to $200,000. Anybody who wants to enter the drawing still has until 9 a.m. Thursday to buy tickets for $2, with a five-ticket minimum required. The drawing will be held later in the day.

He opted for a raffle-style fundraiser because he didn't want a few wealthy collectors bidding in an auction. Now the average fan has the opportunity to win it.

"It's an incredibly generous gesture," said Dave Atkins, founder and executive director of Asia's Hope. "I was shocked when I heard that he was willing to do this.

"It's going to make a difference with kids. They have no home. They have no hope. They have no future. Je'Rod will help rescue these children and put them in an orphan home that will be safe. They will go to school. They will get three meals a day. They will get all their shots to immunize them from diseases that would kill them."

But some have mixed emotions about Cherry's decision. Those who receive Super Bowl rings are considered part of a sacred fraternity. Many believe that raffling off such a meaningful symbol cheapens the accomplishment.

Imagine a 20-year-old gas-station attendant showing up at The Masters with a green jacket he bought on eBay.

"I can understand that mentality and those thoughts," said Davis, who wasn't on the 2001 team but was on the Patriots' other two title teams. "It's a tight-knit group and a brotherhood, and you hate when someone falls on hard times and ends up pawning it or selling it.

"But that's the reality of the deal. When that person gets it, that's really nobody else's business to care. It's yours. It's your property. You earned it. You can do with it what you feel."

Former Patriots linebacker Leonard Myers caused a stir in 2005 when he sold his Super Bowl ring -- the same version Cherry is raffling -- on eBay because he was broke.

Myers' career was brief, but the sixth-round pick played seven games as a rookie on the Patriots' first championship squad. Myers played only 17 games with three teams over his three NFL seasons. His ring reportedly sold for $32,600.

"The last thing I want people to think is that I'm disrespecting the NFL," Cherry said from his home in the Cleveland area, where he is a financial adviser. "Few guys possess what I do possess. The ring is a great showpiece to pass on as a family heirloom, but at the end of the day it's not going to complete you."

The Super Bowl XXXVI ring is a beauty. It was made by Jostens in 14-karat white gold and features 142 diamonds. The face of the ring shows the Patriots' logo in garnets and blue sapphires trimmed with diamonds. The raffle winner also will receive a cash prize of $16,265 to pay prize taxes.

Cherry usually kept his three Super Bowl rings in a safety-deposit box, taking them out only for special occasions. When he did wear a ring, it almost always was the one he's parting with.

"I wrestled with it," Cherry said. "I'd be lying if I said I didn't. I kept thinking I had to be nuts."

The ring represents the first championship Cherry ever won. He didn't win any titles in high school or at the University of California or his first five years in the NFL.

The Saints drafted him in the second round in 1996. He spent four seasons there and one with the Philadelphia Eagles before winning three Super Bowls in his four seasons with New England.

"If I could pick one I really don't wear much or don't care about, that would be fine," Cherry said. "But in the end it goes back to my relationship with God. I believe you want to give God the best and what means the most to you.

"This ring has more sentimental value for me. That was one of the neatest feelings I ever had because that year you had guys putting team ahead of self, making decisions not as individuals but for the good of the team.

"In the locker room you had people shutting their mouths. You had a quarterback controversy that really never developed because Drew Bledsoe never let it become a distraction. They were putting team ahead of self. It was Judeo-Christian principles in real life."

Cherry was pushed to sacrifice his Super Bowl ring while attending a youth conference in suburban Dayton, Ohio. He and his wife were chaperones from their church.

As part of the event, about 2,000 kids scattered around the area to mow lawns, paint houses and pick up trash to generate money to build orphanages. The group said it raised $96,000, but fell short of its goal.

A young lady named Courtney half-jokingly asked Cherry if he would sell one of his Super Bowl rings to make up the difference.

"I said 'You know what? I just might.' I spoke to my wife, and we thought it was a prompting by God," Cherry said. "So we decided to do it.

"I look back on the memories of what took place the year we won out first Super Bowl. Guys really laid it on the line for each other. You had that feeling of camaraderie I'd never experienced before in team sports.

"Those are great feelings. Now, what we're doing with the ring will be a greater feeling."