Mansfield native uncovers long-lost national championship ring
05/12/2014 5:34 PM
05/16/2014 7:23 AM
As a demolition man, Brian Buckley is no stranger to finding treasure in other people’s trash.
But what he stumbled upon in October, as he and his crew were ripped out old lockers of a long-dormant training building outside an Arlington hotel, was something of a mystery — a nearly half-century-old ring that led him on a whirlwind visit to the Las Vegas production site of his favorite TV reality show, the History Channel’s Pawn Stars.
“I’ve been married and I’ve seen and uncovered a lot of interesting things,” said the 44-year-old Mansfield resident, who owns B&B Scrap Metal Hauling and Cleanup. “But this was the most adventurous thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
Buckley’s odyssey began with the swing of a sledgehammer against a rusty locker. When the door sprang open, something metallic and shiny popped out and skittered along the floor. Buckley quickly scooped it up without looking at it and put it in his pocket with a number of coins and other items he had found.
Later, he saw that it was a gold and diamond ring that belonged to a football player at the former Texas A&I University and commemorated his team’s 1969 national college championship title. The ring contained only the player’s last name, Neal.
“I’ve never seen a championship ring before,” said Buckley, whose research turned up the player’s unusually spelled first name, but not much else. “I’ve wondered who the guy was. I’d like to know more about this person myself.”
Man behind the ring
Curtiss Neal arrived at Texas A&I University in Kingsville, about 40 miles southwest of Corpus Christi, in 1968 and played defense for four years on a solid Javelinas team, said Fred Nuesch, who arrived as the school’s sports information director the same year. A&I went deep into the playoffs that year then won the national championship in both 1969 and 1970 in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), a smaller-school version of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
(A&I joined the Texas A&M University System in 1989 and changed its name to Texas A&M University–Kingsville in 1993.)
“Curtiss was a real good player, a very smart guy, very intelligent,” said Willie Gipson, who was a student trainer at the time and later promoted to athletic trainer. “He was one of those guys, like most of us – we went down there with nothing and walked away with a couple of degrees.”
Larry Edwards, who was Neal’s roommate and teammate all four years, recalled Neal mentioning the 1969 championship ring.
“Curtiss and I were just chatting one day, and he said, ‘Man, I lost my ring,’” said Edwards, a retired Houston police officer. Neal said he had looked everywhere. “No one had found it.”
Neal never did. He died July 1, 1985, according to the Javelina Alumni Association. Edwards said Neal suffered a heart attack while playing tennis. He was 35.
Edwards said he couldn’t guess how the ring wound up in a locker room in Arlington, but he said Neal’s ex-wife and sons lived in the Dallas-Fort Worth area at the time.
Edwards said he was surprised to hear the News-Mirror was trying to reach him about the ring after so many years.
“When I heard about Curtiss’ ring, it brought tears to my eyes,” he said. “But it most definitely brought back some fond memories.”
Visiting Pawn Stars
Buckley wondered if Pawn Stars would be interested in the ring. He posted a description on the show’s website, and within a couple of weeks he heard from the New York production company, which he said invited him to visit the show.
He flew out at his own expense in late February for four days, the last two he said he spent at the show’s featured store, the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop.
The details get a little hazy right here. Buckley returned home believing he had been told he would appear on an upcoming episode of Pawn Stars.
But Leslie Oren, a publicist representing the production company, Leftfield Pictures, said Buckley was mistaken. He would not be on the show, she said.
Buckley does have photos that prove he was on the set, including shots of him chatting with Austin “Chumlee” Russell and others of the show’s main characters. And he said that some of his discussions with them were videotaped by the crew.
But Oren said that doesn’t mean he made the cut, and she said he didn’t sign a release, which she said would have automatically precluded him from appearing on the show.
“As you can imagine, the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop has thousands and thousands of people going through its doors every week,” she said. “From a purely logistical standpoint, it’s impossible for everyone who wants to be on the show to be on the show. But we appreciate the enthusiasm and support of all the fans of the show.”
The trip wasn’t a bust. Buckley said he sold some cuff links to an antiques shop owner across the street from the TV pawn shop, and Chumlee Russell offered him as much as $1,200 for the ring – the value of the gold and diamond -- but Buckley declined.
“It is for sale, though,” he said. “That’s not a hidden issue. But it has to be what I want, and I don’t want a lot for it. But I want it to go to someone who will enjoy it and respect it.”
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