Wed Jul 27 02:22pm EDT
After more than 17 years, John Barresi's Big Eight Championship ring has finally been returned to its rightful owner.
The ring, which was stolen from the late Oklahoma defensive tackle in 1993, was found on the finger of a truck driver after a routine stop by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.
"I feel like I won the lottery," Barresi's wife, Janet, told the Associated Press. "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."
Barresi's ring was stolen during a burglary of his Oklahoma City home in 1993. His 1974 national championship ring also was taken. Barresi died in 2009 never knowing the fate of his championship jewelry.
Luckily for the family, an alert Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper noticed the ring on the finger of a truck driver and started to ask questions.
Trooper Jason McAlister pulled the truck driver over after his taillight had gone out. When McAlister questioned the driver, he noticed Barresi's Big Eight Championship ring on his finger. He sized the man up, wasn't convinced the smallish driver could have been an OU football player and started asking him about the ring.
"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 driver said he found the ring while cleaning out an apartment and decided to keep it. He turned over the ring voluntarily and no charges were filed.
It wasn't difficult to figure out to whom the ring belonged. Barresi's name is tattooed on the side of the band with an OU helmet underneath it.
The family thought it would never see the ring again and had all but given up hope of finding it. Now Janet Barresi said she plans to display the ring with her husband's letterman jacket to honor his memory and celebrate the ring's return.
When McAlister showed up at the family's door to return the treasure, Ben Barresi, Barresi's son who played for the Sooners from 2005-08, was speechless.
"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."
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Graham Watson is on Twitter: Follow her @Yahoo_Graham.