It's the universal symbol for a champion, but the Super Bowl ring means different things to different people.

VERSAILLES - Football has changed a lot in the 51 years since the first time the Chiefs won the Super Bowl. But, one thing that hasn't changed is the reward for the winners: the Super Bowl ring.

Long before Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid, there were legends like Len Dawson, Buck Buchanan and Hank Stram who led the Chiefs to victory in Super Bowl IV. 

It was January 11, 1970, the last time the Super Bowl would be played between the champion of the American Football League and the champion of the National Football League. The two leagues merged the next season.

Former Chiefs' safety Willie Mitchell was on the team. He said it was a day that changed his outlook on life.

"It really changed my lifestyle, because I felt like, it's good to win. But we have to realize that there were people who were supporting us," Mitchell said. "And we have to live a lifestyle to let them know we appreciate their support. And that's what it did. And that's what it has done for me for the rest of my life."

Mitchell, 80, has been heavily involved in charity work since retiring from the NFL. He serves as the Executive Director for the nonprofit San Antonio Fighting Back. It's a crime, substance abuse and violence prevention program in Mitchell's hometown.

Mitchell still carries around his Super Bowl ring in his pocket.

"Because if you put this on and you wear it every day, you will have a conversation everywhere you go. So, that's one of the reasons why I don't wear it all the time. Because you're going to have to do too much talking [otherwise]."

Mitchell said he recognizes the weight that Super Bowl ring carries, it's evident on the faces of little kids who see it.

"You show them the Super Bowl ring and they say 'well can we take a picture?' And I say to put the ring on your finger. 'I can put it on my finger?!'" Mitchell said with a smile. "They look at that and they think that's wonderful."

Former Chiefs' center Jack Rudnay was on the team as well, but the story behind his Super Bowl ring is a little different.

Rudnay was a rookie that year, but missed the whole season with an injury after fracturing three vertebrae in a practice for the College All-Star Game.

"It was the first game even before preseason, kind of like the Hall of Fame Game is now. For many years, they had an all-star team of college seniors that would play against last year's Super Bowl [winner]. It was pretty interesting," Rudnay said. "They discontinued it because there were guys like me getting hurt, certainly not because of me, but there were others that [got hurt] too that were of a higher value."

Due to the injury, Rudnay was placed on injured reserve and was not a part of the active roster. Even so, he continued to practice with the team.

“I was the center for all the practice work, all the scout team. I played every play at practice. I just didn’t get to do the fun stuff for the three hours on Sunday.”

Rudnay was not able to travel with the Chiefs to New Orleans for Super Bowl IV because of his injury status, but he paid his own way to watch from the sidelines.

He jokes he's probably the only player to spend $500 of his own money in travel and hotel costs to go to the Super Bowl to watch his own team.

Rudnay went on to play 13 seasons as the Chiefs' starting center. He was an All-Pro four times. But, he never received a ring from Super Bowl IV during his playing days. 

"It was quite strange, I’d walk around and see newscasters and stuff wearing rings and I didn’t have one and I was there everyday except that three hours.”

Rudnay retired after the 1982 season. In 1994, he was elected into the Chiefs' Hall of Honor, and his former teammates hatched a plan.

"Some of my friends and teammates, Len Dawson and others, went to [team owner] Lamar Hunt and said, 'you know, he should have a ring.' And Lamar had a little speech and said 'sometimes you make mistakes, and sometimes you have an opportunity to correct them. And today's one of those days, Jack Rudnay should have had a Super Bowl ring.' So, I got it 25 years later. It was probably in a lot better shape."

Rudnay said he was totally surprised and it's a moment that meant a lot to him. 

"To have my teammates go to Lamar and to have him make that acknowledgement was really special and sweet. And, I really appreciated him for that."

The Super Bowl ring is a special memento for winners from every era. It encapsulates the triumph and the memories of a team's special season.

But the ring means different things to different people. For Rudnay, the day he got the ring is a special memory on its own.

Receive the top KOMU 8 News headlines of the day in your inbox.

Brought to you by First Midwest Bank