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Winning Super Bowl All About the Ring

Dave Caldwell, |Special to CNBC.com
Monday, 30 Jan 2012 | 1:10 PM ET

Chase Blackburn, the 26-year-old middle linebacker for the New York Giants, will receive an $88,000 bonus from the National Football Leagueif his team beats the New England Patriotsin Super Bowl XLVI -- $44,000 if the Giants lose. These numbers, though large, mean nothing to him.

Eli Manning
Bill Kostroun
Eli Manning

“The ring is what means something to you,” Blackburn says, smiling. “I have two boys, and I have one Super Bowl ring. I can’t have them fighting over it their whole lives. I need another one for the youngest.”

Four years after the Giants upset the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, New York and New England will play again Feb. 5 in Indianapolisfor the gleaming Vince Lombardi Trophy and for thick, jewel-encrusted championship rings to tug onto their meaty fingers. They also get bonuses.

Although it represents only a small percentage of what most players make during the regular season, Super Bowl bonus money is not exactly cab fare. Each Giants player received $78,000for winning Super Bowl XLII (and each Patriots player received $40,000).

“It was one of those deals where you didn’t even pay attention to it,” says Dave Tollefson, a reserve defensive lineman on both Giants teams. “The money shows up in your account, and it’s like, `Man, that’s pretty sweet. You also get paid to play in the Super Bowl!’ I’d think anyone would play this game for free. That’s just the cherry on top, you know?”

When asked if he would play the game simply for a ring and a trophy, Tollefson invoked the name of a fierce Hall of Fame defensive back when he replied, “Hell, yeah! That’s what Ronnie Lott used to say: 'You’re paid to practice, and you play the games for free.’ "

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Actually, a player’s base salary covers only his work in the regular season, although many players receive incentives for helping their teams make the playoffs and win postseason games. But players' salaries span an extraordinarily wide range: Eli Manning, the Giants’ quarterback, had a 2011 base salary of $8.5 million; rookie cornerback Prince Amukamara, $375,000.

Plus, postseason bonus money can add up. Each Giant received a bonus of $22,000 when the team beat the Atlanta Falconsin the wild-card round of the playoffs, then another $22,000 for beating the Green Bay Packersin the divisional playoffs on Jan. 15.

Each member of the Giants and the San Francisco 49ersgot $40,000 for the National Football Conferencechampionship game Jan. 22, but when Lawrence Tynes kicked a 31-yard field goal to win the game for the Giants in overtime, his team lived for another pay day.
The Giants can make up to $172,000 each in the post-season; the Patriots, $150,000 — or about three times the income of the average American household.

“You know the number, but listen: At the end of the day, we’d all play in the playoffs for free," Tynes says of the round-by-round payouts. "It’s certainly not something I’ve thought much about until you brought it up. And with direct deposit, you don’t get to see it.”

Such bonuses have been awarded for decades: Each member of the Chicago Bearsreceived $210.34 for beating the Giants in the first National Football League championship game in Chicago on Dec. 17, 1933. (Each Giant received the much-less-princely sum of $140.22.)

When the Houston Oilers beatthe Los Angeles Chargers in the first American Football League championship game on Jan. 1, 1961, the winning share for each Oilers player was just $1,025. The Chargers eased their 24-16 loss with checks of $718.

After the first championship game between NFL and AFL champions was played in Los Angeles on Jan. 15, 1967 —two yearsbefore the game became known as the Super Bowl — Green Bay Packers players received $15,000 each for winning. Kansas City Chiefs players each got $7,500 for losing.

Super Bowl, Super Sports, Super Bucks - A CNBC Special Report
Super Bowl, Super Sports, Super Bucks - A CNBC Special Report

In the meantime, Super Bowl Sunday has practically become a national holiday. Last year’s Super Bowl, won by Green Bay, was watched by an average television audience of 111 million, a U.S. record, and a 30-second commercial slot sold for $3 million. Even though the players would play for nothing, they appreciate receiving financial compensation for supplying the talent.

Kareem McKenzie, a Giants’ offensive tackle who earned $4.3 million this season, says: “The bonus does mean something to you. It’s one of those deals where it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I’m fortunate to have the second opportunity to play in one. It’s something definitely very special.”

There are 15 current members of the Giants who played on the team that stunned the previously unbeaten Patriots, 17-14, on Feb. 3, 2008, in Glendale, Ariz. Those asked say they put their shares of $78,000 in the bank. With direct deposit, they never even received a check.

“Who knows what I did with it?” says Kevin Boothe, the Giants’ left guard. “I’m sure it’s in savings. I’m not a big spender.”

Adds Boothe: “I think it works hand in hand. You want to win. If you win, you get more money. That’s great. That’s an added bonus. But the main objective is to win.”