The 1982 Super Bowl ring that Eason Ramson finally reclaimed this year gleams brightly on his right hand. It's a diamond-studded symbol of the lofty heights Ramson once attained with the San Francisco 49ers—and a glaring reminder of how far he fell. Fresh from 39 months in prison, Ramson is determined never to part with that ring again.
"Sometimes I find myself just staring at it," says the former tight end, who played for San Francisco from 1979 to '83. "I often wondered if I'd get it back, because there were times when I didn't think I'd see tomorrow—times when I didn't want to see tomorrow."
In 1989 Ramson handed over the size-15 ring to a friend for safekeeping. Ramson's hunger for cocaine already had driven him to rob several bank customers at ATMs, and he didn't want to be tempted to hawk his lone valuable possession for drug money. The ring remained with his friend until March 29 of this year, when Ramson was released from California State Prison, Solano, in Vacaville.
Ramson proudly proclaims that he has been "clean and sober" for 44 months. With the help of several strong supporters, including his former coach, Bill Walsh, he is keeping his distance from the reckless lifestyle that nearly killed him. Walsh, who recently returned as a 49ers assistant, has played a key role in Ramson's recovery first by sending him inspiring letters in prison and then by helping him land a job as a supervisor trainee with Volume Services, a catering-concessions company headquartered at Candlestick Park, home of the 49ers.
Ramson was a rookie with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1978 when he first tried cocaine at the suggestion of a teammate. His usage started slowly, but by the 1981 season, in San Francisco, Ramson was constantly high, celebrating victories with what he calls "the rich man's high." He used cocaine in the locker room before the kickoff of the 49ers' Super Bowl victory over Cincinnati, 26-21. In 1985, when he played for the Buffalo Bills, Ramson was at the height of his addiction, routinely blowing $1,000 a night on drugs and hotel rooms. "Back then I looked upon cocaine as a status symbol," he says. "If you could afford it, it was a sign of success."
But cocaine made him a poor man. At 29, in 1986, Ramson was out of football. He kicked around his hometown, Sacramento, and watched his life unravel. He lost his wife and two sons, he was shot by a drug dealer, and, in another incident, he was beaten and nearly killed in a drug-related attack.
In 1991 Ramson was robbing ATM customers to feed what he now calls the Monster. He was arrested, convicted of robbery and given a nine-month term in a drug counseling program. Finally, in 1992, he was sentenced to seven years and eight months in prison after he was caught stealing six bottles of rum and whiskey from a convenience store. It was his fourth felony arrest since leaving the NFL.
The Monster had won. "I fell flat on my face," Ramson says. "It was the loneliest time of my life. I'm extremely embarrassed when I think about those crimes. The Eason Ramson off drugs wouldn't do something like that. I was always a giving and generous person."
Fortunately there were people who remembered the old Eason Ramson. Tamara Joiner, a dental assistant in the Bay Area who had dated him before his marriage, heard about his downfall. "I had always wondered what happened to him," she says. "I always thought he was a very extraordinary person. I thought, Oh my god, I want to see him." She began visiting him in prison. They were married on March 30, the day after Ramson was released.
"Relationships so often start out as a sex thing," Ramson says. "But because of my situation, we got to know each other as people. Before we became lovers, we became best friends. I look at her as my buddy—my partner for life."