HOUSTON—A legendary career that began over sixty years ago at Houston’s Playland Park, a quarter mile race track, came full circle Tuesday as A.J. Foyt received his spectacular Houston Sports Hall of Fame ring in a ceremony here at the House of Blues.
The diamond-encrusted ring emblazoned with a checkered flag was one of four unique rings designed by Fred Cuellar (pictured behind athletes), one of the world’s foremost experts in diamonds and a renowned designer of jewelry. Cuellar has designed NFL Super Bowl championship rings (Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos), NHL Stanley Cup championship rings (New Jersey Devils and Detroit Redwings) and MLB World Series championship rings (New York. Yankees).
The rings were awarded to honor Houston’s sports heroes who were inducted into the Hall of Fame in February: Foyt, the first four-time Indy 500 champion, Jackie Burke, Jr. a Masters and PGA golf champion, George Foreman, the two-time world heavyweight champion and Olympic gold medalist, and Dan Pastorini, the NFL quarterback who played nine seasons with the Houston ‘Luv Ya Blue’ Oilers.
Each custom-crafted ring signified the champion’s career in sport: a golf ball flying off a tee for the now 97-year-old Burke, a waving checkered flag for Foyt, a boxing glove for Foreman and the Oiler’s derrick logo for Pastorini.
All of the recipients were visibly wowed when presented their rings.
“It is fabulous,” said Foyt, adding, “It is one of the nicest rings I’ve ever had and I’m real proud of it.”
Asked about the most memorable moment of his illustrious career, the 84-year-old Houstonian replied, “I started here at Playland Park and my dream was to qualify for the Indy 500. Well luckily enough, I got there and I was lucky enough to win it, so my dream came true.”
No fisticuffs here: Foyt and Foreman show their rings.
Foreman, 69, addressed the crowd, saying, “It’s beautiful, it’s really beautiful, just amazing... I was a teenager when I started boxing and I really just wanted to go out, get a trophy and come back to Houston and show it to my friends and be the best street fighter. Little did I know I would never stop boxing until I was a grandfather."
Pastorini, the 69-year-old Californian who adopted Houston as his hometown, said, “This is the most beautiful award I’ve ever had in my life. I’ve had a Super Bowl ring and it didn’t mean anything to me. This means more to me than anything in the world because it’s 'Luv Ya Blue' and it’s still alive here in Houston and it will always be alive here in Houston. I’m just grateful to this city and how I’ve been received over all these years.”
After the rings were presented, the athletes moved outside to unveil their plaques on the Walk of Fame located on Green Street. Each plaque featured their autograph as well as their sport and the year of their induction.
“When I was racing at Playland Park and lived in the Heights, I never dreamed of a day like this,” said Foyt. “It’s been a wonderful town that I was raised in, and to be recognized in your hometown with three other greats that I’m good friends with, what else can you ask for in life?”
A.J. with friends and family (L to R): Vicki Friedman, Dr. Gary Friedman, A.J.'s granddaughter Tonia Po, his wife Lucy, A.J., his sister Marlene Lamance and her grandson Aaron, friends Betsy and Jack Starne and granddaughter Casie Foyt.