TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Joshua Baggs first felt relief that his wife and two young children weren’t home at the time.
He then went into a rushed panic as he realized he needed to get his dogs – and himself – to safety.
It wasn’t until later, after a fire had reduced his 100-year-old oak home to nothing but its foundation, that Baggs thought of the cherished keepsakes left inside.
A former walk-on offensive lineman for the Florida State football team, Baggs earned six championship rings during his time with Bobby Bowden’s Seminoles – including one commemorating FSU’s 1999 national title.
All six rings perished in the fire that destroyed Baggs’ home in January 2018.
Baggs, a South Georgia native who has worked on a farm with his father for the last 10 years, kept things in perspective. The rings were only rings, and losing them paled in comparison to the joy and relief Baggs had in knowing that his wife Heather, son River and daughter Virginia were all unharmed.
But realizing that his kids wouldn’t have those rings into adulthood – rings that they thought were “the coolest thing in the world” – that stung.
“The only thing we had on were the PJs that we were wearing. Everything else, we lost,” Baggs said. “Everything happened so fast. Then you’re outside and you’re starting to think about everything. And then you’re like … ‘The rings.’
“It’s something I wanted them to have.”
But a sad chapter in Baggs’ life took a happier turn last weekend.
Thanks to Baggs’ sister-in-law, a former Auburn cheerleader with Florida State ties, and then a combined effort from the FSU athletics department and the longtime ring-makers at Jostens, each of Baggs’ lost rings were faithfully reproduced:
He received them last Friday, just one hour before he joined his 1999 teammates for their 20-year reunion in Tallahassee.
“It makes you get a little sentimental,” said Baggs, who played at FSU from 1998-01 and made two appearances as a senior in 2001.
Replacing the rings turned out to be a little more complicated than first anticipated.
The company that made the originals 20 years ago is defunct, so Florida State couldn’t just flip through a catalog and place a re-order.
So Jim Curry, a senior associate athletics director at FSU, got in touch with Jostens, which then sent representatives to Florida State’s campus. Fortunately, all six of Baggs’ rings were among those featured in the display case in FSU’s football offices.
Jostens studied the rings, put together blueprints and, a few months later, had perfect replacements.
“To be able to get them in my hands and see them – they’re the spitting image of the old rings,” Baggs said. “It touched me to get them back.”
And it made a special weekend, spent catching up with old teammates, that much more memorable.
More than 50 former players, coaches and support staffers from the 1999 championship team enjoyed a Friday-night reception, as well as a full slate of pre-game activities that included a gathering at the FSU indoor practice facility, group photos and a “legacy walk” into Doak Campbell Stadium.
Then, a few minutes before the current Seminoles kicked off against Syracuse, the 1999 team lined Bobby Bowden Field for a pre-game ceremony that featured a season highlight video, a recorded message from Bowden and plenty of adoration from Florida State fans.
“You kind of fall back into just like it was 20 years ago,” Baggs said, “when you’re in the locker room and on the field with each other laughing and cutting around. It’s just always great.
“Those guys, you love seeing them, but you hate that you don’t get to see them more often.”
Baggs and his family have a new home, rebuilt with some modern amenities in the exact same place where their previous house stood.
And Baggs has a new home for his new rings, too – a garnet and gold display case with seven slots. One for each of his replacement rings, as well as one in the center that houses what’s left of the one lone ring discovered after the fire had dissipated.
Which means that everything those rings represent – memories from one of the greatest eras of FSU football, as well as the bonds and brotherhood that created them – is safe and secure, both for Baggs’ children and for generations to come.
“That was just a special group of guys,” Baggs said of the 1999 Seminoles. “When you’re 18, 19, 20 years old, you don’t really think about those things too often. We knew we were a good team. We were just having fun and playing good football.
“It was just a magical season.”