Late last month, some campers at Glacier National Park spotted a ring on the ground, a speck in the sprawling Montana tourist destination that covers more than a million acres with 745 miles of hiking trails and more than 1,000 campsites.
The campers gave the football ring to rangers at the site, who in turn passed it to a law enforcement park ranger, who then gave the ring to Sabrina Maloney in the lost-and-found department. She noticed that it was a 2002 Southern Conference championship ring with the name "Slaughter" on one side with the No. 52 engraved inside a football.
Having no idea just how much this tiny trophy meant to 35-year-old Dane Slaughter, a former walk-on and backup long-snapper, Maloney went to work and looked up which team won the 2002 Southern Conference title. Unable to find a Georgia Southern roster from that season, or identify Slaughter as the owner, she reached out to the Eagles' team Facebook page for help:
We received this note via Facebook. If anyone has heard of this story, feel free to contact us at gseagleswin@Gmail.com for the number to call. pic.twitter.com/ZcE195b3u5— Ga. Southern Football (@GSAthletics_FB) June 27, 2019
About 2,400 miles away, the post set off a ripple throughout the Georgia Southern community, as fans and former players joined forces online and through text messages to quickly identify Slaughter, a once-unheralded backup who within hours became "a rock star," in the words of a former teammate.
Slaughter, though, will tell you he's absent-minded and has now lost this ring -- and his wedding ring -- twice each.
"I said, 'Don't lose it,'" Slaughter said to himself, when he realized he accidentally wore it on vacation. "'Whatever you do, don't lose it.'"
He didn't even realize he had.
Sports information director Bryan Johnston was at home doing his evening social media check at the kitchen table while making dinner when he saw the note. There were too many specifics, he said, for it to be phony.
"Well," he said, "let's get this guy's ring back."
"Thanks for reaching out. Let me do some digging and see what we can do to reunite the ring and its owner! #HailSouthern"
Meanwhile, Slaughter and his wife, Ashley, were halfway to another national park in Canada -- the next stop on their summer vacation -- and he had no idea he had lost the ring.
Georgia Southern defensive line coach Victor Cabral, who played on the 2002 championship team, sent a group text message to a few former players who had stayed in touch:
"Hey do y'all remember a kid named 'Slaughter?' I think he was an offensive lineman wore 52 and played in 2002"
Kentucky State assistant coach Charlie Hopkins, an offensive lineman on the 2002 team and Cabral's college roommate, responded immediately: "Dane Slaughter."
"Real good dude," said Hopkins, who was on the extra-point team with Slaughter. "I haven't thought about him in years. As soon as he said the name, I remembered who the guy was, and they tracked him down."
Lots of people tracked him down, thanks in large part to the combination of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Slaughter returned from Canada about three days later, and his cell reception and internet came back, too.
"When I got back, all of a sudden I'm seeing on my Instagram, and emails and things were just blowing up with, 'Hey is this your ring? Did you lose a ring? Did you play for Georgia Southern?'" Slaughter said. "I'm like, 'What?! Oh, my gosh, I lost this ring.' If it wouldn't have been for folks from Georgia Southern paying attention and seeing that coming across, I never would have gotten it back. It was within minutes, really within minutes. The only thing I had to do was see the text."
Back home in Georgia, where he is now a site leader for the Tidal Wave Auto Spa company based in Thomaston, Georgia, Slaughter waited for Maloney to mail him the ring.
"I was ecstatic," he said. "My wife brought it to me and I was shaking. I can't believe it's here! I took a picture of it and I sent it back to the park rangers and told them thanks again. I was super excited to have it back."
"It happened in the blink of an eye," he said. "It grew legs and came back to me."
About 10 years ago, Slaughter was having a snowball fight with his wife and realized he had lost the championship ring in the snow.
"The snow had melted the next day, and I walked over to where we were throwing and I just started kind of throwing like I was at her, and looked at the trajectory path and walked right up on my ring and walked out," he said. "I didn't wear it for a couple months after that. I'm like, I'm not wearing this thing again."
Now he doesn't want to take it off.
"I wear it just about all the time," he said. "I love my ring. I've been wearing it just about every day, every other day since I got it. I wear it dressing up, I wear it dressing down."
The story spread quickly throughout the Eagles' fan base, and it was also reported in Glacier National Park.
"The guy came in as a walk-on long-snapper -- now he's a rock star," Cabral said, laughing. "It's amazing. More people know about him than the majority of any other players in Georgia Southern history.
"It's one of those bizarre stories," Cabral said. "It was one more thing for that year. I wish we would've won the national championship that year, not just the conference. We were so close that year, but hey, I guess he won at the very end of the day."
Slaughter was on the team for only two years, but he called it "one of the greatest times I've ever had."
"I think that's the first time I'd ever been a part of something that gave me a foundation for the leadership roles that I do today," he said. "It taught me a lot about, at a young age when so many people look up to you in the community, and fans and alumni, small kids in elementary school ... when you have those kinds of eyes on you, it makes you grow up and it teaches you a lot about who you need to be as you get older. I can look back on that time and say that was a pivotal point where the leadership roles really did come to fruition."
And he still has a tangible reminder of it, thanks to some campers and park rangers in Montana.
"There's a lot of hard work and time that goes on behind the scenes to accomplish something like that regardless of if you're a long-snapper or starting quarterback," Hopkins said. "The camaraderie and experience, like the rest of us, Dane will never forget."