For Fitzpatrick, the conscious decision to wear his ring makes him something of an anomaly in the N.F.L., where most players — especially quarterbacks — opt to leave it in their lockers, fearful of injuring their hands or fingers. Fitzpatrick understands the hazards of his workplace, but he has a pragmatic reason for thinking he can ignore them: because he throws right-handed, wearing the ring on his opposite hand does not affect his performance.
“I haven’t seen a reason to take it off, I guess,” Fitzpatrick said in a telephone interview this week. “It stands for something. It’s not like I’m trying to throw a message in anybody’s face. It’s just a personal thing between me and my wife. It’s important for me not to take it off.”
The ring — platinum, with a brushed finish and his wedding date inscribed on the inside — fits snugly on his exposed left ring finger, and in two seasons it has yet to fall off or even come loose. In truth, Fitzpatrick said he found discussing it more uncomfortable than wearing it. He does so for “personal reasons, not for everybody to talk about.” But people do talk about it, particularly now that Fitzpatrick has piloted the Bills to a 5-2 record and a first-place tie with New England atop the A.F.C. East.
When Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie first noticed Fitzpatrick’s ring last season, he said he had to look twice, so unfamiliar was the sight. During games, Cromartie protects his ring beneath a glove. Some players, like Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber, wear a rubber band to signify their commitment. Barber’s teammate, Brian Price, said his wife, Candice, understands why he does not wear his ring.
“She knows I’m her king, and she’s my queen, so she doesn’t care,” said Price, a defensive tackle. “When I’m out there, I’m not married and I don’t have family. Off the field, I’m all hers. But on the field, I’m a monster. And I don’t want my queen to be associated with a monster.”
Other players’ wives have praised Fitzpatrick for his devotion, but when they do, he feels a bit awkward.
“Some guys might want to wear them, but they can’t because they use their hands so much,” Fitzpatrick said.
Quarterbacks use their hands, too, of course. It is just that one hand — their throwing one — is more important. Fitzpatrick receives snaps, hands off the ball and scrambles, all without noticing he is wearing the ring. It is not so easy for someone like Jim Leonhard, a Jets safety who used to wear his ring to practice.
“There were a couple times when I jammed a finger, and I couldn’t get it off for three or four days,” Leonhard said. “It scared me more than anything. You hear horror stories in the working world of having to get your ring cut off, and I wanted no part of that.”
Fitzpatrick was not married when he made his N.F.L. debut in 2005, with the Rams. But he planned to propose soon to Liza Barber, whom he met at Harvard. On the same day he purchased her engagement ring with money from their shared bank account, a cashier at the Gap thought Barber had been double-charged for an item. When Barber said that she would check her bank balance later, Fitzpatrick, with the ring hidden in his car, knew he had to propose before they got home.
Barber told him she craved McDonald’s. The first one they spotted was attached to a gas station.
“I asked her when she was between her third and fourth Chicken McNugget,” Fitzpatrick said. “She had sweet and sour all over her face.”
Tampa Bay’s quarterbacks coach, Alex Van Pelt, who was Fitzpatrick’s offensive coordinator in Buffalo in 2009, said he was not surprised about the ring.
“He’s just a loyal family guy, there’s no question,” Van Pelt said.
Given that the N.F.L. seems to levy fines at the drop of a helmet for the slightest uniform infraction, it may be somewhat surprising that Fitzpatrick is permitted to wear the ring at all. But wearing jewelry constitutes an escape from conformity. League policy prohibits only “metal or other hard objects that project from a player’s uniform, including from his shoes.”
For a while after Fitzpatrick was married on June 24, 2006, he would fiddle with his ring, telling himself how strange it felt. It was not until training camp last year that Fitzpatrick thought about playing with the ring on. He did not consult Liza.
“She thinks it’s cool,” he said, “but it wasn’t part of our vows or anything.”
It felt good during the preseason, so, he figured, why not? His coaches have not objected.
“I’m forgetful at times,” Fitzpatrick said, “so it’s almost been easier just leaving it on.”
The Bills’ offensive line has helped it stay on. Its nine sacks allowed heading into Sunday’s game against the Jets are the second fewest in the N.F.L. Less pressure on Fitzpatrick translates into fewer chances for an injury — like, say, a dislocated knuckle on his left ring finger.
“There’s certainly a few more nicks on the ring than when I first got it,” Fitzpatrick said, laughing. “I can’t tell you how they all got there, but it’s pretty beat up.”
As a reward for his superb season, the Bills last week signed Fitzpatrick to a six-year contract extension worth $59 million. Said Van Pelt, “He’ll be able to get it polished now.”