Thorns 2017 Championship Ring with polar bear, 5.23.18
Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer

“I wanted to make it special” How Christine Sinclair helped design Thorns FC's 2017 NWSL Championship ring (and include a polar bear)

BEAVERTON, Ore. – Wednesday’s moment was a private one: a team gathering giving Portland Thorns FC a chance to remember their 2017 without the glare of the outside world. The stops along the way were for public consumption – the midseason surge; the battles against major injuries; the Oct, 14, 2017, win in Orlando, Florida – but when it comes to passing out the team’s 2017 NWSL Championship rings, the Thorns will first get a moment for themselves.

That the ring they’ll receive at their team dinner is adorned with so much sentimental value – and designed in part by the team’s captain – will make the presentation even more meaningful. Made from sterling silver, with green and red jewels complementing its myriad diamonds, the team’s second title ring stands out for the culture Christine Sinclair made sure was built in.

“What I wanted to do is make it unique to last season, and there are a couple of ongoing themes and ongoing stories throughout the course of the season,” the team’s captain said about her contributions to the design. “I wanted to make it special.”

Sinclair was approached about contributing by owner Merritt Paulson and team general manager Gavin Wilkinson shortly after the Thorns’ October triumph. Between international duty with Canada and a few other notable offseason commitments, Sinclair spent much of her offseason away from home, meaning most of her contributions had to happen over email.

“We want this, we want that,” Sinclair remembers, scoffing quietly at the back-and-forth. “And we want a polar bear.”

A polar bear?

By now, many Thorns fans know what polar bears mean to the team, but the fact one ended up on the championship ring shows just how deep the reference embedded itself in the 2017 squad.

“It’s [goalkeeping coach] Nadine [Angerer] and her pregame talks,” Sinclair explains, referring to the German legend and former FIFA World Player of the Year. “We’re still not sure she’s saying polar bears or icebergs, but we went with polar bears,” she jokes, calling Angerer “our German.”

The reference was a demand from their boisterous coach, imploring a team mentality that could grind out matches like the 2017 title game with Angerer even memorably donning a polar bear costume to deliver the pregame talk. That game became emblematic of Portland’s season, with the Thorns imposing themselves early on a physical North Carolina Courage team before eventually finding the second half’s game-winning goal.

On the team’s ring, the polar bear rests on the right side, just above the player’s number and opposite the four rubies, four diamonds, the championship date (“10.14”) and year that decorate the left side. That flank also features two raised and polished stars, celebrating the team’s capture of a second NWSL title.

On both top and bottom, the words “NWSL CHAMPIONS” celebrate that triumph, with “PORTLAND THORNS” and the team’s logo also accompanying the phrase on top. Diamonds surround the face’s layout, with the remainder of the jewels placed along the ring’s band. In the interior of the ring, in an homage to the popular supporters’ chant, the words, “Build a bonfire” are inscribed.

For Sinclair, the design experience was a first, even though she had previously won three professional titles (one with Portland; two with teams in the old Women’s Professional Soccer). She needed help from her teammates, she said, singling out Emily Menges and Katherine Reynolds for their assistance, and her time away from Portland made the process occasionally “difficult.”

Her top priority, though, was making sure the ring honored why 2017 became so special. The result was something that not only commemorates the Thorns’ squad but also captures the teams’ broader culture. From the polar bear to the chant, the jewels’ colors to the two stars, Portland’s 2017 title ring ended up with a very Thorns feel.