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Stolen autographed 1972 Miami Dolphins helmet returned to owner

Posted at 12:17 PM, Jun 29, 2016

John Sparrell's family only has memories of their dad.

“He was an avid Dolphins fan,” said his son Mike Sparrell.

He said his father had one prized possession: a helmet with autographs from seven members of the 1972 undefeated Miami Dolphins football team.

In 2013, the family said someone stole the helmet from John’s home in Boynton Beach. John died two months later. 

Boynton Beach police found the helmet when they arrested a burglary suspect in 2013. But investigators had no way to know to whom it belonged.

“I’m a huge sports fan and when I saw this helmet that we didn’t have an owner for, I knew somebody was missing it, said Officer Eric Reynolds, with Boynton Beach Police. 

He explained the helmet sat on a shelf in the evidence room for three years. He came up with the idea of sharing a picture of the helmet with the media, hoping the owner would see it. It worked.

“We never thought we'd see this helmet back,” Mike Sparrell said.

He came to reclaim the helmet at police headquarters Wednesday.

Police had a surprise waiting for him. They asked Dolphins Hall of Fame player Larry Little to hand over the helmet.

“Wow, it's a pleasure to meet you. Thank you,” said a stunned Sparrell.

Now his family has a renewed link to their dad.

“What really means the most to me is it was a piece of my father and whenever I look at that from now one, I’m going to remember all the times we had together,” Sparrell said.

“It was really heartwarming for me to be able to do it because of what happened,” added Little, whose autograph is on the helmet.

Sparrell said his family bought his dad the helmet in 2012 as a gift for organizing annual family reunions.

Now Sparrel will put the helmet in his office, but he’d like to share it with his siblings, so they get the same feeling he has while looking at it.