Former Chicago Bears star Willie Gault has his 1985 Super Bowl ring back ... after it was stolen from his L.A. home last month ... and Willie says TMZ played a huge role in the recovery!!
Willie just called the TMZ newsroom and gave us the great news ... saying LAPD officers from the West Valley division managed to locate the ring and some of his wife's jewelry -- and it's now back in the right hands.
TMZ broke the story ... Willie's home was burglarized in early November ... and some soulless, pathetic scumbag (or scumbags) made off with $100k in jewelry, including the famous ring.
Willie says ... when he picked up the items, cops informed him that the original TMZ story "ignited a nationwide manhunt that allowed [law enforcement] to locate the ring and some of the jewelry. "
Willie says, "Me and wife were huge TMZ fans before, but now we're even bigger fans."
Gault told us cops informed him that an investigation into the burglary is still ongoing -- and so far, no arrests have been made.
Willie added, "The ring didn't define me as a person, I knew the accomplishments I made ... I came to peace that I wouldn't get it back ... but, of course, I'm THRILLED that I did."
An LAPD spokesman tells TMZ ... a sports memorabilia collector spotted the ring at a downtown L.A. jewelry store ... and notified detectives because he knew the ring had been stolen.
Detectives went down to the store and found the ring ... along with some of the family jewelry.
The owner of the store was arrested for possession of stolen property. The investigation is ongoing.
'85 Chicago Bears Star
Cops Found My Super Bowl Ring
... Thanks to TMZ
12/16/2011 2:52 PM PST BY TMZ STAFF
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