The Vikings were 5-3 and carrying considerable hope for a successful finish to the 14-game regular season in 1965. Then, on Nov. 14, the Baltimore Colts came to Met Stadium, thumped the Vikings 41-21, and the next morning a despondent coach Norm Van Brocklin announced his resignation.
That night, a copy boy working his shift at the Minneapolis Morning Tribune overheard a conversation between Sid Hartman, the Tribune’s sports editor and columnist, and Charlie Johnson, the executive sports editor of the Minneapolis newspapers.
Sid and Charlie were profane in their remarks concerning Van Brocklin. They also agreed it was a certainty the son of a gun (actually, the son of something else) would return in short order.
When the copy boy retrieved the early edition newspapers for the sports desk, he read a Sid column that was in favor of Van Brocklin’s return. Charlie also had a kind view in the afternoon Star after the Dutchman had fulfilled the prediction of a quick return.
The copy boy was startled by the difference in comments about Van Brocklin in conversation and in print, and he was left with two thoughts as that shift came to a conclusion:
One, if he were ever in a position to comment in a public way on a matter such as this, he vowed to give his candid opinion; and two, he hoped we would get the city edition wrapped up in time to make last call at The Court Bar.
The copy boy wound up with sportswriting jobs in Duluth, St. Cloud and St. Paul, and late one night in 1978 at Luigi’s, the bar across the street from the newspaper, he recruited a committee to help decide the first Turkey of Year for a Thanksgiving column in the St. Paul Dispatch.
Ohio State’s Woody Hayes was the first winner and, as intuition would have it, several weeks later he was being fired for taking a swing at a Clemson player in the Gator Bowl.
This success with the first Turkey was what the copy boy had dreamed of years earlier. He appointed himself as Turkey Chairman, and set about engaging in what would become The 40 Year War with Mr. Hartman.
Early winners of the Turkey of the Year included Bobby Knight, George Steinbrenner, Billy Martin, Paul Giel and Lou Holtz, all high on Sid’s list of personal friends.
The underlying message from the Turkey Chairman was this: Take a closer look at the motives, actions and rhetoric of the powerful in sports, nationally and more important locally.
Sid was delivering the opposite message five days a week in print, as well as over the booming airwaves of WCCO-AM radio: These leagues, owners, coaches and teams were our friends.
The battle for the hearts and minds of Minnesota sports fans was waged, with the Turkey Chairman convinced skepticism could win the day — or if nothing else, he had a 25-year advantage on Sid and could outlast him.
The Turkey Chairman gained enough of a foothold to rent an office to house the Turkey Committee. It’s a cute place, with placards carrying inspirational acronyms all about.
For instance, the woman who manages the place has a placard at her cubicle reading FAMILY, which stands for, “Forget About Meat, I Love Yogurt.’’ Just last week, some scamp put up another placard in anticipation of today’s Turkey Banquet that reads HOWPHERS and translates to, “How Will Patrick Handle the Elite Ridiculous Salesman.’’
And that is the question now, isn’t it? — as we call the role of honored guests for the 40th annual Turkey Banquet.
Chuck Fletcher: Laugh-inducing embarrassment rates high in the guideline for Turkey contention. And the Wild GM fired coach Mike Yeo during the 2015-16 season, then put together a 2016-17 team with the hard edge to lose in the first round of the playoffs in five games to the underdog St. Louis Blues, coached by Mike Yeo.
Mike Pence: The vice president flew from California to Indianapolis on the day Peyton Manning was being honored with a statue, planning all along to walk out of the Colts stadium when several opposition players knelt in protest. Pence, as in putz.
Presidents Cup: The Chairman’s favorite hot-take story of the year was when reporters covering this joke of an event were forced by editors to ask the U.S. players if they planned to protest during the anthem. The answer from the white-bread golfers was “no’’ — as in, no kidding.
Eric Kaler/Board of Regents: The University of Minnesota Board of Regents undertook an expensive investigation to try to find out how KSTP-TV discovered an important member of the athletic department had been cited by a university committee for sexual harassment. University president Kaler endorsed this decision — to spend more money and time worrying about the leak than the actions that led to the accusation.
Eric Kaler/Mark Coyle: Yes, him again … along with Coyle, the athletic director. They stood on the sideline as the Gophers were completing an upset of Washington State in the Holiday Bowl, both looking as if the family dog had been flattened by an 18-wheeler. Coyle already was down the road to hiring Phil Fleck, and the sight of Tracy Claeys using his defensive genius to shut down Wazzu was killing these two U of M executives.
NCAA enforcement: Rob Gray, a senior guard for the Houston Cougars, received a one-game suspension for playing a summer church league game. That’s more discipline than North Carolina received for two decades of academic fraud that was heavily slanted to assist athletes. The reasoning? Non-athlete frat boys also learned of the classes and took them, so it wasn’t a special benefit for athletes. Amazing, but true.
Miguel Sano: Yes, there was a real injury to his shin. The Twins third baseman also weighed 300 pounds in September. Super stardom is available, but unless he gets serious about attaining it, Miguel is going to continue to be a strikeout machine who also hits bad breaking balls 450 feet.
Bob McNair: The owner of the Houston Texans gave the true picture of how the billionaires feel about the NFL workforce with the quote, “We can’t have the inmates running the prison.’’ The owners feed off the broken bodies and damaged brains of players, try to keep them under the thumb at every turn, and now Twin Citians get to buddy up to the parasites with free hotel suites and free everything else during Super Bowl week.
Jerry Jones vs. Roger Goodell: See Bob McNair, although the power-mad owner and the power-mad commissioner apparently now hate each other, which the Turkey Committee applauds as great for America.
As is the custom at the Turkey Banquet, we now reveal the three finalists for the Grand Gobbler.
Second runner-up: Omar Gonzalez. His own goal on a casual clearing attempt put the U.S. men’s soccer team in an early 1-0 hole, and the United States (population: 326 million) lost to Trinidad & Tobago (population: 1.365 million) 2-1 and were eliminated from the 2018 World Cup. As an astute observer said, “We might be able to beat Trinidad, and we might be able to beat Tobago, but when you put ’em together, there’s another T, and that stands for Trouble.’’
First runner-up: Rick Pitino. The Louisville basketball coach had no knowledge of the hookers running through the basketball dorm. He had no knowledge of the $100,000 promise to Brian Bowen’s family that helped the five-star recruit fall out of the sky for Louisville late this summer. Always Slick Rick still protests, even after he’s fired for cause (and two years after he should have been fired over the hookers made available to players, recruits and recruits’ relatives).
And now it is time to announce the 40th Grand Turkey:
To review, the Turkey Banquet was getting started in the late ’70s, at the same time Sid Hartman and his pal Max Winter, the Vikings owner, were waging the battle for the Metrodome. Sid won, of course, and has continued to win.
The crown jewel in his successful battles for stadiums has become the billionaire’s palace built for Zygi Wilf. The Chairman has bellowed over the rip-off of ticket holders and the public the Vikings have executed, while Sid tells of the Wilfs’ generosity with a story line that carries the day.
The idea of outlasting Sid also has passed. He fell and broke a hip last December, and now Sid has a walker that he uses as a weapon to knock friend and foe alike out of the way to be first into locker rooms.
Then, just last week, as Mr. Hartman had loudly promised would be the case a decade ago, the Twins came cowering back to the warm bosom of ’CCO (and Sid) with their radio broadcasts.
The 40 Year War has been waged, and it has ended in surrender. By acclamation of the Turkey Committee, the winner of the 2017 Grand Turkey is the loser of that war:
The Turkey Chairman.
Footnote: There was a provocative action taken by Coyle, the Gophers AD and already a guest, on the eve of the Turkey Banquet. He announced a contract extension for his first-year failure of a football coach.
There was an emergency session Wednesday and the Turkey Committee refused to be swayed by this attack on our culture. We are sticking with the process and will ignore the Elite Ridiculous Salesman at today’s festive 40th.