Feast fit for a king, or a jester

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 24, 2011 - 8:36 AM

The Turkey Banquet table is crowded, but we'll make room for our hungry Grand Turkey.

The mood surrounding the Turkey Banquet is always festive, and it takes on a quality that is both giddy and heartwarming when there is a chance to reflect on a grand year in Minnesota sports.

Really, when has it been better for sports fans in this region than in the 12 months since the Turkeys were last awarded?

In December, the University of Minnesota did the Maroon and Gold proud by winning  its second national football title in three years, defeating Delta State 20-17 on the hallowed turf of Braly Municipal Stadium in Florence, Ala.

In April, the University of Minnesota completed a fantastic exacta by defeating Michigan 3-2 in overtime to win the NCAA men's hockey championship, on what was almost home ice at the X in St. Paul.

In September, a thrilling finish for Minnesota's ardent followers of professional baseball was in store, when the Saints needed a victory on the last day of the regular season to achieve wild-card status.

Eventually, the Saints lost the decisive fifth game of the championship series in Grand Prairie, Texas, but they offered a wonderful ride, and it's never a disgrace to lose to the AirHogs.

And then came the greatest October in Minnesota sports history:

Early in the month, the Lynx completed their season-long domination of the WNBA by putting the Atlanta Dream to sleep (clever, hey?) with a three-game sweep to win the title.

Late in the month, the Minnesota Stars -- with the last seed in the playoffs -- whipped Fort Lauderdale in the two-game, total-goal final to win the NASL title.

Who among us can forget the victory parade winding through downtown Minneapolis, with Stars standout Neil Hlavaty wearing his Snoopy aviator hat?

The Turkey Committee faced a mighty challenge in coming up with worthy candidates for the ceremony, what with all this success.

To further limit the committee, it was decided to wait for the justice system of the greatest country in the world (with the possible exception of Australia) to play itself out, and not to consider the Penn State scandal for 2011 Turkeys.

One more item: To save on travel expenses for a number of honorees, we considered renting banquet space at Target Field.

Then the committee's comptroller expressed fear someone might order a Vincent burger and a Summit Pale Ale and put us out of business. We moved a couple of blocks to Lee's Liquor Lounge, where owner/chef Louie Sirian will be serving beef sticks and tap beer.

We've finally made it, as has been the case for 33 previous Thanksgivings, to the honored Turkeys.

TCF Bank Stadium. Never before has the committee honored an inanimate object, but then never before has a $290 million tribute to a sports team turned into a white elephant in three seasons.

You can't get there for kickoff without a two-hour head start. And it takes longer to get off campus after a game. Plus, they can't fill the place even when folks wearing Wisconsin red occupy 20,000 seats.

We've asked the university to send over the individual responsible for not putting heat coils under the field to accept the Turkey.

Ralph and Rodney. Even without a point guard, there's no way the 2010-11 Gophers could have lost 10 of their last 11 games if Ralph Sampson III and Rodney Williams had used, say, 75 percent of their talent. If they don't pick it up, senior Ralph and junior Rodney have a chance to go down as two of the more notable underachievers in Gophers hoops history.

Jim Tressel. A big-time football coach sitting on information that could make his star quarterback ineligible is one thing.

When it's done by a sanctimonious coach, such as Ohio State's "Cheaty McSweater," it's worth a Turkey.

Kurt Rambis. The committee wasn't going to let this ex-Timberwolves coach slip out of town unnoticed. When a highly paid coach goes through the motions as clearly as did Rambis, it's Turkey time.

Bud Selig. OK, it's admirable that the baseball commissioner and his negotiators reached an early deal with the players. That doesn't change the disgust with the addition of second wild-card teams and one-game playoffs -- the most senseless, cheapest kowtow to TV in sports history.

Nevin Shapiro. We've arranged for Nevin to make a video acceptance from prison. We're hoping for a slide show from his favorite Hurricanes/strippers yacht party.

John Gagliardi. There have been plenty of banquets honoring the St. John's coach, but never in recognition of a 63-7 loss to archrival St. Thomas.

Bill Musgrave. It's not the game plans or the plays. It's the embarrassment of having a Vikings offensive coordinator with a play sheet the size of a recipe card, when most NFL guys are working off material as thick as a Cheesecake Factory menu.

Generally, the committee prefers more variety, but when it came to the 2011 Turkeys, this definitely was the year of the Twins. We'll start with the special Twins table:

Francisco Liriano, Kevin Slowey, Matt Capps and Jose Mijares are here to represent the failed pitchers.

Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, Drew Butera and Delmon Young (in a bravura return to Minnesota) are here to represent the failed position players.

The chairs at the ends of this long table belong to Ron Gardenhire, who went from Manager of the Year to overseer of a dysfunctional clubhouse, and Bill Smith, who went from a symbol of ownership's loyalty to long-time employees to being fired as general manager.

And now ...

Second runner-up: Tsuyoshi Nishioka arrived from Japan as a batting champion and saying his job would be to step on home plate often. Soon, Twins fans were simply hoping that Nishi would remember to step on second base on a forceout.

First runner-up: Joe Mauer. The committee members prove again we will not be intimidated by public clamor in selecting the Turkey of the Year.

Mauer has seven more years to battle bilateral weaknesses and flu-like symptoms while earning $23 million. Many previous individuals have worked their way up from honoree (as was Mauer in 2010) to runner-up status and finally to Grand Turkey.

In the committee's view, it was more important to honor this next fellow while he still was a frequent visitor to Minnesota.

Turkey of the Year: Zygi Wilf

On July 29, 2005, the Vikings took out full-page ads in the Minneapolis and St. Paul newspapers. They were signed by Zygi and his brother, Mark, and included the battle cry "A New Tradition Begins Today."

There was a three-point commitment:

• We will build on the Vikings' winning tradition.

Reality: There was a window for that in 2009, but a narrow loss in the NFC Championship Game in January 2010 has been followed by eight victories in 28 games and a team destined to finish last for a second season in a row.

• We will create a respected, world-class organization on the field and in the community.

Reality: A survey revealed that, with a recent surge, the Vikings have taken the NFL lead for most arrests in the past decade.

• We will make sure that the Vikings remain Minnesota's football team.

Reality: Zygi is insisting that the state of Minnesota come up with a minimum of $700 million to provide the bulk of financing for a new stadium -- and to build it precisely where he wants it -- in order to guarantee the future of the franchise in Minnesota.

Everything considered, the selection of the Zygmeister as Turkey of the Year wasn't as tough as you might think.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500ESPN. preusse@startribune.com

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