Today's gathering behind the huge tent in the Metrodome's upper deck will do more than mark the 21st Turkey Awards. It also will celebrate the greatest year in the history of Minnesota, host state for the Turkeys.
Revered gentlemen such as Cris Carter and Randall Cunningham will give thanks today to their Lord and savior for the gifts they have received. While members of the Turkey Committee consider this to be noble, we have passed a resolution giving thanks for Minnesota's wonderful year to El Nino.
The Casbah - the tent that rises majestically in center and right fields during Twins' games - has been the home to the Turkey Banquet in recent years. The placards on the face of the tent that honor great Twins of the past are replaced with placards honoring great Turkeys of the past.
There was an appeal from the Vikings that an up-to-date photo of defending Grand Turkey Dennis Green, freshly skinny, be used on the coach's placard. The committee voted the placards must depict the Grand Turkeys as they were when winning the award and stayed with the full-figured Green.
The final committee meeting was held early this week and a senior committee member summarized the good-natured atmosphere that existed throughout the year:
"This has been the most fun-loving year in memory in Minnesota. We've become a tropical location, with year-round golf. We've spent the last few weeks laughing at both Cheeseheads and Iowejians.
"Heck, we were even able to laugh at the politicians. Minnesotans stormed to the polls to elect a guy named The Body, for no reason other than we figured it would be fun to have the big knucklehead as governor.
"The pressure's on to make this the most festive banquet ever. Plus, we're going up against the Vikings-Cowboys game, so we need good humor to maintain the banquet's usual through-the-roof ratings."
It's with that charge that the Turkey Committee would like to announce the 1998 honorees:
Jac Sperling. He is the CEO of St. Paul's NHL expansion team. He's the guy who turned third graders into focus groups and came up with that nickname - the Wild. It's ridiculous, embarrassing and just what could be expected from a guy who can't find a k to spell Jack.
Tara Lipinski. Minnesotans didn't get to see the Olympic gold medalist during the World Figure Skating Championships last spring, since she retired from competition at 15 rather than risk a rematch with Michelle Kwan. The committee is honored to offer a Minnesota tribute to Tara, gutless little charmer that she is.
Ray (Rabbit) Miller. In 1986, Miller managed the Twins to a sub-.500 record and was fired late in September. It was not a coincidence that the Twins won the World Series in 1987. This season, Miller returned as a big-league manager in Baltimore. The Orioles had the highest payroll ($72 million) in baseball history and finished 79-83. Again, not a coincidence.
David Stern. Remember all those pompous things the NBA commissioner had to say about his league's dedication to the fans during the baseball strike and NHL lockout? Four years later, Stern's wearing a full beard, hoping a change in appearance might stop fans from pointing at a television set and saying, "There's that hypocrite Stern."
Cheryl Littlejohn. This was the year when Linda Tripp became notorious in Washington, D.C. for taping conversations and snooping into the sex lives of acquaintances. This also was the year when Littlejohn, the women's basketball coach at Minnesota, stood accused by players of using informants to monitor their conversations and snooping into every aspect of their private lives.
Tom Lehman. The Minnesota native turned 39 this year and was fighting the clock to get in more time as one of the world's top golfers. So, how did he approach 1998? Basically, Lehman played less, worked on his game less and hung out more at home in Arizona. That's why committee members now refer to him as Scottsdale's Tom Lehman.
Mike and Pete Brown. Sons of coaching legend Paul Brown, these two gentlemen run the Cincinnati Bengals, including the college draft. That means they passed on receiver Randy Moss twice before he went 21st to the Vikings last spring.
Tom Clancy. Yes, he turned out to be a fraud in his attempt to buy the Vikings. But let's admit it: The chain-smoking braggart did provide a few laughs during the short time he was in view around here.
Wayne Huizenga. There are people with money, and then there are people such as Huizenga, with the type of money that allows them to do anything. As the owner of the Florida Marlins, he had the money to win the World Series in 1997, then turn the team into the worst in baseball in 1998, simply on a whim. This willingness to ruin a franchise was based on Huizenga's general dislike of baseball, fellow owners and most ballplayers.
Kerry Collins. "Ruthless People" was a hit movie and it included this line: "Is that the single stupidest person in the world?" No, that would be Collins, the quarterback who quit on his team in Charlotte, N.C., was hooted out of town, returned for one weekend, and was arrested for drunken driving.
This program has not turned out to be as good-natured as was intended. And now the crowd seems to be getting restless. Maybe it's because we decided to take the advice of B.A. Peterson of Mounds View (Letters from readers, Star Tribune, Nov. 25) and serve grains, beans, vegetables and fruits at today's banquet, rather than the traditional turkeys raised while being "crammed into large sheds filled with toxic fumes from their excrement."
It also could be that the crowd wants to get home for the second half of the Vikings' game.
This much was known from the time the committee started serious discussions on the identity of the 1998 Turkey of the Year: The winner would come from the Minnesota Twins, a franchise that won a World Series at the start of this decade, and now is clueless, rudderless and hopeless.
There was consideration given to left fielder Marty Cordova for his decline from a Rookie of the Year to haplessness. There was consideration given to Terry Ryan, the overwhelmed general manager. There was consideration given to Tom Kelly, capable of seeing only flaws in Ryan's younger talent.
They were considered, but the Twins' fatal shortcoming has become an owner who can't even make a decision on whom he wants to make decisions. Yes, in the 21st year of this banquet, Smilin' Carl Pohlad (1987) becomes the first two-time Grand Turkey.
"The committee is proud, in this year of John Glenn's space voyage and the miracle of Viagra, to cite Mr. Pohlad for another historic achievement by and for a super senior," said the Turkey Chairman, in making the emotional announcement.