The 1999 Grand Turkey Banquet has become the grandest of all, for there are two tasks: One, we must uphold the tradition of honoring the Turkey of the Year; and two, we must recognize our moment in history, by honoring the Turkeys of the Millennium.
There are so many Turkey statuettes to distribute today that the potential existed for a ceremony lasting longer than the Academy Awards. So, we have to go to speed-up rules here. Concerning the 1999 Turkey: There were presentations made on behalf of several individuals who would have been considered for Turkey immortality, if this had been a normal year. The nominees included:
Dimitrius Underwood. The No. 1 draft choice showed up in Mankato wearing battle fatigues, saying he was ready to go to war, then lasted one practice with the Vikings.
Eugene Robinson. The veteran safety made it to the Super Bowl with Atlanta. On Saturday morning, he received a plaque honoring his work as a Christian athlete. That night, he was charged with soliciting sex from an undercover policewoman.
Richie Phillips. This union chief came up with the idea that all major league umpires should resign to increase job security.
Red McCombs. Buy a championship-caliber NFL team for $250 million less than an expansion team because your team has a lease in a low-revenue stadium, then complain about playing in a low-revenue stadium. That's our guy Red.
Stephon Marbury. He was offered the maximum salary by the Timberwolves but demanded a trade because he couldn't take being in the same locker room with a teammate, Kevin Garnett, making more.
These nominations were a formality. The winner was going to come from the Gophers basketball scandal. And so many from this ugly episode were worthy:
Alonzo Newby, the academic adviser who wanted money for the truth; Jan Gangelhoff, the tutor with a late-breaking conscience and an ever-changing story; Elayne Donahue, the spiteful head of academic counseling who didn't ask questions as Gangelhoff typed players' papers under her nose; Russ Archambault, the cheating, fighting, rules-breaking ex-player, and Mark Yudof, the self-serving university president who paid off the villain and ran off the "honorable men with integrity."
Still, when historians look back at the Turkeys at the end of another century, it would render the Turkey of the Year awards meaningless if the list read other than this:
1999 - Clem Haskins.
It seems the banquet crowd is getting restless. So, here to introduce the Turkeys of the Millennium is our master of ceremonies (and candidate), Mr. Sid Hartman. Roll 'em, Sid:
Chick Gandil. He was the first baseman for the 1919 Chicago White Sox. Gandil was the main contact with gamblers in fixing the World Series, then kept the money intended for five of his fellow "Black Sox," went to California and retired. We can take some local pride in Chick, a St. Paul native.
John Cox Stevens. He was the head of the New York Yacht Club in 1870. When his club was challenged by an English sailor for a racing cup, Stevens required the British vessel to sail against the entire New York YC fleet of 14 boats. This set the stage for another 130 years of cheating in the America's Cup races.
Bob Meusel. The Yankees' surly right fielder of the 1920s set a standard for noncooperation with fans and reporters that continues with ballplayers today. Late in his career, Meusel became more friendly, leading to the greatest sportswriting line ever, from Frank Graham: "He has learned to say hello, when it's time to say goodbye."
Arazi. Secretariat has appeared on most lists of the 20th Century's top athletes. The Turkey Committee figured it should have a horse, too, so we went with Arazi, the 2-year-old champion that
went off as a 4-5 favorite in the 1992 Kentucky Derby and finished eighth.
Tonya Harding. She had her main figure-skating rival hit in the leg with a baton.
Mike Tyson. He was losing a fight, so he chewed off a piece of his opponent's ear.
Beulah Gundling. She was this country's first real star in synchronized swimming in the early 1950s. This was the worst thing to happen in water since the sinking of the Lusitania.
William Rasmussen. This businessman from Hartford, Conn., started the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network in 1976. OK, ESPN has had its moments, but it also gave us 11:10 a.m. kickoffs, Norm Hitzges as an original baseball commentator and the first of Lesley Visser's bad hats.
Dick Getchell and John Styve. These two gentlemen from the St. Paul area started the first known Fantasy Football League in Minnesota in the mid-'70s. This caused tens of thousands of Minnesota adults to change their focus in the fall from real issues to make-believe.
Then what happens? The citizens become so simple-minded that Jesse Ventura is elected governor.
Those are the honorable mention Turkeys of the Millennium. Here are the finalists:
Third runner-up: Henry Chadwick. In 1853, Chadwick was hired as the first U.S. sportswriter for the New York Clipper after volunteering to cover baseball and cricket for no pay. Chadwick established a precedent newspapers have been trying to maintain for 146 years.
Second runner-up: Chris Voelz. Can you say paranoid? If Mother Teresa had been employed in the women's athletic department at Minnesota, Voelz would have suspected the saint-to-be was plotting against her power as athletic director.
First runner-up: Richard Gummere. Millions of Irish, Italians, Poles, Germans, et al arrived willingly on this country's shores in the second half of the 19th Century. Potato famine, potato schamine. These were the enlightened European masses that couldn't stand the boredom of soccer.
Then, in 1901, this Gummere character started a soccer team at Haverford College in Pennsylvania. Soccer gained a small foothold in the East, spread slowly across the country and eventually became the game demanded by suburban moms for their overly protected kids. Let's face it: Without soccer, we wouldn't have had soccer moms, and without the votes of soccer moms, we wouldn't have had Bill Clinton in the Oval Office. Clearly, that makes Richard Gummere responsible for putting this country through the Monica Lewinsky ordeal.
That brings us to the Turkey of the Millennium. The committee looked for someone to symbolize what the business of big-time sports and its athletes have become at the end of the millennium.
We needed greed, egomania and a complete lack of responsibility, with a little pot smoking for good measure. Yes, you're right. The Turkey of the Millennium is Isaiah Rider Jr.
With this, Rider joins the previous Turkey of the Millennium: Nero, the Roman emperor who promoted those lions vs. Christians mismatches starting in 37 A.D.