There have been few outfits more dedicated to selflessness than Turkey of the Year, Inc. The Board of Directors has spent 25 years giving to others.
We decided the time finally had arrived to be nice to ourselves. So, for the past 10 days, you could have found the Turkey Board gallivanting about Hawaii, blowing wads of shareholders' money, and without a care in the world. The Turkey brain trust had never seemed as kind of spirit as it engaged in what was supposed to be the climactic meeting to determine the 2003 honorees.
No matter the Turkey candidate mentioned, a voice would say, "Yes, that was questionable behavior, but let's look at it from his [or her] standpoint."
The Turkey Chairman gaveled the meeting to a close, saying: "I will not tolerate all of this understanding. We might as well play golf."
This decision would provide precisely the attitude adjustment needed after the Turkey Board wound up at Ko'olau Golf Club. It sits directly below the rain-soaked mountains on the Windward side of Oahu, and bills itself as "The World's Most Challenging Golf Course."
That sounds much better than "The World's Most Ridiculous Golf Course," which would be more accurate.
"If you see the [wild] hogs, don't go toward them," the starter told the Turkey group on the first tee.
We were safe, since no self-respecting hog would root around in the mudholes that were intended to serve as fairways.
Yup, five hours at Ko'olau were all the Turkey Board required to get into a foul (fowl?) mood and properly complete its work.
Let's have it - the list of special invitees for this 26th annual affair, still the Turkey Banquet, even if the menu this time features poke, mango and chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, rather than basted bird, cranberries and pumpkin pie:
- Marion Jones. The sprinter went to the Sydney Olympics as America's sprinter/heroine. It was revealed before competition started that her husband, shot putter C.J. Hunter, had been busted earlier for a positive steroid test.
Marion divorced Hunter and took up with sprinter Tim Montgomery. The couple was taped working out with Charlie Francis, the coach of disgraced sprinter Ben Johnson in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, a year ago. And, earlier this month, Montgomery testified before the grand jury looking into BALCO, the Bay Area outfit alleged to have distributed THG - a re-formulated steroid designed to beat drug tests.
Hmmmm, Marion. That's all. Just, hmmmm.
- A.J. Pierzynski. The recently traded Twins catcher also testified briefly to the same grand jury. Fortunately, A.J. has strong evidence he did not dabble in muscle-building THG - namely, a mere 11 home runs for a 6-3, 225-pound lefthanded hitter in a lefty-friendly ballpark.
- Martha Burk. There was enough of a police presence on Masters Saturday to secure the anti-Bush protest in London. As it turned out, Martha Burk's campaign against Augusta National was able to produce only 20 protesters. There was so little energy with Martha and her small legion that they were not able to drown out one redneck who was shouting, "Iron my shirt; make my dinner."
- Joe Paterno. Last season, the coach spent much energy selling the idea to the Penn State rubes that Big Ten officials had a vendetta against his Nittany Lions. This season, his players laid down on him like Nittany Dogs. Give it up, Joe Pa.
- Cristian Guzman. The shortstop was able to get less out of more than any Twins player.
- Chris Hovan. See above, changing shortstop to defensive tackle and Twins to Vikings.
- Phil Mickelson. See above, changing shortstop to golfer and Twins to PGA Tour.
- Dan Monson. What is it about this Gophers basketball coach that causes tall Minnesotans to bail out early rather than stick around to become standouts? Whatever his magic in that area, it was worth Monson's first-ever Turkey Banquet invitation.
- Mike Kelly. Yes, the Vikings' vice president beat the drunken driving rap he faced from activities during the team's Arctic Orgy promotion at Mille Lacs last winter, but the Turkey Board can't forget Kelly asking for a tissue to dab his eyes while in custody.
- LaTroy Hawkins. What the Turkey Chairman will miss most about the Twins reliever will be his shouting "Could you do any better?" across the clubhouse. You never could convince our guy LaTroy that perhaps Minnesota's major leaguers should be held to higher standard of performance than might be provided by a guy in his late 50s and shaped like a pineapple.
And now, here to accept their Turkey-feather leis, are the finalists:
- Second runner-up: T. Denny Sanford. A while back, we had Alabama's Donald Watkins. Now, we have South Dakota's T. Denny, who wants the University of Minnesota to build a football stadium and put his name on it, and trust him to fork over the $35 million eventually.
- First runner-up: Red McCombs. This was Red's position at the Turkey Banquet a year ago. The Vikings owner offered much in his bid to move up to Grand Turkey - threatening a lawsuit ("We'll see you in court") to break his team's commitment to Minnesota, threatening to move training camp out of Minnesota, telling his players they had humiliated themselves after the first loss of the season.
Red did it all, but it wasn't enough.
The Grand Turkey for 2003 is Glen Mason, architect of the most feeble nine-victory season in the history of Big Ten football.
It looked impossible for Mason to climb over McCombs to join the distinguished list of Turkeys of the Year, but his bold move of last week - suggesting in sideways fashion that the Minnesota sporting public would be responsible if his Gophers received a low-rung bowl bid - pulled out this last-minute upset.
Mason is demanding the bowl berth his team deserves, and it should be this: whatever is left after Michigan, Ohio State, Purdue, Iowa and Michigan State have taken up the Big Ten's first five spots.
You can't play one of the three or four softest schedules among 63 BCS teams, then claim your 9-3 is better than Michigan State's 8-4, not when the Spartans beat you on your home field.
Unless you're Mason. Then you can make the claim.
Mix that with Sunday morning censorship and watching in befuddlement as a 21-point fourth quarter lead blows away against Michigan, and here's a postseason prize for Mason that is definitely deserved:
Turkey of the Year.