There have been complaints within the Turkey Committee for several years that decision-making power was centralized with a bunch of heathens left over from the Summer of Love.

A growing faction of religious conservatives on the committee offered its first show of strength a couple of years ago, when it forced the Turkey Chairman to take down his favorite placard in the board room, the one with the painted flowers that read, "Make Love, Not War."

The empowerment this faction felt only increased with the events of Nov. 2, when George W. Bush rode the coattails of a higher power (no, not Karl Rove) to a second term.

The chairman's political problems were clear again Wednesday, when he walked into the board room for the final Turkey of the Year selection meeting and the head of the faction announced:

"We're giving you one more chance, Mr. Chairman. What's your position on gay marriage?"
Without a hem or a haw, the Chairman said: "I'm all for it. I feel as though the folks with alternative lifestyles should be permitted to suffer as much as the rest of us."

Much shouting and debate ensued, and finally it was decided the chairman would be allowed to announce the roll call for one more flock of Turkeys:

- Kostas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou. This pair of Greek sprinters brings with them an impeccable resume: fleeing from a pre-Olympic drug test, faking a motorcycle accident in order to hide out at a hospital and disgracing the home country on the eve of the Athens Games.

- Alvin Shackelford. This was the smooth dude with the oversized hero jersey who walked onto the Pistons court last Friday night and gave Indiana's Ron Artest a "what-you-got?" shrug.
Whack! Down went Alvin. As he wobbled to his feet, Alvin turned into the path of Jermaine O'Neal, Artest's teammate. Whack! Down went Alvin again.

Poor Alvin has hired a lawyer - but he also has some explaining to do to his boyz.

- Gary Bettman. What sound does the shutdown of the commissioner's hockey league make in the Lower 48? Far from a gobble-gobble - more like a peep-peep.

- Todd Bertuzzi. Right, Todd, there's no hockey, but your admirers here in Minnesota on the Turkey Committee have not forgotten the Vancouver winger's attack last March on Colorado's Steve Moore.
- J.C. Romero. There were two lefthanded pitchers of prime talent employed by the Twins this season. Johan Santana, 25, won the American League's Cy Young Award. Romero, 28, briefly was sent back to the minors. At season's end, he was completely distrusted by his manager - all because of a refusal to throw strikes.

- World Cup of Hockey. The Wild gave its season ticketholders an ultra-hard sell on what a breathtaking attraction this early September hockey tournament would prove to be. Someone paying those stiff prices to watch sleepwalking-on-skates should have sued the Wild for false enticement.

- Joel Maturi. Two years on the job as Gophers athletic director and already Maturi is a Turkey Banquet invitee. Allowing men's basketball coach Dan Monson to put together the current nonconference schedule was an invitation to the most loyal of Williams Arena season-ticket customers to cancel. There also was the attempt to negotiate a high-buck extension with a guy who is now an eighth-place football coach.

Keep it up, Joel. You have Grand Turkey potential.

- Mike Krzyzewski. Dick Vitale, Jay Bilas, Billy Packer and all the stooges for the Duke men's basketball coach could not cover up his classless display at the end of the Blue Devils' choke against UConn in the NCAA semifinals.

He blamed the refs for the loss, then followed with the charade of being interested in coaching the L.A. Lakers in order to have the Duke administration prove again how much it loves him.

- Lou Holtz. A former Grand Turkey (1985), Lou has been invited back to tell the banquet audience about his glorious final Saturday as a college football coach. First, his South Carolina Chickens offered a woeful effort against archrival Clemson, then they ended Holtz's career by engaging in a brawl.

- Nomar Garciaparra. The shortstop took his poisonous attitude from the Red Sox to the Cubs on July 31. The Red Sox responded by winning the World Series for the first time in 86 years, while the Cubs faded in the stretch. It wasn't a coincidence.

- Hal Sutton. Captain Hal opened his Ryder Cup duties by putting together Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, two egos that clearly could not fit into one pairing. This was the first of several failed brainstorms for Sutton, ultimately the boss of the most-embarrassing Ryder Cup effort in Yanks history - an 18 1/2-9 1/2 loss on home turf (Oakland Hills) to Europe.

The Turkey Committee, before we get to our finalists, would like to thank NBA Commissioner David Stern for using Artest's lost wages to pay for an entire table of guests to today's banquet.

Ron the Rapper is here, as well as Kobe Bryant, Stephen Jackson, Latrell Sprewell, Vince Carter, Anthony Peeler and Carmelo Anthony, elbow to elbow with Stern himself, as Turkey honorees.

Now, it's time to reveal the final three, the drama that annually causes quivering among all Turkey Banquet attendees - righties, lefties, fundamentalists, agnostics, Pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians.

- Second runner-up: Kris Humphries. When basketball coaches of the future seek to teach the "turn and dribble into a triple-team" maneuver, they will search the archives for tapes of Humphries with Monson's Gophers. Kris' father, Bill, has agreed to come out of his shell and present his son with the coveted prize, the bronze cranberry dish.

- First runner-up: Glen Mason. The Turkey Committee has received public pressure for a Grand Turkey candidate in the past, but nothing to compare with the e-mails, notes and calls demanding Coach Mason as a first-ever back-to-back Grand Turkey winner, following the Gophers' football season of monumental failure.

The committee members have chosen to proudly thump our chests and simply remind you that we were ahead of the curve in honoring Mason with the big prize on Thanksgiving 2003.
Our guy Sid Hartman, who has been double-crossed previously in hyping Gophers football but never like this, is here to present Mason with the silver gravy boat for finishing second.

- Grand Turkey: Red McCombs.


After consecutive Thanksgivings as the first runner-up, the Vikings owner came out firing this fall with more "I Love L.A." rhetoric and more nickel-squeezing at Winter Park. Remember, in actual dollars, Red has the Vikings much closer to the salary-cap minimum than the maximum.

Presenting McCombs with the Golden Gobbler is Mike Tice, who might feel safer as a citizen with a Texan in the White House, but shouldn't feel the same way as a coach with this Texan in the owner's suite.