The Turkey Committee decided to simplify its task way back in 1983 and started showing a great bias toward Minnesota-based winners for the grand award.

There has been only one Turkey of the Year without a Minnesota connection in the 22 years since the committee's philosophical change. That was Kerri Strug, the squeaky-voiced gymnast who made herself a hero of the 1996 Olympics by overhyping an ankle injury and allowing her crazed coach, Bela Karolyi, to carry her around Atlanta like a sack of new potatoes.

We might as well get this out of the way early in today's Turkey Banquet:

The committee gave consideration to Mark Downs Jr. of suburban Pittsburgh as a contender to break Minnesota's hold on top turkey.

You will remember Downs as the tee ball coach who offered one ofhis players $25 to hit a teammate with a baseball. The target was a child with autism. Downs was hoping a solid bump with a baseball would enable him to avoid playing the kid in that day's game.

Eventually, committee members decided they didn't want to be in Downs' company, and thus he wasn't issued a banquet invitation.

It also must be revealed that our ever-vigilant members have been focused in one area since the first of the preliminary selection meetings took place in May.
A committeeman rose that day (we'll call him Darkman, to protect his identity) and said: "I'm sure that you saw the Original Whizzinator headlines this week. I really think it's about time for us to acknowledge that, without the Minnesota Vikings as an organization, the Turkey Banquet would have long since faded away.

"Without the drunken driving, sexual harassing, ticket scalping, Moons in the driveway and moons in Lambeau, without the Herschel trade, Pecos River and eating peanut butter from a diaper, without taking a knee, 41-0 and Nate Poole, and now the Whizzinator - without all of this, we would have been eating our Thanksgiving cranberries at home long ago."

The committee chairman never heard so many hoo-rahs in the long, emotional history of Turkey meetings.

And since then, we've had the flotilla from Al and Alma's for the aquatic version of the Arctic Blast, followed by an Old Testament-sized Code of Conduct that apparently suggests players take part in intimate contact only with a committed mate for the purpose of procreation.
There's no question about it. The Turkeys of the Year come and go, but when it comes to being a fowled-up organization, the Vikings are unchallenged every year for persistent, spectacular embarrassment.

As you might have anticipated, today's banquet has been moved to the waters of Lake Minnetonka. The folks at Al and Alma's hung up on us when we said a number of Vikings would be in attendance, so the Turkey cruise was booked at Bert and Bertha's, the competitors on the other side of the lake.

Guests are reminded that, rather than the Turkey Banquet's tradition of formal wear, today's dress is optional.

The Turkey envelopes, please.

- Michelle Wie: First pro tournament, she got away with unofficial cheating once - hitting it in a bush and finagling a free drop by claiming an aversion to bees. So, she tried to cheat more blatantly the next time she found foliage, and was turned inby Sports Illustrated's Michael Bamberger. Congratulations to him, since no one else was willing to give this brat a comeuppance.

- Daunte Culpepper: The quarterback's one-day walkout in Mankato earned him an $8 million boost in contract cash, then he took a giant leap backwards in performance before ripping up his knee in Game 7. And what the final results of Sex Cruise might do to his good-guy image Minnesota is still waiting for that.

- Bret Boone: How could anyone come in as a replacement for Luis Rivas at second base and be a downgrade? Boone managed it.

- Justin Morneau: In March, he was called Joe Mauer's partner in the best combination of young hitters in the major leagues. By September, injured teammate Torii Hunter was throwing a punch at Morneau, perhaps figuring it was the only way in Morneau's first full season to get anything into what seemed to be a noggin filled with Canadian granite.

- Dave Lee: He's a nice fellow, but how much of his supercilious homerism must radio listeners to Gophers football withstand? Last Saturday, the Gophers were being nudged 35-0 by Iowa, and Lee was complaining about favorable spots of the ball for the Hawkeyes. This is the Big Ten, Dave, not Bertha Hewitt High. Professional it up a bit.

- Lou Holtz: Gosh, Lou all the time you have spent on camera for ESPN, you haven't offered much insight into the probation-producing NCAA violations you left behind with the South Carolina Gamecocks.

- Brett Favre: The once-great Packer showed it again Monday: In his dotage as a quarterback, he would rather throw extra-quick at high risk of interception, than wait a tick and face the possibility of getting hit. Favre's team is 2-8 - a reflection of many negatives, including his transformation from swashbuckler to gunshy.

- Reggie Fowler: Reggie, we have a spot for you over here at the table with Tom Clancy, Donald Watkins, Sacco Babacas and T. Denny Sanford.

- Tim Pawlenty: We can see the re-election billboards now, Governor: "Still proud to be standing on both sides of the stadium issue."

- Rashad McCants: Real men - especially NBA rookies - don't wear leotards.

And now, the 2005 Turkey finalists are asked to wobble on sea legs to the front table.

- Third runner-up: Onterrio Smith, Vikings. Quote of the year: "I'm carrying this Whizzinator and dried urine for my cousin."

- Second runner-up: Fred Smoot, Vikings. Credit card, cruise, covering Carolina's Steve Smith and Smith paddling his imaginary boat in the end zone all make for a succulent Turkey.

- First runner-up: Terry Ryan, Twins. After a season in which the general manager did nothing as his team sunk from wild-card contention, Ryan offered up coach Al Newman as a scapegoat. This has been followed by offering Joe Vavra (three home runs in 1,187 minor league at-bats) as the new hitting coach to cure what ails the powerful Morneau and the other flailing failures.

Add it up, and Terry's Twins clearly are gathering momentum for a return to the glory of 1993-2000.
And now, as we get ready to introduce Turkey of the Year No. 28, you are asked to remember the respect with which the committee always has treated cheapness.

Carl Pohlad, the only two-time Turkey, cheap. Norm Green, cheap (and goofy). Red McCombs, cheap (and conniving).

The 2005 Turkey of the Year will be considered a reach by some, but when it comes to being cheap, this owner has a chance to put his dollar-squeezing predecessors to shame.

Yes, our newest Turkey is Bob Naegele, the Wild's chairman of the board.

He enthusiastically joined the 17-month lockout, then decided not to share in a league-wide trend of rewarding fans with reduced ticket prices. Also, the guarantee of another winter of sellouts did not prevent Naegele from having his GM, Doug Risebrough, come in at roughly a $26 million payroll - $10-12 million under the new salary cap.

That money goes into the pockets of Naegele and his partners, rather than offering a share of it to a free agent with whom the ticket buyers might have been familiar.

But don't worry, down there in those $90 seats. Naegele still has that jersey hanging in the rafters, telling the fans that you're No. 1.

We have a jersey for you today, Bob - big Turkey on the front and a dollar sign on the back.