The Turkey of the Year Award, complete with the annual Turkey Banquet featuring honored guests, was headquartered in both St. Paul and Minneapolis during its 40 renditions from 1978 through 2017.
There was a signoff on Thanksgiving morn 2017, when it was revealed that after much infighting, the Turkey Committee had risen up and voted the Turkey Chairman as the winner of the award he had invented, the Grand Turkey.
It should be noted there was a period when the big prize was dubbed “Herschel the Turkey.” The wisdom of that label was validated again earlier this month, when Herschel Walker suggested the way to decide controversies emanating from the 2020 presidential election was a “do-over.”
Herschel never was a winner of the Grand Turkey, although he had been in Minnesota for mere weeks in 1989 when trading for Walker became the main reason Vikings boss Mike Lynn was selected as the winner.
Remarkable Mike was the lone Grand Gobbler in four decades to call the Chairman on Thanksgiving morning to comment, and he did so by saying: “It’s about time.”
There was no committee, no banquet, no funding and the Turkey of the Year copyright was gone, but as Thanksgiving approached in 2018, the chairman (by then lowercase) felt an emergency existed.
Gophers football coach Philip J. Fleck Jr. had inherited a 9-4 team in January 2017, spent 22-plus months promoting himself and losing games (4-13 in the Big Ten at that moment), and he clearly needed some direction from outside the program.
Creative chap that he is, and always driven to inspire coaches, athletes, team executives and bureaucrats to find their better selves, the chairman announced The Authentic Turkeys (TATs) for 2018 and named Fleck as grand TAT.
Success was immediate. Two days later, the Gophers brought back the Axe from Madison, Wis., and in 2019, they went 7-2 in the Big Ten and upset Auburn in a bowl game.
The chairman was so impressed with the impetus he had created for this rousing Gophers turnaround that, on Thanksgiving 2019, an end of the Turkeys in all forms was announced.
There were tears and protests, cries of “Say it ain’t so, Schmoe,” from the public, but the chairman kept flashing back to that flood of joyous fans on the TCF Bank turf after the Penn State upset and said to himself:
“This can be your Turkey legacy. This can be the crowning reminder of what a well-placed Turkey challenge has done through the decades for motivated individuals.”
It was no surprise the chairman signed off with class and humility on Thanksgiving 2019, with a succinct: “My work here is done.”
It was official. No more Turkeys of the Year, no more TATs.
Then came 2020. The world’s mysterious visitor made its way across oceans, landed here last winter, tore into us in the spring, tore us apart in the summer, introduced us to social distancing and wearing masks, and now our invisible White Walker marches robustly as a long winter approaches.
And thus has arrived — by text, by e-mail, by voice mail and from six feet away in store lines — the demand:
“In this year of all years, there must be a sports Turkey announced on Thanksgiving.”
There were sleepless nights as the chairman equivocated. And finally, a few nights ago, on a midnight walk with the wind rustling, the chairman was overwhelmed with this thought:
“We are not red states or blue states. We are the ‘United’ States. And there must be a Turkey to challenge the current condition, and to allow sports and us to forge ahead, as Minnesotans, as Americans and, doggone it, as citizens of the world.”
So, here is the 2020 Turkey, remastered to explain its emergence:
Turkey Revived Under Mandate by Public.
There are no honored guests, only a mention of a few of the candidates that were under consideration to take home this prize, known as the TRUMP* Award for the sake of brevity.
Here are eight contenders:
Malik Beasley, Timberwolves: Chairman loved the note law enforcement found in his Plymouth home outlining where marijuana could be smoked on the premises. The Wolves gave him a four-year, $60 million contract, so it all must be a minor misunderstanding. TRUMP status: Rejected.
Minnesota Twins, 2004-2020: Added a two-game sweep to one-game and multiple three-game eliminations to stretch the postseason losing streak to 18 games, a record for North American pro sports and perhaps the universe. Rejected (after strong consideration).
Mike Zimmer, Vikings coach: OK, he lied about Danielle Hunter’s injury and weeks later strongly defended himself over that, but he’s suffered enough being forced to use a Detroit Lions reject at cornerback. Rejected.
Marlene Stollings, fired Texas Tech basketball coach: If only Mean Marlene still had been the Gophers women’s coach, she would’ve been a true challenger. Rejected.
ESPN Basketball Power Index: When the pandemic wiped out the NCAA basketball tournaments, many outlets felt the need to come up with a mythical men’s bracket and then run a simulation. ESPN’s version chose Wisconsin as the winner. What … tripping was legal in the simulator? Duke would’ve won, then. Rejected (too preposterous).
“Abundance of caution:” Once the PGA Tour tossed this out early in the pandemic, no one in sports, business or bureaucracy could postpone anything without the “abundance of.” This really got on the chairman’s nerves, but … Rejected.
Jerry Reinsdorf, White Sox owner. Close to the best young talent in baseball. Let’s bring back Tony La Russa, 76, who last managed in 2011, and can’t even stifle his arrogance to the cop stopping him for drunken driving. Rejected (hasn’t reacted to Tim Anderson bat flip yet).
Death: Winner in 2015, in wake of Flip Saunders’ death at 60 right before Wolves opener. But this year, starting with the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash, has been devastating — including the local tie-ins: Matt Blair, Milt Sunde, Chris Doleman, Tarvaris Jackson, Terry Tausch, Wayne Hattaway, Dr. John Najarian, Joe Laurinaitis, Ron Perranoski, Bob McDonald, Noel Jenke, Julio Becquer, Bud Chapman, Eddie Manderville, John Hankinson, Sid Hartman and even closer to home … my brother Michael, former four-sport athlete for the Fulda High Raiders. Rejected (as is this year as a whole).
There are names missing from that list, and numerous names missing from those considered, but the winner of the TRUMP Award was the front-runner from the moment the decision was made to answer the public outcry on this Thanksgiving:
Mark Coyle, athletic director, University of Minnesota: The decision to eliminate three men’s sports — tennis, gymnastics, indoor track — has done so little to improve the athletic department’s financial predicament with the pandemic that it is absolutely folly.
As Fleck and football fritter away millions ($38 million-plus expended in 2019 and ever-increasing), Coyle is saving a couple million and allegedly addressing a Title IX problem that could be fixed with much less gore on his hands.
Sadly, in this one-person operation, the best the chairman could come up with as a token for claiming the TRUMP Award for Coyle was a secondhand MyPillow that was donated. Good shape, and those tear stains should come right out.
*TRUMP: Any similarity with this acronym to a person currently playing golf or tweeting is purely … well, decide that for yourself.