The Tournament of Turkeys Committee had long resisted corporate sponsorship as the way to solve its annual financial crisis. This resolve started to waver several years ago, when the preacher giving the invocation before the big stock car race in Daytona Beach, Fla., bellowed, "Lord, our generous creator, we ask that you protect the drivers in this Daytona 500 . . . by STP."

The breaking point was reached when Major League Baseball sold out the Roberto Clemente Award, and the humanitarian honor became the True Value Hardware/Clemente Award.

"We're going to make the Turkey Awards available to a corporate sponsor," the Turkey Chairman announced at a committee meeting earlier this year. "We have hired the creative forces from Fallon McElligot to develop an advertising campaign aimed at the corporate community.
"We gave them only one order: We don't want any transsexual turkeys who used to be named Tom in this campaign."

Fallon McElligot's fliers led to a call from Stanley Crooks, the boss at Mystic Lake Casino. "We're interested in sponsoring the Festival of Turkeys Parade and the Turkey Banquet," Crooks said. "Will there be politicians in attendance?"

The Turkey Chairman said: "More politicians than ever."

To which Crooks replied: "Count us in. We will provide a royal feast. And don't forget to remind the politicians - especially the DFLers - to look under their chairs for a little something extra for next year's campaigns."

Once we had rock-solid financial status with the Mystic Lake Tournament of Turkeys, the committee was able to concentrate on its important business: issuing banquet invitations to worthy contenders and selecting from this group a Turkey of the Year.

Never has the task been more formidable than in 1997. It has taken a record number of meetings and earnest debate to come up with this list. The Turkey Chairman is proud to introduce the honorees for the 20th annual Turkey Banquet:

Mike Tyson. The bully turns out to be a coward. Twice, he bites a man because he does not want to fight him, in an act too despicable even for the sport of boxing. And Tyson can only get an invite - not a major award - at the banquet? That's all you need to know about the strength and depth of this year's Turkey field.

Bill Pohlad. The Twins' promotional campaign for a new stadium had several magnificent moments. But Bill's outfit - River Road Productions - earned him a banquet invitation with an ad that
featured in exploitative fashion a young cancer patient who had died two months earlier.

Courtney James. Paul Thomas Anderson, the young director of "Boogie Nights," is planning a wilder sequel of sorts titled, "One Night with Courtney." Yo, Courtney, this is Shaq, and here's some advice: Two things in this world that are definitely not compatible are promiscuity and jealousy.
Twins' Class of '95. They became regulars for the Twins in 1995 - left fielder Marty Cordova, center fielder Rich Becker, first baseman Scott Stahoviak and pitcher Frank Rodriguez. This was the nucleus that was going to lead the Twins back into contention. Their efforts in '97 have helped lead the Twins to North Carolina.

Davis Love III. This year's choking golfer being honored is Love. His accomplishment was personally losing the Ryder Cup Matches for the United States with his 0-4 record.

Joe Marble and David Hoch: These two resolute gentlemen camped out on the steps of the State Capitol and announced they would not budge until the Legislature reassembled and passed a stadium bill that guaranteed the Twins would remain in Minnesota for the next 35 years. Minicams from every TV station in the Twin Cities showed these gallant fans as they started their crusade early in a cold Minnesota winter. They were gone by noon the next day.
Mike Veeck. This year's highlight for the smug, self-promoting Veeck came when he lobbied to get national exposure on the 20th anniversary of Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park. In truth, it
was Chicago radio personality Steve Dahl who came up with the idea and lured the people to the ballpark. Veeck simply has taken the credit, his strongest point.

Marv Albert. Quote from a New York sportswriter: "You know those people around the Knicks who acted so surprised about the revelations concerning Marv's private life? They weren't really that surprised." And it wouldn't be so bad, Marv, if you would just shut up about it. America will never take you seriously again. Got it, Marv?

Tom Kelly. It was not Kelly's stubbornness in sticking with washouts such as Scott Aldred and Rich Robertson as he guided the Twins to a fifth consecutive losing season that earned this invitation. It was the fact that Minnesotans who favored a new ballpark and the continued presence of the Twins here probably would have felt better about their efforts if the manager - after 11 years on the job - had given any public indication that he cared, one way or the other.

We have reached the moment to introduce the winner of the Herschel Walker Lifetime Achievement Award. This was instituted in 1995. The previous winners were Chris Voelz and Bud Selig. The committee has gone with a sentimental choice - Isaiah Rider Jr. – in 1997.

Since Portland was at Target Center on Wednesday night, the plan was to present the Herschel to J.R. at halftime. Shockingly, Rider was suspended, although it wasn't for smoking (pot). It was for spitting (on a fan).

On to the Turkey of the Year: For 19 years, the Turkey Chairman had been able to use his astounding oratorical skills to get the committee to come around to his view on the grand prize.
"The stadium debate has made it clear: The Turkey of the Year must be a member of Minnesota's State Legislature," the chairman shouted during the final committee meeting, and then reviewed his five preferred candidates.

From the Senate: John Marty (DFL-Roseville) - On the stadium, John the Weenie has become the equivalent of the kid who kills his parents and then asks for leniency from the court because he's an orphan. Doug Johnson (DFL-Tower) - The "Sultan of Subsidy" has gotten religion on spending state money now that he wants to run for governor. Dean Johnson (R-Willmar) - One day on the State Capitol steps, Deano was backing slots at Canterbury as the reasonable approach to funding a stadium, and the next day he was weeping for forgiveness.

From the House: John Tuma (R-Northfield) - The walking filibuster no longer has to worry about his grandmother being tossed out of a nursing home if baseball stays in Minnesota. Phyllis Kahn (DFL-Pluto) - The amendments Phyllis offers to legislation might make sense with the political assembly on her home planet, but they remain a mystery to Earthlings.

The Chairman finished his review and then said: "We must choose one."
A woman rose in the committee room and said: "I can't go along with you on this, Chairman. These are not Grand Turkeys. These are merely asinine politicians. There are dozens more in St. Paul.
"Only one person deserves the 1997 Turkey of the Year Award. Only one person has worked with proper dedication to get this honor. This man has come close in the past, but rather than giving up, he returned and made a bigger Turkey out of himself than ever. This man wanted the Grand Turkey so badly that he wrote a book to boost his candidacy."

The Chairman shifted nervously and asked: "Sid?"

The committee member pounded her fist on the table and said:

"No, Dennis Green. If we don't give it to Green this time, he'll be gone as the coach of the Vikings. The chance of placing the name of this deserving Turkey on the trophy will be lost."

The Chairman nodded in resignation. The woman was right. The 1997 Turkey of the Year is Dennis Green.