The Turkey Committee has developed a habit of meeting precisely one month before Thanksgiving to cull a preliminary list with scores of candidates to those dozen or so likely to get an invitation to the Turkey Banquet.
It was Oct. 26, a Monday, and we put on our autumn outerwear and held a picnic on the shore of Lake Calhoun, although the signage around the wonderful old pond did leave most of us very confused.
Three of the Turkey of the Year favorites to emerge from that meeting were Gophers football coach Jerry Kill, Minneapolis mayor Betsy Hodges and Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.
Kill was a possibility for doubling his salary in 18 months, and then being very thin-skinned as his football team went in a downward direction.
Bike Lane Betsy had the look of the odds-on choice for the Grand Turkey, based on her willingness to turn down United FC’s offer of the best stadium deal seen in the Twin Cities in this century, thus sending the soccer stadium and the potential development to St. Paul.
Peterson was in contention due to his juvenile attempts to force a trade and also a lengthy piece in ESPN The Magazine that vividly demonstrated he saw himself as the wronged party from last year’s child abuse charge.
The day after the Lake Calhoun brainstorming, the university called an early-morning news conference. Kill emotionally announced his retirement due to the difficulty of trying to coach in his hard-charging style while also following his treatment plan for epilepsy.
Scratch Coach Kill off the list.
More recently, Hodges’ city has fallen into such disarray and conflict that the loss of a soccer stadium has disappeared from the radar.
Scratch Bike Lane Betsy off the list.
Peterson had done nothing since returning to the Vikings to add to his knot-head résumé, while also leading the NFL in rushing.
There went Peterson as a candidate.
The Turkey Banquet was 48 hours away and the committee was in chaos. For weeks, the Chairman had an idea on the proper honoree for this year’s Grand Gobbler, but he kept it to himself.
Finally, in this week’s decisive gathering of the committee, the Chairman unveiled his candidate.
“Are you nuts?” bellowed committee members in unison. “Nobody is going to buy tickets for that honoree. Nobody wants to rub elbows with that.”
Committee members started barking out the Turkey of the Year credentials of invited guests, trying to dissuade the Chairman from his preoccupation.
• Rick Pitino, Louisville basketball coach. “There’s strong evidence they were running strippers [and possible hookers] through the basketball dorm for players, recruits and fathers, and Louisville wants you to believe if this happened, it was done independently by a 15-grand-a-year grad assistant. What’s wrong with Pitino?’’
The Chairman: “We don’t want to hurt his son’s feeling here in Minnesota. If we do that, Richard might leave for Duke when Coach K retires.’’
• Mike Davis, U.S. Golf Association executive director: “He gave us Chambers Bay, the worst course in the last 50 years of major golf, for the U.S. Open. You hated it, remember?’’
The Chairman: “A joke, yes, but Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson saved Davis from his nonsense.’’
• Lois Krinke, coach, Faribault Emeralds dance team: “Her outfit asked permission to use a championship dance routine from a team in Utah, was denied, took it anyway and won the state title. You’re a big anti-plagiarism guy; why not Lois?’’
The Chairman: “The whole thing was worth a lot of online hits, admittedly, but it’s still dance.’’
• NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell: “His arrogance, his idea that he’s more important than the legal system, his signing off on the extortion of millions for a Super Bowl after the state and city gave the Vikings a new stadium …’’
The Chairman: “We gave Roger a full hearing as the Turkey last year.’’
• Don Lucia, Gophers men’s hockey coach: “How about the late-breaking news that Lucia’s solution for his program’s decline is to try to make other programs weaker rather than his stronger? He’s trying to back-door NCAA legislation to limit scholarship to freshmen age 20 to reduce the eligibility years for guys with three seasons in junior hockey.’’
The Chairman: “Yeah, The Don’s a sneaky son of a gun, but it’s Big Ten hockey now and nobody gives a hoot.’’
• Canterbury Park stewards and Racing Commission, for suspension of Mac Robertson. “A trace of meth in a first-time runner at Canterbury, which more than likely came from a worker, and those pompous bureaucrats slap a long suspension on the Shakopee track’s most reliable trainer.’’
The Chairman: “You’re getting warmer.”
• Ragnar, ex-Vikings mascot: “The guy had a beer with a friend and was convinced to demand a long-term contract for $20,000 a game to ride a motorcycle. Turkeydom couldn’t ask for better than that.’’
The Chairman: “The poor guy feels bad enough, freezing up there in Ely. We couldn’t add Turkey of the Year to his misery.’’
• Mike Wallace, Vikings, and Erv Santana, Twins.
The Chairman: “Remember when the Princeton recruiter said to Joel in ‘Risky Business,’ ‘You’ve done some solid work, but it’s just not Ivy League, now is it?’ Wallace and Erv are solid, but it’s just not Turkey of the Year, now is it?’’
The committee came with a flurry of NFL suggestions: Jerry Jones, for his weekly idiotic comments on his lout of a defensive end, Greg Hardy; Johnny Manziel, for an all-time insincere try at sobriety; Percy Harvin, for burning what surely must be his final bridge; and Rams owner Stan Kroenke, for being both a restroom hog and a scumbag in trying to take his team to Los Angeles.
The Chairman passed and the committee finally came with its best shot:
• Norwood Teague, resigned athletic director, and Eric Kaler, University of Minnesota president.
The Chairman: “You’re right, faithful committee. It’s an impressive combined Turkey contender — a serial sexual harasser and a boss who didn’t want to know the truth about the AD he hired.
“Then again, Norwood did buy $20 worth of Girl Scout cookies from me to assist a relative new to the cookie business, so I’m going to pass on making him the Turkey.’’
With that, the committee washed its hands of the process and left it to the Chairman to reveal his choice for Grand Gobbler.
Here it is: Death.
The Grim Reaper. The Dark Angel. Death.
For Turkey of the Year?
You betcha. Death has given us a horrible year in sports. Death can kiss my … grits, I guess.
Flip Saunders. You have to be kidding — Flip, at 60, he’s on the phone to The Chairman in mid-August, saying we’ll talk at length after the last chemo treatment in a few days, and then you hear he’s in crisis, and then he’s gone.
Flip was a co-winner of Turkey of the Year (with Kevin McHale) in 2002, and took it in the good humor that was intended.
There’s no humor intended this time. Not with Death, which was at its awful worst in sports over the past year.
Freddie McNeill, the outstanding Vikings linebacker, gone at 63, due to ALS and dementia. Very classy, Death — giving Freddie, a good and intelligent man, a double dose.
Verne Gagne and Nick Bockwinkel … of that age, but was the Alzheimer’s necessary?
J.P. Parise in January, only a couple of months after his pal Muzz Oliver — two of hockey’s best guys, bang, bang.
Ernie Banks doesn’t even get to stick around to see the big summer from his Cubs? And how about that 19-year-old basketball player, Lauren Hill, the warrior against brain cancer who played a moment for Mount St. Joseph last season, and then passed away in April?
This is no attempt at a complete list. This is just a partial indictment against Death.
Flip, for goodness sakes.
Take this Turkey award, and try to get lost for a while, Death.