This might lead to considerable disillusionment among faithful followers of the annual Turkey of the Year banquet but there really isn’t a committee that helps in making the decision on the main honoree.
There never had been in the previous 37 years anyway. Shocking but true: I’m the Chairman and I make the call.
Except this time.
I have remained shook up over the death of Flip Saunders – not because I can claim a special friendship with Flip, more because he was the guy who would be around to share insights on all things Minnesota basketball.
Flip would even talk Gophers football, baseball, etc., if you wanted. He was strong in formal interviews surrounding his basketball team. He was world-class in shooting the breeze.
This week, when it was time to write the 38th Turkey of the Year column, I was bugged by the notion that it should be dedicated in some way to Flip. He was a co-winner as coach of the Timberwolves in 2002, sharing the “honor’’ with Kevin McHale, the team’s basketball boss.
Flip took it fine. He was an intuitive guy and realized that if you were prominent in Twin Cities sports long enough, there was a fair chance to claim a Grand Turkey. As Remarkable Mike Lynn said when calling my house on Thanksgiving morning after being honored in 1989, “It's about time. What took so long?’’
The problem this time, of course, was the desire to honor Flip in the true sense, not participate in the chiding that traditionally takes place in the Turkey column.
The idea got stuck in my thick noggin to cite “Death’’ as the main Turkey. Flip was 1A on what seemed an uncommonly long list of sports personalities that had died since last Thanksgiving – a list so long that neither Charley Hallman, a wonderful, zany character with whom I worked in St. Paul, nor Yogi Berra, a national treasure, were mentioned specifically in Thursday's finished product.
What such a stark departure from 37 previous Turkeys did require was for the Chairman actually to run it past a committee. It was only two Twin Cities people with sports writing in their blood that I consulted, but I wanted them to sign off.
I said the same thing to both: “I don’t know if this is excellent or absurd as an idea, but in the wake of deaths of Flip and others, I’m considering ‘Death’ as the Turkey of the Year.’’
They contemplated this for a moment – as I hoped they would – and then offered positive feedback. So, yeah, for the first time in almost four decades, there was a Turkey Committee (small, though it was).
If you thought “Death’’ as a Turkey of the Year was ridiculous, I have no argument with that.
I still had doubts at 7 a.m. Wednesday when I attached the Turkey column to an e-mail to Glen Crevier, my boss at the Star Tribune. Actually, I still had doubts until checking my e-mail at mid-morning on Thursday.
That was when I found this well-written note from Ruth Thomas, and decided that this departure from the Turkey norm was OK:
“Your Turkey of the Year article has been a mainstay in our home for as long as I can remember. It was going to be memorable this year no matter what, as this would be the first year that my dad, arguably the article's number one fan, wouldn't be reading it to our family aloud.
“In years past, my dad would clutch the sports section in his hands with a knowing smile until it was time for us to embark on the car ride to whichever relative was hosting the Thanksgiving meal that year.
“Throughout the years, my brother and I grew from oblivious kids to disinterested teenagers to hungover college students, and finally to giddy adults awaiting the yearly tradition as Dad read the article in his booming, dramatic voice.
“My mom was relegated to the driver's seat as the performance needed his full attention. As a huge Minnesota sports fan, we could hear his inflection change or a chuckle arise as potential candidates were eliminated early on, either with agreement, or with surprise that his guess was no longer in the running.
“Finally the big moment would come when the Turkey would be revealed and the rest of the car ride (or sometimes day) would be filled with banter about whether or not the right selection had been made by the committee. It was a family tradition we came to look forward to all year.
“So back to this year and why it was even more memorable than years past: This year my dad also fell victim to your 2015 Turkey when he lost a lengthy battle with a rare cancer in December 2014 at the age of 61.
“We geared up for what this year would be like without him to read the treasured article aloud to us as a family. How would we fill this void on an already emotional day spent without him? It was decided that my brother, a voice doppelganger for my dad and an exceptional out-loud reader, would read it to us via FaceTime.
“We braced ourselves for the emotion of ‘what would Dad have thought’ as the piece unfolded, but were struck silent when the winner was revealed. It felt unbelievable, ironic, and also like a perfect selection for the circumstances we found ourselves in this year.
“No Turkey selection could've meant more to our family on this first Thanksgiving without the article's number one fan, and although there's no way you could've known, we all wanted to thank you.’’
--The Family of Mike Dass (a k a, the guy who is probably talking Minnesota basketball with Flip up in Heaven right now).