The Tournament of Turkeys Committee, the group that sponsors the Festival of Turkeys Parade and the Turkey Banquet, annually faces enormous financial obligations. In 1995, the committee wound up with a bottom-line deficit after merchandise sales fell to an all-time low.
Arthur Finkelstein, fresh from the Rudy Boschwitz campaign, was hired as the committee's consultant. Arthur told us: "You can't sit back and let a bunch of long-haired, pot-smoking, flag-burning liberal wimps corner the market with `Save the Whales' T-shirts. You must go on the attack. You need a new logo - a turkey so mean that people are going to buy out of fear that, if they don't, that Big Tom is going to jump off the T-shirt and peck away until he bleeds 'em dry."
Yes, Arthur can become overly passionate in his views, but the committee took his advice. The committee is unveiling the new logo today, on the occasion of the 19th annual Turkey Banquet. Obviously, there has never been a logo remotely similar to the new Turkey, which is sure to inspire record sales at our Gobble-dygook Gift Shops.
The Turkey Committee waddles toward the 21st century, confident in its financial future and bursting with pride at this year's flock of Turkey honorees:
- Doug Woog. The Gophers' coach has given a whole new meaning to an old hockey term - hat trick. It used to be three straight goals. Now, it is, "You'll find the $500 in a hat under my office desk."
- Dave Stevens. This is the other Dave Stevens, not the Twins relief pitcher famed for the prodigious home runs that he gives up. This Stevens is the ESPN producer who was given a much-ballyhooed tryout with the St. Paul Veecks of the Northern League in May. The TV barking dogs and the minicams went hard for this story, since Stevens has no legs. The committee admires Stevens' timing. The Twin Cities has a mostly new generation of barking dogs since Dave offered the same storyline and action shots for the minicams while participating in the Twins' tryout camp in 1984.
- Arne Carlson. The surplus-happy Gov wants the Gophers to give $1 million per year to their next football coach, and he doesn't care who it is. - Stephen Cito. His son Mike, a junior football player at St. Pius X High in Albuquerque, N.M., complained that he had been a victim of cheap shots during a game. Cito, a pediatric dentist, had Mike bring home his helmet. Then, the dentist ground the two chinstrap buckles to razor-sharp edges. The officials discovered this when two players from Academy High were observed bleeding from cuts on their hands and arms.
The committee's advice: If you ever wind up in Dr. Cito's chair, don't let him administer gas. This is one dentist a patient wants to keep an eye on.
- Pat Forciea. The ever-present Iron Ranger entered 1996 as Minnesota's marketing genius. His major tasks were selling tickets for the Twins and the football Gophers. The Twins' per capita fell because of discounted tickets and attendance remained well below pre-strike levels. The Gophers continued to lose before sections of empty seats.
The Forciea phenomenon started in 1990, when he was the campaign manager for Paul Wellstone in his senatorial race against Boschwitz. Wellstone won by 2.6 percentage points. In the rematch this month, Wellstone - without Forciea's guidance - beat Boschwitz by 12 percentage points.
- Greg Norman. The committee has assigned a waiter to cut Norman's serving of bird into very small pieces at today's banquet. None of us wants to watch him choke again. - Linda Hill-MacDonald. Four Minnesota high school seniors are rated among the top 25 players in the country. The Gophers and coach Hill-MacDonald went 0-for-4 in recruiting the blue-chippers. Seventeen Minnesota girls were signed early to Division 1-A scholarships. Hill-MacDonald landed one. The committee's guess, Linda, is that the in-state recruits were scared off when they saw the depth on your 1996-97 Gophers. - Isaiah Rider Jr. We had to invite him, but here is the good news: J.R. can't make it. His car won't start. He didn't get his wakeup call. The pipes froze. The cab driver took him to the wrong hotel.
He was abducted by aliens. No, wait - he is an alien. In fact, the committee has learned that Ivan Reitman went to a Lakers game a couple of years ago, saw J.R. playing for the Timberwolves, and that gave Reitman the idea for "Space Jam."
- Bob Huggins. The Cincinnati basketball coach started the 1996-97 season No. 1 in the Division I ratings and No. 302 in graduation rates. Coach Huggins gets all emotional when one of his players proudly accepts a diploma. Unfortunately, that has not yet happened in Huggins' seven years with the Bearcats.
- Terry Ryan. The Twins' general manager let outfielder Kimera Bartee, the player with a chance to save the Scott Erickson trade, get away for $50,000. First baseman Travis Lee, the No. 2 choice in the June draft, was allowed to get away when Ryan - after a clerical error - did not have the good sense to panic and get him signed. And finally, it took Dark Star, the most mysterious figure this side of Kato Kaelin, to get Chuck Knoblauch signed to a $30 million contract.
There has not been a Minnesota sports executive to have such an outstanding year since Remarkable Mike Lynn made the Herschel Walker trade. Speaking of which: One year ago, the committee voted to institute the Herschel Walker Lifetime Achievement (as a Turkey) Award. The first winner was Chris Voelz, the women's athletic director at Minnesota. Former employees wept in appreciation that Voelz finally had received the recognition she deserved.
Again in '96, awarding the Herschel was a no-brainer: The winner is Bud Selig, owner of the Milwaukee Brewers and baseball's acting commissioner for life. Forget Selig's blunders (Teddy Higuera, Franklin Stubbs, etc.) in running the Brewers into the ground.
This is Bud's lasting achievement: Selig led the owners through a four-year labor fight that resulted in the cancellation of a World Series and a 30 percent drop in baseball revenues. In the end, the owners gave away the farm simply for a promise from the Players Association that it won't sue.
There is another mystery to be solved before we announce the grand-prize winner. All season, small groups of ticket buyers would gather at Twins' games, point to the large tent in the second deck in right-center field and ask, "What's that?"
It was The Casbah, the new - and we hope permanent home – for the Turkey Banquet. The committee and its staff spent the summer inside The Casbah, making preparations for today's feast.
This Thanksgiving, we have added to the drama by placing the 1996 Turkey of the Year under the cover of one our many sterling-silver serving trays.
And here she is: Kerri Strug.
Yes, it's the pixie of Atlanta, the little darling who wobbled on her landing, was given a hometown, gold medal decision worthy of South Korean boxing judges, allowed the tyrannical coach, Bela Karolyi, to carry her from the arena because of that turned ankle, and then - as a media creation - backed out on a post-Atlanta tour she had agreed to do with teammates.
When informed on Wednesday of this honor, Strug squeaked: "It's a tribute to my focus and courage. I do have one request. Rather than turkey, stuffing, yams, mashed potatoes, giblet gravy and pumpkin pie, I would like a small serving of Gerber's mashed carrots."