Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Gobble, Gobble! It's Turkey of the Year time again!

Remember 1998? I sure do. MJ's last championship before the Jerrys broke up the Bulls Dynasty ... the Summer of Steroid Sluggers, featuring Big Mac and Sammy ... Wanny's last stand in Bear Country ... my kids excelling on the basketball court ... my dad passing away after a courageous fight against cancer ... and me starting a new phase of my journalistic career as a sports columnist.

Naturally, a lot has changed since then -- far too much to list here. For one thing, I've been a former columnist for nearly a decade now; for another, my former business has been hurtin' for years. (Those things are related, of course.) 

Anyhoo ... one thing that has endured: the annual Turkey of the Year Countdown.

This is the 20th anniversary of me carving out a list of losers, lunkheads, dopes, druggies, cheaters and chokers -- a process I began back in my first year as Chicago sports columnist for the Copley family of newspapers.

For this edition, it would have been easy to select the abusive Michigan State doctor and his enablers, or the Maryland coach who had a player die on his watch, or the sleazy d-bag who had to sell the Carolina Panthers after getting nabbed in the MeToo movement. And then there's the reality show host masquerading as president, who is such a racist jerk that athletes refuse to visit to the White House after winning championships.

But because I don't want this to be too heavy, I'll go a different direction ...


Before I begin this year’s Turkey Countdown, let’s review the previous “winners” (and by that, I mean losers):

Mike McCaskey (1998); Jerry Krause (1999); Bobby Knight (2000); David Wells and Frank Thomas (2001); Dick Jauron (2002); Sammy Sosa (2003 and 2004); Andy MacPhail, Jim Hendry and Dusty Baker (2005); Aramis Ramirez (2006); Charlie Weis (2007); Choking Cubbies (2008); Milton Bradley (2009); Mark McGwire (2010); Joe Paterno and the Penn State Enablers (2011); U.S. Ryder Cup Team (2012); Alex Rodriguez (2013); Roger Goodell and Ray Rice (2014); Derrick Rose (2015); Pat McCrory (2016); Kyle Shanahan (2017).

Astute readers will note that up until 2010, each of those Turkeys did his gobbling in Chicago and/or the Midwest because that's where I was based. The "award" actually got its start under my Copley predecessor and friend, the late, great Gene Seymour. Since moving to North Carolina, I've expanded my Turkey-choosing horizons. Still, as always, I dedicate this in memory of Gene.

Now let's get to it!

15. LIONEL MESSI. I don't follow soccer, so I'll take the word of my futbol-fanboi friends who say he is one of the greatest players ever. Whatever. This mighty Argentine icon failed to score on a penalty kick as his heavily favored team couldn't even beat Iceland in the World Cup.

14. JON GRUDEN. Only days after the coach-turned-broadcaster-turned-coach traded Khalil Mack to the Bears, he had the gall to say: "Great pass rushers are hard to find." Although Gruden's Raiders have been laughingstocks, you can't say he hasn't quickly built a winner ... in Chicago.

13. PAUL GEORGE. You gotta love a guy who gives himself the nickname "Playoff P" despite pretty much sucking every time his team has played a series-deciding playoff game. This time, George missed 14 of 16 shots and committed 6 turnovers as the OKC Thunder bowed out meekly to Utah in the first round. More like "Playoff P-U!"

12. MARCUS WILLIAMS. The Saints cornerback arguably made the worst defensive play in NFL playoff history when he let Stefon Diggs score on a 61-yard catch and run (mostly run) to give the Vikings a walk-off win over the Saints. Not only did Williams whiff on Diggs, but his flying body also prevented any teammate from making a play. 

11. JAMES HARDEN. Choke much? To paraphrase one of the great sports quotes ever (courtesy of former baseball player Gary Gaetti): "It's hard to shoot the basketball when you have both hands around your throat."

10. SERGIO GARCIA & JORDAN SPIETH. In 2017, Garcia finally got the major title that had eluded him and Spieth was one of the world's great golfers. In 2018, however, they combined to miss the cut in 13 events, including 4 majors. Sergio's defense of his Masters championship ended on the first day, when he infamously dunked five shots in the drink on No. 15 to card a 13. Thirteen!!!

Still, both Garcia and Spieth did perform well in the Ryder Cup, which is more than I can say for ...

9. PHIL MICKELSON. He got benched by U.S. coach Jim Furyk after he failed in Friday foursomes. In Sunday's singles, Phil was routed by Francisco Molinari in the match that clinched the Ryder Cup for Europe. And those results weren't even the worst of it for Mickelson, who during the U.S. Open ran up to his ball while it was still moving on the green and whacked it with his putter for a 2-stroke penalty. I certainly will not be paying $19.99 to watch this washed up hacker "compete" against Tiger Woods on pay-per-view the day after Thanksgiving; heck, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't watch it if Mickelson paid me $19.99.

8. KEN GILES. The Astros reliever blew a save ... and showed his frustration by punching himself in the face

The closer for Houston's 2017 championship team, Giles was so bad this year that he was demoted to the minors. Then he was traded to Toronto, and he continued being horrible north of the border, too. I guess Canada shoulda built that wall!

7. JALEN RAMSEY. In a off-season interview with GQ, the Jaguars' cornerback ripped QBs such as Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco and Jared Goff. Of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, all he would say was they they didn't suck. Fast-forward to this season; Jalen's Jags are 0-6 since a 1-3 start. And just last Sunday, Roethlisberger led the Steelers back from a late 10-point deficit to beat Jacksonville. Maybe now Ramsey will elevate Big Ben, a two-time Super Bowl winning QB, all the way up to "doesn't suck," too.

6. LeVEON BELL. The Steelers running back thought he had all the leverage, so he held out and held out and held out ... until finally deciding to skip the entire season. As it turned out, he didn't have any leverage because his replacement, James Conner, is running as well as Bell ever did for a Pittsburgh team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations. Bell also gave up $14.5 million ... making me wonder how he hopes to feed Latrell Sprewell's family!

5. VIRGINIA HOOPSTERS. It was bad enough that Virginia found a way to lose to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County -- becoming the first No. 1 seed ever to drop an NCAA basketball tournament game to a No. 16 seed. 

Even worse, the Cavaliers were out-shot, out-rebounded, out-defended, out-coached and out-played from the opening tip to the final horn in losing to UMBC by 20 points. If you didn't know which team was seeded first overall and which was the very lowest seed, you'd have sworn that the mighty Retrievers were the better team. 

4. TY MONTGOMERY. When his Packers played the Rams on Oct. 28, Green Bay return man Montgomery was told to take a knee if he caught the kickoff in the end zone with 2 minutes left and the Packers trailing by 2 points. Instead, he tried to make a "hero" play, fumbled, and Aaron Rodgers was deprived of the opportunity to lead a winning drive. 

Montgomery was said to be upset that he was taken out of the game the previous series, but he denied his mood had anything to do with his insubordination. No matter ... the Packers lost a game they could have won, and they sent Montgomery packing 2 days later.

3. RICK PITINO. It's not all that surprising that the former Louisville coach cheated; he's always seemed like a guy who has lived on the fringe of the rule book. What is surprising is that of all the stink attached to the college game, Pitino is the only one who ended up being flushed down the toilet. He now says he wants to coach again in the NBA, where he already has failed twice.

2. LARRY FEDORA. The North Carolina football coach might merit a spot on this list even if all he did was lead the Tar Heels to a 2-8 record. But he's the runner-up gobbler because of his all-around turkeyness all year long. First, 13 UNC players under his watch were suspended for breaking NCAA rules. Then Fedora said he didn't believe the act of playing football has led young men to suffer degenerative brain disease CTE, despite it being a scientifically proven fact. He doubled-down on his idiocy by saying those who agree with science were "attacking" football -- and America itself. If the sport is weakened, he breathlessly claimed, "our country goes down, too." How does a dim bulb like Fedora keep his job at a prestigious university?

And now ... the 2018 Turkey of the Year ...


The soon-to-be former Cleveland Cavaliers guard pulled off the most boneheaded play of 2018 ... and then compounded his boneheadedness by lying about the circumstances surrounding it.

In Game 1 of the NBA Finals -- which was tied with 4.7 seconds left in regulation thanks to the heroics of LeBron James -- Smith rebounded teammate George Hill's missed free throw. 

Rather than go right back up for what might have been the winning basket against the heavily favored Warriors, Smith inexplicably took off and dribbled rapidly toward midcourt. James frantically called for the ball, then pointed for Smith to pass to Hill in the corner and finally tried to call time out ... but alas, by then the buzzer had sounded.

In interviews after the game, Smith claimed that he knew the score was tied, but television cameras clearly showed him telling LeBron: "I thought we were ahead." (See the 18-second mark of this video.)

Naturally, the Warriors blitzed the downtrodden Cavs in overtime and then crushed them in the next three games to take their third title in four years.

LeBron, who otherwise was amazing all postseason in willing a mediocre team to the NBA Finals, didn't cover himself in glory here, either. He could have been a leader, consoled Smith and vowed to carry the Cavs to victory in OT. Instead, he sat dejectedly on the bench, didn't join the team huddle and ignored his coach's instructions.

Still, this was classic J.R. Smith, whose career has been filled with silliness. He had a miserable 2018 playoffs overall, and he has been horrible so far this season, too. At 33, he is in the twilight of his crazy career.

Smith recently asked for a trade, and it appears he'll get his wish after ripping Cavs management for tanking the season: "I don't think the goal is to win." He actually is probably right about that, but it doesn't make his boneheaded play in Game 1 of the Finals any less boneheaded.

Nor does it make him any less fitting as the choice for Turkey of the Year.

1 comment:

  1. How under the radar is the NBA in my neck of the woods? I'd completely forgotten about JR Smith and how that ended. Gobble Gobble.