Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Here's hoping this year's Top Turkey doesn't choke on his candied yams

This is my 20th annual Turkey of the Year Countdown, and it would have been easy to choose America’s orange-hued dear leader for the top spot.

After all, Donald Trump engaged in Twitter wars with (among others) Steph Curry, Roger Goodell, LeBron James, Draymond Green, and about half of the players in the NFL. And that’s in addition to the Pathological Liar-In-Chief’s many non-sports-related bouts of incompetence, ignorance and hubris.

However, I want to keep this about sports, not politics. That’s especially the case given that I gave my 2016 Turkey “honors” to ex-North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, whose decision to back the infamous (and since repealed) “bathroom bill” cost his state the 2017 NBA All-Star Game and numerous other sporting events that would have brought millions of dollars to the economy. Ultimately, that unwise move cost him his job.

So unlike 2017 voters who used Trump’s presence in the White House as a rallying cry to spit on just about every orange-endorsed candidate, I’ll give our dear leader a pass here.


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).

Alert readers will note that up until 2010, each of those Turkeys did his gobbling in Chicago and/or the Midwest. Because I columnized for the Copley newspaper group in Chicago, where the annual countdown got its start under my predecessor and friend, the late, great Gene Seymour, I naturally favored that region. Since moving to North Carolina, I've expanded my Turkey-choosing horizons. Still, as always, I dedicate this in memory of Gene.


Without further ado, here are this year’s top dopes, douchebags, hypocrites, haters, chokers, cheaters … and plain old luckless lugs. Appropriately (and for the first time ever), we start with candidates from Turkey!

15. TURKEY YOUTH HOCKEY PROGRAM. That its representative in the European Youth Olympic Festival lost to traditional power Russia is hardly surprising. But how ‘bout this: The final score was 42-0. Again, folks, that’s hockey, not football!

14. MATTHEW FISHER-DAVIS. Vanderbilt’s basketball star thought his team was losing its NCAA tournament game by a point, so he intentionally fouled Northwestern's Bryant McIntosh. Unfortunately, Vanderbilt actually had been winning by 1. McIntosh made both free throws to give Northwestern a victory in its first-ever NCAA tourney game, and Fisher-Davis – who otherwise played superbly – joined Chris Webber and Freddie Brown in the kind of club (all-time boneheaded tourney playmakers) no athlete wants to join.

13. JOHN ELWAY. It's hard to be a brilliant team-builder when you haven't given your team a legit QB. Maybe Elway can come out of retirement. Hey, I hear Tim Tebow is still available!

12. JOHAN CAMARGO. The shortstop actually was having a decent rookie season for the Atlanta Braves until he hyperextended his knee while jogging onto the field in August. It happened while he was superstitiously trying to grab a small handful of dirt as he took the field. "I do the same thing every time," he said. This time, however, he admitted it was "bad luck."

11. JOEL BERRY. The North Carolina point guard broke a bone in his right hand when he slammed it into a door after suffering a video-game defeat. (Otherwise, it was all good for Berry and his mates, though. They won the national title and the NCAA inexplicably let them get away with massive academic fraud.)

10. KYLE SCHWARBER. The lovable Cubbie outfielder was the talk of the town in 2016 after he unexpectedly returned from injury to help his team break its 108-year curse. But reality took over in '17, as he had an almost impossible stat line - 150 K, 30 HR and 59 RBI in 422 AB - and the Cubs flamed out in the playoffs. Mad scientist/manager Joe Maddon even batted him leadoff for awhile ... and I can see why. After all, "Schwarbs," who has the blazing speed of a pachyderm, had a .315 on-base percentage, good for 353rd in the majors. But hey, at least he fields his position like a guy with 10 thumbs and 3 left feet.

9. JOE GIRARDI. The Yankees' manager failed to challenge a phantom hit-by-pitch in the ALDS, leading to a game-turning grand slam for the Indians. To Girardi's credit, the next day he admitted, "I screwed up," and his team rallied from a 2-game deficit to win the series. But after the Yankees blew a 3-2 series lead to Houston in the ALCS, he was sent packing. Given that the Yankees hadn't won a title since 2009 - his second season - I'm surprised he lasted that long. Had George Steinbrenner still run the team, Girardi would have been fired and rehired four times in that span.

8. CHRIS FOERSTER. He was forced to resign from his job as Miami Dolphins offensive line coach after a video surfaced showing him snorting coke through a rolled-up $20 bill. Cheapskate. I use hundies!

7. LOVIE SMITH. Heck of a job turning around the Fighting Illini football program. At this rate, they'll be contending for 12th place in the Big Ten in 2 or 3 years ... 4 tops!

6. CLAYTON KERSHAW. I really thought this would be the year that baseball's best pitcher would lead the Dodgers to that elusive championship. But he allowed 6 earned runs in the pivotal fifth game of the World Series, and the Dodgers couldn't recover. Unlike previous postseasons, Kershaw actually did quite well this time, but that performance will haunt him. It also was a rough postseason for several other star pitchers, including Corey Kluber, Max Scherzer, Dallas Keuchel and Chris Sale.

5. JERRY JONES. Months after voting to approve a contract extension for NFL commish Roger Goodell, the Cowboys' owner was threatening to sue the league over the extension. What possibly could have changed? Well, Goodell suspended Jones' star RB, Ezekiel Elliott, that's what. Jones threatened to bench any player who kneels during the national anthem ... but beat up women, as Elliott allegedly did and several former Cowboys also did over the years? Not a problem!

4. CHOKING WASHINGTON TEAMS. The government isn't the only thing that doesn't work right in the D of C. The Racist Name football team choked away a playoff spot; star Wizards PG John Wall spit the bit in a Game 7 playoff loss to Boston; the Capitals collapsed in the conference semifinals for the 6th time in 9 years; and the Nationals failed to get out of the first round of the postseason for the 4th time in 6 years (each time after winning at least 95 regular-season games). The Nats and Caps have never won a championship, the Wizards last won one in 1979 and the Racist Names have gone 26 years since winning the Super Bowl. Oh, and just a few days ago, the Racist Names had a 15-point lead with 3 minutes to go but still managed to lose to the Saints; at 4-6, put a fork in 'em again. 

3. LaVAR BALL. When LiAngelo Ball was one of three UCLA basketball players caught shoplifting in China, many were hoping he'd have to do hard time. Why? Not for any particular animosity folks have toward the kid. No, most of America hates Ball's boastful, narcissistic, boor of a father - which also is why so many NBA fans hope Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball fails. Just this week, LaVar whined that the Lakers don't know how to use Lonzo properly. He also ripped into Trump, who of course fired back on Twitter. Those two have so much in common, it's a shame to see them spat!

2. U.S. MEN'S SOCCER TEAM. All they needed was a tie against Trinidad & Tobago to qualify for the World Cup, but this motley crew couldn't pull it off, and so they will miss their sport's biggest event for the first time in decades. I'm 57 years old ... and I remember when I was kid ... and "everybody" was playing soccer ... and that was proof that the sport would overtake football, baseball and basketball in the hearts and minds of American sports fans. Stop laughing. Some people actually thought that was true! Of course, those are the same people who are enthralled by nil-nil friendlies between Kazakhstan and Luxembourg.

And now ... drumstick roll, please ... here is our 2017 Turkey of the Year:


After the Atlanta Falcons blew a 28-3 late-third-quarter lead to lose Super Bowl 51 to the Patriots, QB Matt Ryan said: "It's hard to find words."

Well, I'm always looking for ways to help, so here goes:

Chokers, dimwits, historic losers, chumps, turkeys ... shall I continue?

While he had plenty of company in the Turkey Dept. - from Ryan to head coach Dan Quinn, to inept offensive linemen, to ineffective defensive players, and so on - it was the Falcons' offensive coordinator, Shanahan, who ultimately made it possible for Tom Brady to complete perhaps the greatest big-game comeback in the history of major professional sports.

The Falcons still led 28-12 with only 8:31 to play when they faced a third-and-1 at their 36. If they get the yard to keep the drive alive, they almost surely win the game. Had they run the ball - as they had done well all game, averaging nearly 6 yards per carry - the very worst thing would have been getting stopped and punting 50 yards in the other direction.

But no. Shanahan - the "offensive genius" - called for Ryan to throw a bomb. As the slow play developed, Dont'a Hightower knocked Ryan into tomorrow, the ball came loose and the Pats recovered on the Atlanta 25. A blink of an eye later, Brady hit Danny Amandola for a TD, James White ran in for the 2-point conversion, and the Falcons' lead was down to 28-20 with 5:56 to play.

Now the Falcons had to try to move the ball, lest they turn it right back to Brady. And they did. A 39-yard screen pass got them going, and Ryan also hit Julio Jones, who made a great catch for 27 yards. With a first-and-10 at the New England 22, you almost can't lose the game. You run the ball three times up the middle, force the Pats to use their timeouts, and kick a 40-yard field goal for an 11-point lead. Done deal. Drop the confetti.

But no. After a first-down run lost a yard, Shanahan gambled with a pass play and Ryan was sacked for a 12-yard loss. On the next play, Atlanta lineman Jake Matthews was called for holding, Ryan's 3rd-and-21 pass fell incomplete - stopping the clock, so the Patriots still had 2 timeouts left - and the Falcons had to punt.

Brady got the ball back at his own 9 with 3 1/2 minutes to go. Were there 100 people in all of America who didn't think he would march the Pats 91 yards for the tying score? That's exactly what happened - with time to spare.

Predictably, after the Pats won the OT coin toss, the Falcons' offense never got to touch the football. Brady led New England into position, and James White capped the amazing story with a 2-yard TD run. 

That evening, at the team hotel, Shanahan reportedly admitted, "I blew it." (Later, he said: "I don't know if I used those exact words, but that sounds like how I talk.")

Shanahan's 2017 "fun" wasn't finished, though! He left Atlanta to become the head coach of the sinking ship known as the San Francisco 49ers.

Through Thanksgiving, the Niners were 1-9, and their offense ranked near the bottom in almost every category.

Sounds like the genius has earned an extra helping of giblets and gravy!