Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Gobble, gobble ... Time Again for the Sports Turkey of the Year


I've been picking a sports Turkey of the Year for 26 autumns -- first as the Chicago sports columnist for the Copley and GateHouse newspaper chains, and later as the keeper of The Baldest Truth -- and there's never a shortage of candidates.

That's the case again this year, as there were plenty of losers and lunkheads and dopes and mopes to go around.

Before I get to the 2023 Turkey countdown, here were my selections over the first quarter century for this illustrious "honor" ...

  • 2022 -- Tony La Russa
  • 2021 -- Aaron Rodgers
  • 2020 -- Donald F. Trump
  • 2019 -- Antonio Brown
  • 2018 -- J.R. Smith
  • 2017 -- Kyle Shanahan
  • 2016 -- Pat McCrory
  • 2015 -- Derrick Rose
  • 2014 -- Roger Goodell and Ray Rice
  • 2013 -- Alex Rodriguez
  • 2012 -- U.S. Ryder Cup Team
  • 2011 -- Joe Paterno (and his Penn State enablers)
  • 2010 -- Mark McGwire
  • 2009 -- Milton Bradley
  • 2008 -- Choking Cubbies
  • 2007 -- Charlie Weis
  • 2006 -- Aramis Ramirez
  • 2005 -- Andy MacPhail, Jim Hendry and Dusty Baker
  • 2004 -- Sammy Sosa
  • 2003 -- Sammy Sosa
  • 2002 -- Dick Jauron
  • 2001 -- David Wells and Frank Thomas
  • 2000 -- Bobby Knight
  • 1999 -- Jerry Krause
  • 1998 -- Mike McCaskey

After sifting through a list that included the likes of Ja Morant, Bill Belichick, Dillon Brooks, Jarred Kelenic, Jaden McDaniels, Miles Bridges, Kyrie Irving, Glen Kuiper, Sean Payton, Frank Reich, Brandon Staley, Connor Stalions, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Matt Eberflus, James Harden, Josh McDaniels, Tony DeAngelo, Draymond Green and plenty of others ... here is the 2023 Final Four:

Alphonzo Tuputala

No, you're not wrong ... the proper reaction is, "Who?" So let me explain.

Tuputala is a linebacker for the University of Washington. On Nov. 11 against Utah, he intercepted a deflected pass and raced down the right sideline for an apparent pick-6.

All good so far, right? Well, about 2 yards before he reached the goal line -- somehow thinking he was already in the end zone -- he just dropped the football

As Washington players mobbed Tuputala in the end zone, congratulating him for what everyone thought was a touchdown, an alert Utah player dived on the football.

That ended the celebration pretty quickly. 

Something like this occurs a couple times every season. I'm always baffled why athletes can't wait two more strides to celebrate, but I'm kind of glad it happens because it's always good for a laugh.

Mario Cristobal

All the Miami coach had to do was instruct his quarterback to take a knee, and the Hurricanes would have beaten Georgia Tech on Oct. 7. But instead, for whatever reason, he called a running play, the tailback fumbled, Georgia Tech recovered, and four plays later the Ramblin' Wreck used a long TD pass to wreck what had been an unbeaten Miami season.

"What we did at the end was a wrong decision," Cristobal said.

Jeez ... ya think?

Turns out, it wasn't even the first time Cristobal had made that kind of boneheaded decision. But it was the first time he got burned by that turkey of a call.

It's all part of him being on the hot seat with an 11-12 record in two seasons at The U.

Grant Williams

Then with the Celtics, Williams trash-talked Miami's Jimmy Butler after hitting a 3 to give Boston a 9-point lead midway through the fourth quarter of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals. The two got in each other's faces and had to be separated. 

The extra-motivated Butler promptly went on a scoring binge, almost all against Williams, in leading the Heat to a comeback victory - a key game in Miami's series upset of the heavily favored Celtics.

Often mentioned as the NBA's best team during the regular season, the Celtics were denied a trip to the Finals by the Heat, Butler and, well, Grant Williams.

And Now ... The 2023 Turkey of the Year ...


It's hard to believe that hazing still takes place on college campuses at all, let alone within major athletic programs.

But sadly, there was a long, tawdry culture of hazing within the Northwestern program under coach Pat Fitzgerald.

He of course denied that he knew anything about it, but evidence uncovered in an investigation suggested otherwise. And his denials were laughable on their face, anyway.

College coaches are ultra-controlling people -- by design and by necessity -- and they know everything going on within their programs. Indeed, it's part of the recruiting pitch they give to athletes and, especially, to athletes' parents: "I am in charge, and I will take care of your son."

Pat Fitzgerald failed that mission completely -- athletes were sexually abused and emotionally assaulted under his watch -- and last summer he was deservedly fired.

It marked an abrupt end to what had mostly been a feel-good story: Chicago-area kid becomes an All-American linebacker for a Northwestern team that finally makes the Rose Bowl after decades of futility, eventually takes charge of the program, and becomes the school's winningest coach ever.

Thing is, even the football part of it hadn't elicited many good feelings in recent years. Northwestern went 14-31 in Fitzgerald's final four seasons, including three last-place campaigns in which the team went 1-8 in the Big Ten. Even before the hazing allegations, Northwestern football had returned to being completely irrelevant.

Nationally, people only paid attention to the program again when scandal broke out ... and Fitzgerald was the face of it.


Sunday, August 6, 2023

40 Years of Fun with My Fabulous Robbie


Time really has flown, because I've been lucky enough to have 40 years of marital fun with the sweetest, funniest, most beautiful woman in the world!

It all started back on Aug. 6, 1983, when Robbie and I said our vows at Illinois Beach State Park.

And it's still going strong - our great day was capped off with the Randalls taking us out to celebrate #40.

In between, well, let's let the photos do most of the talking ...

Life wouldn't have been nearly as fun if not for the joys of our lives, Katie and Ben.

And now, thanks to Ben (and Sammi) and Katie (and Ben R), we've got four more joys of our lives: Jack, Logan, Owen and Piper (and a 5th on the way) ...

Not to mention man's (and woman's) best friends: Chelsea, Bosco, Shadow ... and, for the last 12 1/2 years, Simmie.

And here comes lots and lots more fun!

Marquette Fun!

Chicago Skyline Fun!

Golf Fun!

Grand Canyon Fun!

Hawaii Fun!

Mexico Fun!

Rockin' Fun with Roger Clyne!

California Fun!

Carolina Panthers Fun!

New Orleans Fun!

Leon's Frozen Custard Fun!

We've been a couple of lucky people to have had the 40 years we've had together ... and believe me, I know I'm the luckiest of the lucky!

Wishing tons of future fun to our family and friends. And, yes, another 40 years of it to us! 


Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Bet This Bracket & Get Filthy Rich! (Or something like that)


Well, here's my bracket. I told y'all which team I was picking, so at least those 6 lines shouldn't be a surprise!

Enjoy the tournament, everybody!


Sunday, March 12, 2023

We Are Marquette ... And We're Not Done Yet! (Also - wrapping up my first season coaching the Socrates Owls)


What a time to be a Marquette alum and basketball fan!

My Golden Warrior Eagles -- picked to finish in 9th place by Big East coaches in the preseason poll -- instead rolled to the first outright Big East title since we joined the conference in 2005. We were 17-3, two full games clear of the field.

And then, as if to prove to remaining doubters that we're for real, my guys went to Madison Square Garden and swept 3 games to win our first Big East Tournament title.

As if the on-court success wasn't enough, what's been great about this season's team is the way we've won.

Marquette plays an entertaining, ever-moving, high-octane offense, fueled by point guard Tyler Kolek -- the Big East Player of the Year and the conference tournament Most Outstanding Player -- and Oso Ighodaro, our slick passing "point center."

Throw in Kam Jones' 3-point shooting, O-Max Prosper's frenetic energy, Stevie Mitchell's incredible defense and 6th man David Joplin's instant offense, and you have an exciting, winning formula.

One of the great things about the team is that we can overwhelm opponents with our offense (as Marquette did to Xavier in the Big East championship game), but our defense is good enough that we can grind out close victories against tough teams (as we did against UConn in the semifinals).

It has taken Shaka Smart only two years to create a culture of passion, accountability, leadership and excellence. He's been the most welcome addition to the Marquette basketball scene in decades.

I have mostly been appreciating Marquette from afar, watching every game on TV, participating in online fan chat-rooms and getting in text chains with fellow alums -- not to mention with my kids, Ben and Katie, who grew up knowing they had better root for MU.

But thankfully, near the end of the season, I finally made it to a couple of games. 

Robbie, Ben and I were joined in Milwaukee by Marquette buddies John, Tom and Jim for our home victory over DePaul on Feb. 25.

And then Tom and I made the drive to Indianapolis for the Feb. 28 win at Butler that clinched the Big East regular-season title.

I'm the worst at taking selfies -- obviously -- so I'm glad I also got a pic of the scoreboard with the final score.

It's all been so incredibly fun, and I'm enjoying the interactions with fellow Marquette fans who are re-energized by Shaka & The Gang.

And, as Shaka said after MU crushed Xavier: 

"And we're not done yet!"

Spoiler Alert: My NCAA Tournament bracket will feature Marquette on the "champions" line ... and it's not just a fan crossing his fingers and wishing for the impossible. It really can happen.

As my grandson Jack says: "We Are Marquette!"


Meanwhile, in other hoops news ...

A few weeks ago, I wrapped up my first season as coach of the middle school girls basketball team at Socrates Academy.

I love the 11 kids I had the honor to coach. Probably the hardest-working group I've ever had, and that's saying something because I've been fortunate to coach several teams that left it all on the court.

Our Owls were 7-7 and reached the semifinals of the conference tournament. It's not the stuff of which legends are made, but considering that the program hadn't won a single game in at least 2 years, it was a pretty nice season.

The girls played with energy and enthusiasm, got along great with each other, wanted to be coached, and improved markedly throughout the season. It truly was a pleasure to have worked with them.

Making the experience all the more special was the fact that Katie was my assistant. It not only was wonderful to coach alongside my daughter for personal reasons, but she also was fantastic with the girls and brought great knowledge and experience to the team.

Most of the players are 8th-graders, and when they graduate in a few months they'll be taking 97% of our offense with them. So hopefully we'll have some newcomers who can hoop a little bit.

Maybe I can get Shaka Smart to do a little recruiting for me!