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.


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