The Turkey Banquet always has started promptly at 2:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. The attendees have been trained to move to their tables when they notice on the TVs that the Detroit Lions are walking off the field, accompanied by boos from the smattering of fans that remain.
Today, the members of the Turkey Committee are facing unprecedented chaos in these hours before the scheduled start of the 35th annual banquet. A three-person panel has engaged in intense financial negotiations with Norwood Teague, the athletic director at Minnesota.
The explanation we've gotten from Teague (or Woody, as we know him on the committee) is that he had coaches in his major programs who were concerned about the potential results in these Turkey of the Year awards.
Teague came to us in his usual straightforward style, asking, "What would it take as a buyout to get you to cancel the Turkey Banquet?"
Initially, there was outrage at the mere suggestion that we could be paid not to stick to our schedule, but as we kicked it around, an understanding grew: For a proper sum, we would be eligible to play this banquet game for years to come.
Worthington's Andy Johnson, in only his second year on the committee, said: "I've done this before. I ran the Cruise Dinner for the Worthington YMCA. I know what it takes to win at this level. And we can build this up to a winning banquet in the years ahead if we're willing to change our schedule now."
That's why the committee still waits, to hear if Teague is going to come up with our discounted buyout price of $775,000 to cancel the Turkey Banquet.
Until then, the program must be readied, and here are the guests:
Terry Ryan. The Twins soared from 63 to 66 wins in his first year back as general manager. And then he shook up the coaching staff, with the footnote Paul Molitor wasn't "a fit." Let's see ... a Hall of Famer doesn't fit, but Scott Ullger -- from hitting coach, to third base, to bench, to first base -- still does?
Plus, Terry's cousin Paul Ryan couldn't carry his home county as a vice presidential candidate.
Lance Armstrong. The committee doesn't really give a urine sample that Armstrong was a better cheater than the cheaters he beat in seven Tours de France, but so many people contacted us on Lance's behalf it was decided to put him on the guest list.
McKayla Maroney. The U.S. gymnast has promised to fall down and then pout for us when she receives her Turkey statuette, which is everything we could ask for.
John L. Smith. This legendary wacko bailed without coaching a game at his alma mater of Weber State to jump at replacing failed motorcyclist Bobby Petrino at Arkansas. Big expectations have turned to 4-7 for the Hogs, including home losses by 52-0, 58-10 and to Louisiana-Monroe.
Dustin Penner. OK, Minnesotans, you can laugh at will over the tale of a broken hand suffered through knuckle pushups, but Penner -- a hulking hockey player -- admitted to suffering a back injury while reaching too enthusiastically to devour pancakes prepared by his lovely bride.
Seimone Augustus. Seimone was an embarrassment to her 2011 Star Tribune Sports Person of the Year award when she went 3-for-21 from the field and clanked the defending champ Lynx out of the WNBA Finals.
Bobby Valentine. The Red Sox should have called Temporaries of New England for a manager rather than hire this one-man wrecking crew to replace Terry Francona. Bobby V. was the worst managerial hire since Joe Quinn (12-104) with the 1899 Cleveland Spiders.
Lance Easley. He was the late-arriving official who signaled a touchdown despite his blocked view to give Seattle a last-play win over the Packers. This call was the end of Easley and the rest of the replacement refs, but it didn't stop Lance from throwing down Jager bombs and taking photos with football fans a couple of nights later in a Fresno, Calif., bar.
Danny Valencia. Twins handed him a job. He gave it back within a month with his empty-headed approaches to hitting and fielding. And now he's established himself as a Triple-A lifer.
Jim Delany. Maryland and Rutgers? Next time the Big Ten commissioner has the audacity to mention that what really matters to his conference are "the student athletes," the committee hopes someone is nearby to hit him in the face with a mincemeat pie.
Craig Leipold. The Wild owner committed $197 million to give 13-year contracts to free agents Ryan Suter and Zach Parise on July 4. A couple of days later he was sitting at a table to set the stage for negotiations, insisting there had to be a limit on the number of years in these ridiculous NHL contracts.
And now we get to the head table, with a setting for six:
David Kahn. Stephon Curry was here beating the Timberwolves the other night, reminding the committee of Kahn's decision to pass on him in favor of Jonny Flynn. Brandon Roy lasted five games with his ruined knees, while Jamal Crawford has been lighting it up for the Clippers. The president for basketball deserves his place among the Turkey elites of 2012.
Royce White. Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg should get a parade for keeping the court-dodging, totally unreliable White in the lineup and productive for the Cyclones last winter.
Zygi Wilf. The Turkey of Year for 2011 made a strong charge to become the first back-to-back Grand Turkey winner. He did this with his team's pompous response to Gov. Mark Dayton's concern over PSGs (personal seat gouges), particularly when you consider Dayton had more to do with getting Zygmunt a stadium than anyone.
Second runner-up: Trevor Mbakwe. We're constantly assured the Gophers' sixth-year senior is really a good kid, and if it wasn't for those dang arrests and probation hearings that keep popping up every few months, the committee might totally agree.
First runner-up: Jerry Kill. Country Jer came to town so unaware of what it's like in a big-time market that he was shocked at the fallout from the $800,000 fee paid to North Carolina to cancel a home-and-home series. But, hey, Kill turned things around at Southern Illinois, so why not buy into his constant reassurance that every move is part of a masterful plan that guarantees big success, and not an expensive act of cowardice?
And here's the Turkey of the Year: Tubby Smith.
Five seasons ago, Tubby left Kentucky and hired himself as the new coach at Minnesota. He hasn't won an NCAA tournament game. And in one glorious 12-hour period this fall, star player Mbakwe was avoiding jail in Miami, while Tubby's son and assistant coach, Saul Smith, was getting a DUI in the Twin Cities. Tubby's discipline? Close to nothing.
Entering Season 6, Tubby's teams have played their best in November, not March, which isn't exactly what Minnesota was after when it proferred the big-buck contract in April 2007.
That's it, although the committee must remind Turkey Banquet goers that all of this could be canceled, if Woody Teague gets the check for 775 grand to us before the Lions finish today's loss.
Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. • email@example.com