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Gobble, Gobble! The Top 10 Turkeys of 2004
Spectacularly Bad Behavior Runs Rampant in Wide World of Sports
by Rossiter Drake on Dec 03, 2004
Thanksgiving has come and gone, but it's not too late to honor this year's turkeys for their bird-brained behavior and dim-witted decisions. Not that the sports world has a lock on the nation's buffoonery quotient -- it's merely a microcosm of a society brimming with dubious choices. (How else to explain the appeal of Jim Belushi?) Even so, this season's foolhardy fowl deserve special recognition for plunging themselves, their teams and even their respective sports into disrepute and embarrassment. Drum roll, please!
10. Nomar Garciaparra
The one-time pride of the Red Sox earned his spot on the list for two reasons. First, he turned down a four-year, $60-million contract extension with Boston, leading the team to begin an all-too-public courtship of A-Rod. After that contingency plan crashed and burned, Garciaparra broke off negotiations with the team that drafted him out of Georgia Tech and spent an injury-abbreviated half-season looking sullen, despondent and thoroughly disengaged. Granted, his irritation wasn't entirely unjustified, but unlike his enigmatic teammate Manny Ramirez, who was effectively offered to any team that would have him, Garciaparra never put his problem behind him. End of story? The brooding shortstop was traded to the Chicago Cubs, while the Sox went on to win their first championship in 86 years. Now, he's looking for a one-year contract for far less than he could have taken to stay in Boston. Bad timing, thy name is Nomar.
9. Notre Dame Athletic Director Kevin White
Congratulations, Notre Dame, for shedding what used to be its principles and letting its athletic booster tail wag the university dog. Instead of giving football coach Tyrone Willingham a legitimate chance to turn the Fighting Irish program around with a few solid recruiting classes of his own, White gave him a pink slip. All to lure hot coach Urban Meyer out of his contract with Utah. It's enough to make Touchdown Jesus throw up his hands. Again.
8. San Francisco 49ers
Jeff Garcia? See ya later. Take off, Terrell Owens. Happy trails, Garrison Hearst. The new-look 49ers are here -- well, sort of. But let's be honest: San Francisco wasn't going to contend anytime soon even with the three former Pro Bowlers they disposed of after the 2003 campaign -- their third losing season since 1983. Even so, the dismal Niners, under the, um, leadership of absentee owner John York and General Manager Terry Donahue, have no discernible plan for the future. Indeed, the 1-10 49ers, losers of six straight, are a sinking ship manned by an ineffectual, in-fighting crew. Even their brightest prospects -- Kevan Barlow, Ken Dorsey and Rashaun Woods -- have struggled to tread water during this washout of a season. Meanwhile, wideout Brandon Lloyd, the one blue-chipper who has thrived in 2004, has been the target of public diatribes, courtesy of Barlow and veteran fullback Fred Beasley, who should know better. Go figure.
7. Michael Irvin and Terrell Owens
Two receivers, one retired, the other in the prime of his career. Neither misses an opportunity for shameless self-promotion, seasoned with grating bravado and nonstop hyperbole. Irvin pollutes an already loud and obnoxious ESPN pre-game show with inane, unrevealing and often self-serving commentary. During the off-season, T.O. suggested that ex-teammate Jeff Garcia is gay before backpedaling and denying accountability for his ugly, ill-conceived claim. He's the ultimate Me-First athlete, a good solider only when things are going his way.
6. The BALCO Bunch
With the exception of Gary Sheffield, who admitted to using steroids -- albeit unknowingly -- during preseason training sessions with ex-pal Barry Bonds, no All-Star sluggers who have publicly copped to using the performance-enhancing drugs designed by former Tower of Power bassist Victor Conte. But they're out there, and regardless of the public's love affair with the long ball, cheating is cheating.
5. Latrell Sprewell
Benny, the treacherous cabbie from Total Recall, implored Quaid -- or was he really Hauser? -- for generous tips. "Hey man," he was fond of saying, "I got FIVE kids to feed!" Benny, meet Latrell. He doesn't have five kids, but he was deeply offended by the three-year, $21-million contract offered to him by the Minnesota Timberwolves. "Why would I want to help them win a title?" Sprewell moaned. "They're not doing anything for me. I've got a lot at risk here. I've got my family to feed." Unless he's planning to adopt the population of Bangladesh, perhaps Spree should concentrate on his perimeter shooting and spend less time whining.
4. Colorado Football Coach Gary Barnett
Yes, he's been named the Big 12 Coach of the Year. He's also the guy who failed to protect former Colorado placekicker Katie Hnida from sexual harassment in the CU locker room and responded to her pleas for help with all the warmth of an abusive dad. "It was obvious Katie was not very good. She was awful," Barnett said. "Katie was not only a girl, she was terrible. OK? There's no other way to say it." But did he have to say it at all?
3. James Guillen, a.k.a. the "Crybaby Coach"
Another shining beacon of sensitivity, Guillen, 24, is the basketball coach who presented a 13-year-old with a "Crybaby Award" at a ceremony intended to honor his team. (Adding insult to injury, the genius managed to misspell the kid's name on the trophy.) Despite his fondness for picking on small children, Guillen continues to teach at the Pleasantville Middle School in New Jersey, leaving a nation of onlookers to scratch their heads in bewilderment.
2. Ricky Williams
The former All-Pro running back/wannabe holistic healer bolted Miami, renouncing the NFL lifestyle for an opportunity to tour the Outback and smoke a few blunts. In the process, he abandoned his teammates on the eve of training camp, jeopardized the job of his head coach -- who later resigned -- and ruined the Fins' regular season. So far, so good. Now, up to his ears in debt, Williams has facilitated a return to football, hoping for a fat payday to stave off his creditors. Only one question remains: Who, exactly, would welcome this guy into their clubhouse?
1. Ron Artest, Jermaine O'Neal and Stephen Jackson
To be fair, the fans of Detroit -- at least the ones who heaved beers and charged the court -- were just as guilty as the players in the Brawl Heard 'Round the World. But when you're paid millions to play professional basketball -- and not to make R&B albums about love, as Artest has so famously done with his band, Allure -- you have an obligation to conduct yourself with class and decorum, even in the face of alcohol-induced adversity. Somehow, rushing the stands and treating fans like punching bags doesn't cut the mustard.
Honorable Mentions: Randy Johnson, for turning on the Arizona Diamondbacks at the first hint of trouble and selfishly demanding a trade only to the prospect-poor New York Yankees or the St. Louis Cardinals; Alex Rodriguez, for his bush-league swipe at Bronson Arroyo during the American League Championship Series; and the National Hockey League Players Association, for refusing to accept a salary cap in a league that so desperately needs one.
by Rossiter Drake on Dec 03, 2004
photo courtesy of www.nba.com