- David Fleming, ESPN Senior Writer
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The great ones know it’s never too early to talk turkey.
In late October, after a 24-3 win over Arizona, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was asked if he finally believed in quarterback Alex Smith.
His answer officially kicked off the Flem File’s 16th annual hunt for the NFL’s Turkey of the Year.
“I don’t think there was ever a question there,” Harbaugh responded. “I think it’s just a lot of gobble, gobble turkey. Just gobble, gobble, gobble turkey from jive turkey gobblers. That paints a pretty good picture of it.”
Yeats himself, dear coach, couldn’t have put it any better.
(Actually, Smith had the best response as to how he rediscovered his confidence. “It was in my closet,” he said, “I found it in there.”)
Anyway, Harbaugh’s grand, goofy response sufficed for almost three whole weeks, a new record in the Not For Long league.
That is, until Smith was lost to a concussion and rookie Colin Kaepernick stepped in and put on a dazzling display in a 32-7 destruction of the Bears on Monday night.
Despite the long-standing gentlemen’s rule (read: myth) in the NFL that says you can’t lose your starting job to an injury, Harbaugh was noncommittal about who will be his starting QB moving forward, on a path that almost certainly includes a deep playoff run.
“I usually tend to go with the guy who has the hot hand,” Harbaugh gobbled this week. “We really have two guys who have a pretty hot hand. We’ll make that determination as we go.”
Well, well, well, who’s the jive turkey gobbler now?
To find out, officially, feast your eyes on the nominees for the Flem File’s 16th Annual Turkey of the Year Award.
STEPHEN JONES: With one playoff win in the last 15 years, Dallas Cowboys exec says the team is “going in a good direction” -- which makes perfect sense once you understand the details behind the Jones family’s flawless 30-year rebuilding plan.
MATT SHANER: Owner of the AFL’s Pittsburgh Power fired his entire team during a pregame meal at an Olive Garden.
I’ve been covering pro football on a national level for 17 years and I have to say that’s the most vile, lowdown disgusting thing I’ve heard in a long time.
A pregame meal at Olive Garden?
GARY BETTMAN: We normally stick to the NFL for the T.O.Y., but I’m more than happy to make an exception for my Fleeps.
Ya know, after watching the NHL commissioner’s leadership during yet another work stoppage, I am reminded of the fact that turkeys are so dumb they sometimes drown in rainstorms because they forget to close their mouths.
ANTI-TURKEY OF THE YEAR AWARD: Doesn’t matter what happens the rest of the season. Colts coach Chuck Pagano’s inspirational speech to his team while battling leukemia has already made this entire NFL season worthwhile.
T.O.Y. RING OF HONOR (2002) PETER FILANDIA: This Australian Rules footballer was suspended 10 days for biting an opponent’s testicles during a match.
I’ve got three for this one:
1. Suddenly my father-in-law’s oyster stuffing doesn’t sound so bad.
2. Trying to type funny line, but, can’t, breath, stomach cramping, sweating … Must. Move. On. And ...
3. I just realized that the report says “testicles” – plural.
NORV TURNER: Before his epic, defining collapse against Denver, the Chargers coach objected to all the “conjecture” about his team choking away close games.
At the time the Chargers had lost 10 of their last 17 games by 7 points or less, and Turner had the second-worst record in NFL history (49-69-1) in one-score games.
It’s that kind of close attention to detail, after all, that brought Turner and all of his loaded Chargers teams so much postseason success.
VISA: According to its cute Ray Lewis press-conference commercial, sports writers are pale, dim-witted and obese, with Supercuts haircuts and wardrobes from T.J.Maxx.
Oh, wait a sec.
CHIEFS: It took this team 10 weeks to get its first lead in a game. With the way this franchise is run, if they keep this up GM Scott Pioli is looking at a nice long contract extension.
T.O.Y. RING OF HONOR (2011) MOHAMMAD NOSRATI: Iranian futbol player suspended for “goosing” teammates during goal celebrations. Talk about your hand-ball infractions.
CHIEFS FANS: I’m not sure what’s worse, the fans who booed when Matt Cassel got hurt or the ones who tried to justify it by saying they had every right to do so because Arrowhead charges 28 bucks for parking.
BILL BELICHICK: Lost the best tight end in the game, and the mismatch at the center of his red zone offensive strategy, on an extra point in a 35-point blowout.
I’ve got four for this one:
1. I wonder if Belichick finally started to rethink this decision when people defended him by saying, “Yeah, but Pete Carroll does it too!”
2. His explanation -- “Football players play football” -- is the most in-depth analysis I’ve seen since Frankenstein grunted, “Fire. Burn.”
3. This did provide at least one honest, revealing answer. To the question: How bad does Belichick really think his defense is? And …
4. So this is what Harbaugh was talking about when he mentioned “jive turkey gobblers.”
RYAN KALIL: Carolina center (who is a great player and a good guy) took out a full-page ad in the Charlotte Observer declaring that the Panthers would win Super Bowl XLVII.
Kalil’s latest ad predicted that this year Thursday will be a “grand day of fasting and intense exercise across all the land.”
THANKSFLEMING: Ah, family.
A certain member of my family used to accuse me of having dull, wimpy carving knives on Thanksgiving. So a few years ago I went out and bought all new, top-of-the-line, razor-sharp cutlery.
This person still wouldn’t take my word for how sharp the knives were, however, and insisted on running his thumb down the blade. Like a hot knife through butter it sliced his meaty paw down to the bone.
He refused all medical treatment, of course, and because he was on blood thinners our Thanksgiving dinner turned into the scene in “The Shining” when the elevator doors open up.
At one point I asked for the white Wedgewood china bowl holding the corn and it arrived with a giant bloody fingerprint on it.
Got a favorite family story from turkey day? Send it along (@FlemESPN). I’m listening.
REDSKINS: Last week, a D.C. steak restaurant was serving strawberries “Redskins style.” My guess is that means all loyal fans of the team were allowed to pay $1,800 in the hopes of eating the greatest strawberries in the world, only to be served chocolate-covered Brussels sprouts.
T.O.Y. RING OF HONOR (2008) HORNY BILLS FANS: During a game against the Jets, Buffalo law-enforcement officials arrested a couple having sex in a restroom of Ralph Wilson Stadium.
I’m supposed to provide a wholesome punch line here suitable for all audiences, but everything I came up with includes the phrase “wide right.”
NFL OWNERS: The gatekeepers of our $9 billion national pastime ruined the entire first month of the season rather than pay an extra $100,000 per team, per season.
The owners were very upset that the referees considered themselves an integral part of the game. Mostly because that’s what the owners like to pretend they are.
ANTI-TURKEY AWARD: The Bears' Charles Tillman said he’d miss a game to attend the birth of his child.
There’s no joke here, other than the people questioning his priorities.
T.O.Y. RING OF HONOR (1999) DION RAYFORD: Still my absolute favorite turkey during the last 15 years. The Kansas football player wedged himself, Winnie the Pooh style, into the drive-thru window of a Taco Bell after becoming enraged that workers had left a chalupa out of his order.
JERRY RICHARDSON: Born and raised in the Carolinas, the Panthers' owner sees it as his civic duty to keep the team in Charlotte. At this rate, though, wouldn’t it actually be more gracious to the locals to subject L.A. or some other city to this team?
BART SCOTT: Treating the media like dirt during your career only guarantees that immediately upon retiring you’ll be offered a job in TV as … part of the media.
DEANGELO HALL: Redskins cornerback fined $30,000 for berating an official. Later, when approached for comment, he uttered the now classic, “Back up off me, bro” -- which was either a warning to the media or a statement of his coverage philosophy.
T.O.Y. RING OF HONOR (2009) TREVOR WIKRE: Utterly misguided right guard from Division II Mesa State College in Grand Junction, Colo., decided to have his pinkie lopped off so he wouldn’t miss a game. How 'bout a high-four, buddy?
DOMINIQUE RODGERS-CROMARTIE: After the Eagles lost six in a row by an average of 12 points or more, Philly DB insisted that “nobody has lined up and just beat us.” It was a verbal whiff almost as bad as his attempted head shot on RG3.
IAN BECKLES: Former Bucs lineman and radio jock arrested for touching a police horse.
Seriously? I need to come up with a punch line for this one?
In Beckles’ defense, Greg Schiano was prepared to testify that the horses had moved into an aggressive victory formation and left him no choice.
MARIO WILLIAMS: The Bills haven’t missed this badly on a huge contract since … well, since the last time, when they gave QB Ryan Fitzpatrick $59 million.
TITUS YOUNG: Seems fitting that he’s named after the Roman emperor who built the coliseum where Lions performed horrific, bizarre, unspeakable acts.
T.O.Y. RING OF HONOR (2006) MITCH COZAD: Cozad (pronounced: Gillooly), the backup punter at Northern Colorado, was convicted of second-degree assault after police accused him of stabbing the team’s starting punter.
BEARS OFFENSIVE LINE: Can you imagine their film session after the 49ers game? And you thought your family’s Thanksgiving dinner was awkward and tense?
STEVE SPURRIER: Said Alabama could beat a handful of NFL teams. I totally agree, provided they’re the ones Spurrier used to coach in D.C.
STEELERS THROWBACKS: Pittsburgh’s wearing bumblebee prison uniform’s from 1934, an era when pro football was mocked by critics as barbaric “paid punting” performed by men who lacked honor.
Did you see Monday’s game? Ed Reed’s head shots, several players injured and 16 punts.
Just look how much the game has changed since then.
TURDUCKEN AWARD: The NFL’s version of stuffing your turkey with a duck will take place on Dec. 9 when the Chiefs play the Browns the week after hosting the Panthers. Enjoy that.
HAPPY THANKSGIVING everyone. Gobble, gobble, gobble, all you jive turkeys out there.
Remember, you’re all Turkeys of the Year to me.