As you read this column you may have already packed the Christmas presents you're returning to the store today. Perhaps it's the necktie that plays Jingle Bells. Or the child-challenged egg slicer — “You'll cut your finger off with that thing.”
Or that Christmas CD you've always wanted — Alvin and the Chipmunks perform “The Messiah.”
But you may need to return none of those more than several sports figures wish they could take back a few of their words or actions this year. With at least a slight nod to our local coaches, administrators and athletes, here are the Top 12 Christmas returns these folks wish they could make for 2011:
No. 12 — Vince Young's comment that this year's Philadelphia Eagles would be a “Dream Team.” Had anyone but the clueless Young made these remarks, this would have been much higher up the list. But Young being Young, we'll leave it at No. 12, even if Philly currently stands 7-8 on the season with one game to play and almost assuredly out of the playoffs.
No. 11 — Former Tiger Woods caddie Steve Williams, who accomplished almost the impossible in making His Striped One a somewhat sympathetic figure by calling the man who made him a millionaire a “Black (blankety-blank),” at a banquet after Williams switched to Adam Scott, who won the first time the caddie worked for him. Whatever goodwill the controversial Williams had garnered from the public after Woods fired him prior to those remarks was lost forever from that day forward.
No. 10 — NBA commissioner David Stern, the league's players and owners for having the gall to strike, which took eight home games from each team, causing widespread economic pain to all the small business types — restaurant owners, parking lot owners, souvenir merchants, to name but three — who probably had far less enjoyable Christmases from the money lost by the absence of those games. Bah-humbug to all concerned, especially the players, who are the highest paid athletes (per avearage) in professional team sports.
No. 9 — NFL Strike. America's most popular sports league wasn't dumb enough to cancel the first weekend's worth of games — which fell on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 — but it was yet another example of how far removed all pro athletes are from the daily economic struggles of those who cheer them.
No. 8 — Derek Dooley's victory celebration after the Vanderbilt game. Though you can count me among those who believe what happens in a closed locker room should remain in a closed locker room, that wild celebration for a win over Vandy looked pretty bad when the Vols came out flat the following week and lost to Kentucky for the first time in 27 years with the Cats forced to play a senior wide receiver at quarterback.
No. 7 — Former UT athletic director Mike Hamilton proclaiming two days before former basketball coach Bruce Pearl's Vols were to begin NCAA Tournament play against Michigan: “We've done a lot of soul searching about the direction of our [basketball] program and we'll continue to do that. We'll decide after we're out of the NCAA Tournament what direction it is that we're going to go next.”
The Vols were out of the tourney two days later, losing by 30. Pearl was fired a couple of days later. But Hamilton was almost instantly seen as the bad guy for distracting Pearl's players from focusing solely on the Wolverines. His tenure officially lasted a few more months, but the fans turned on him from that comment forward.
No. 6 — Ohio State president Gordon Gee's declaration that, “I hope he [Jim Tressel] doesn't fire me,” when asked last March if Tressel's job was in jeopardy. Tressel, of course, was canned on Memorial Day weekend. That Gee and A.D. Gene Smith remain is almost as stunning as the termination of The Vest.
No. 5 — All of us (blush, blush) who publicly doubted whether Mark Richt was still the man to lead Georgia football after an 0-2 start. The Bulldogs then won 10 straight to reach the SEC title game and should be even better next year.
No. 4 — The University of Miami's association with super booster Nevin Shapiro, whose outrageous behavior (cash, prostitutes and at least one abortion for a player's girlfriend) have created the new Miami Vice and just might earn the Hurricanes the death penalty. If nothing else, it makes The Ohio State University's misdeeds look like Sesame Street.
No. 3 — University of Tennessee at Chattanooga senior forward Chris Early's tweets concerning Coach John Shulman. Maybe Shulman allows him to return and maybe he doesn't, but it added a needless level of stress to a Mocs season that has already disappointed many.
No. 2 — Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel's decision to sweep the Braves over the final three games of the regular season. While noble in theory, had Manuel rested his starters, Atlanta might well have knocked the St. Louis Cardinals out of the playoffs before they began. Instead, the Redbirds stunned the Phillies in the wildcard round on their way to their 11th world championship.
No. 1 — Signal Mountain High School football. Whoever misled the TSSAA over the residence of linebacker Tim McClendon did more than force the Eagles to forfeit six games and damage the school's credibility and reputation. It probably cost Signal a second straight state title.
Think the Eagles program doesn't wish it could take that decision back?
One final thought. We didn't forget about Joe Paterno or Penn State or the sex abuse scandal involving former coach Jerry Sandusky. It was just deemed too horrible on too many levels to have any connection to Christmas.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...