Pie in the Face recipients didn’t have greatest year

Ryan Stieg

Here’s a sentence that may surprise you. Coming up with column topics isn’t easy.

Heading into the Thanksgiving weekend, I was stumped on what to write about, so like most sports writers, I looked to other writers for possible ideas.

One of my favorite columnists is Patrick Reusse and he writes for the Star Tribune in Minneapolis. Every year on Thanksgiving, he puts out a column called the Turkey of the Year where he counts down a list of people around Minnesota, or the surrounding states like North and South Dakota, that made foolish mistakes in the past year.

For the most part, it’s funny and light-hearted and it’s the one column most Minnesotans look forward to each year. I have friends who place bets on who’s going to win each year, so it clearly resonates with people.

In honor of his original idea, I decided to put a little spin on it and write my own about Michigan and national teams. I’m entitling it the Pie in the Face column. I briefly considered Birdbrain, but I thought that was too similar.

Let’s get this thing going shall we?

NOMINATED BUT NOT REWARDED

Cleveland Browns

Last season, Cleveland’s head coach and general manager were fired, its best wide receiver continued his endless rebellion against the NFL’s anti-weed policy, and perhaps most embarrassingly, they lost a game on a blocked kick that was returned for a touchdown. And Browns owner Jimmy Haslam listened to the advice of a homeless man and decided to draft Johnny Manziel, who in turn dedicated himself to being a walking TMZ segment.

This year, the Browns dumped Manziel and signed Robert Griffin III as the solution at quarterback, their offensive line seems to be placing bets on whose missed block will end Cody Kessler’s career, and they sat at 0-11 heading into Sunday’s game against the Giants. This team could end up being the second 0-16 team in NFL history, so they deserve to make the list.

Cleveland Indians

Yes, Cleveland has two teams on this list. It just shows that one championship can’t eliminate all the pain inflicted on its fans. This one hurts me a little because Cleveland blowing a 3-1 lead gave my beloved Chicago Cubs their first World Series title in 108 years, so I found intense joy in their misery.

At the same time, they had the best team in baseball on the ropes and couldn’t finish the job. So the Tribe deserves a slot as well.

Ryan Lochte

Most Olympic athletes want to be known for their athletic achievements and their medals. This guy, on the other hand, seems to want to be more of a celebrity, no matter if it’s a positive or negative image. In the past, he had his own short-lived reality show, he tried to trademark a catch phrase (“Jeah!”) and at this year’s games, he earned one medal by being on the same relay squad as Michael Phelps.

Also in Rio, he claimed that he and some of his teammates were robbed at gunpoint before hightailing it out of the country. In reality, a drunken Lochte and his cohorts decided to take a leak around a gas station and broke parts of the station’s property. So yeah, he seems like a good guy.

Chris Ostrowsky

Some might see this as mean-spirited, but after the season the Northern Michigan University football team had, I can’t leave their former coach off the list.

The year before, the Wildcats appeared to be taking a step forward. Despite finishing with a 5-6 record, most of NMU’s losses came late in the game, so the talent seemed to be on the field. They just couldn’t finish the job.

This year was Coach O’s fifth year at the helm and the USS Wildcat crashed into the rocks. Northern finished 3-8 after losing its final six games. The Wildcats also lost to Michigan Tech for the seventh straight season and got lit up 56-7 by Tiffin in the season finale where the NMU defense gave up 609 yards. That wasn’t even their worst performance of the year since Grand Valley State racked up 741 yards on the ‘Cats. The good thing for NMU is that it has nowhere to go but up.

CLOSE BUT NOT QUITE

No Red Wings in Hockeyville

Almost two months ago, Marquette was recognized on a national stage by being named Kraft Hockeyville USA. There were festivities, a parade, Lakeview Arena got some much-needed renovations and two NHL franchises, Buffalo and Carolina, came to town to play an exhibition game that was broadcast on the NBC Sports Network. It was an amazing moment for the town and it will be something many residents, including me, will remember for a long time.

However, there was something missing and that was the Red Wings. When it was announced that Marquette had won the competition, I heard fans talk about how cool it would be for the Wings to come to town. However, Detroit didn’t feel like it.

After getting called out on social media, the Wings came up with a lame excuse saying that they had already scheduled a full slate of preseason games. Well, so did the Sabres and Hurricanes, but they were more than happy to come play here.

The Hockeyville game was still a blast and it was a good atmosphere, but just imagine how great it would’ve been if the Wings had decided to participate. Detroit had a breakaway chance to gain even more fans. However, instead of scoring, the Wings fanned on their shot, tripped over their skates and crashed into the boards.

Golden State Warriors

The Warriors had the greatest regular season in NBA history, finishing an insane 73-9, and they were crowned champions by many before the postseason began. They rolled through the first two rounds of the playoffs, survived a series with Oklahoma City and built up a seemingly secure 3-1 lead on Cleveland in the NBA Finals.

However, as most of us know, the Warriors blew their huge advantage and watched James and the Cavaliers bring back the city’s first championship in more than half a century. Now that 73-9 record will be an afterthought and the 2015-16 Warriors will forever be known as “The Team that Choked.”

RUNNER-UP

National Hockey League

This organization would’ve taken the top spot if it had not been saved by its effort with Hockeyville and the sad performances of our winner.

Back in January, Michigan Tech alumnus John Scott was named captain of the Pacific Division for the All-Star Game. However, two weeks later, he was traded from Arizona to Montreal and the Canadiens sent him down to the minors.

The league allegedly asked Scott not to play and he agreed at first, but then changed his mind. The NHL officially named him Pacific Division captain and after scoring two goals, he was named MVP, even though he was excluded from the ballot.

But with a strong social media campaign led by some players and official team Twitter accounts, the league reluctantly gave Scott the award.

The league could’ve easily just let Scott play from the beginning, but instead they tried to stonewall something that the fans clearly wanted and looked like petty control freaks while doing it.

The league has now created the “John Scott Rule,” which keeps players who were sent to the minors from Nov. 1 to Jan. 26 from being eligible for fan voting. People call the NFL the “No Fun League” and I think the NHL should be the “No Happiness League.”

WINNER, WINNER, TURKEY DINNER

Michigan State’s three big sports

The year started out badly for Spartans fans and it has somehow managed to get worse. On the last day of 2015, Mark Dantonio’s football team was obliterated by Alabama in the college football semifinals. In March, Tom Izzo’s dominant basketball team was toppled in its first game of the NCAA Tournament by Middle Tennessee State, a team most sports fans probably didn’t know existed. Also that month, Tom Anastos’ hockey team finished 10-23-4 to give him an overall record of 68-90-4 as Spartans’ coach.

Izzo’s team has struggled out of the gate this fall. The Spartans are 4-3 and one of those wins needed a clock-running error to happen. MSU’s schedule has also been rather difficult so far, so difficult that Izzo apologized to his players for that.

After five subpar seasons as coach, the college hockey world assumed that Anastos would be let go after last year. Instead, he not only survived, but managed to get a contract extension through 2020 in college hockey’s WTH moment of the year. The Spartans are 4-6-1 now, including a sweep at the hands of Lake Superior State.

Dantonio’s team has fared the worst. MSU entered the weekend at 3-8  — just like NMU — and 1-7 in the Big Ten and added a loss to Penn State to the record, all the time looking awful for the majority of it. Michigan State will also be the only NCAA Division I program in the state to not make a bowl game this year. Even hapless Eastern Michigan will be going to a bowl game for the first time since 1987.

Two postseason flops to start, a continually declining program combined with a bizarre contract extension, and the worst MSU football season in more than 20 years. This was one was an easy choice.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal. net.