Poor Ricky Williams. Gobbled up by the pressures of playing a child's sport for millions of coin, he's spent the entire 2004 NFL season trying to clear his mind long enough to figure out just exactly who he is. Is he an all-pro back? Or is he never coming back? The Dolphins dream? Dave Wannstedt's nightmare? Should he be a groupie or in group therapy? A globe trotter? Or a recluse? Retired? Re-hired? Dreadlocked or bald? Unstable or reinstated? His own man? Or the $8 million man? The guy who runs on grass or the guy who ... runs on grass? Does he want dilated pupils? Or does he want to be a dedicated pupil at California College of Ayurveda where he is currently studying ancient Indian holistic medicine.
Well, as usual, I'm here to help. For one day, at least, I can say for certain exactly who Ricky Williams is: Because it's Thanksgiving, he's one nominee on the FlemFile's sixth annual list of NFL Turkeys of the Year (known throughout the industry as, simply, the TOYs).
Besides Dr. Williams (more tryptophan nurse, stat!), the NFL was stuffed with Turkeys this season. And so with no further ado, the nominees for the 2004 TOYs are:
TODD SAUERBRUN ... The Panthers 217-pound punter recently told reporters that he refused to fill in as a kicker because the team would not refund the estimated 40 grand in fines he's accrued for being overweight. The Panthers pear-shaped punter, who ranks fifth in the NFL with a 44-yard average, then dissed the legendary Ray Guy before calling himself, perhaps, the greatest punter of all time.
PATRIOTS TREEMAN ... I was dreading the annual Thanksgiving visit from the weirdos in my family, and then I saw the creepy credit card commercial with the New England fan who, apparently, derives sexual pleasure from trees before each game. Suddenly, my arbor-neutral relatives don't seem so wacky.
PAUL MCCARTNEY ... "We're looking forward to rocking the millions at home and in the stadium," says the ex Beatle who will perform at halftime of the Super Bowl. OK, let's try three. 1.) Yeah, rocking them to sleep. 2.) When McCartney sings, will the Guinness Book of World Records then recognize Alltel Stadium as the world's largest elevator? And 3.) Let this be a lesson to the NFL: This is what happens when you wait too long to book Weird Al Yankovic.
FRANK MURPHY ... Police say this summer, the Bucs wideout tried to walk out on a $1,670 check from a charity meet-and-greet he was hosting. I'm no public relations expert, but my guess is this will not be made into a United Way commercial.
JOE NAMATH ... Who knew that Namath's inebriated come-on to a TV sideline reporter last December would be one of the Jets best passes of the year?
COLE FORD ... The former Raiders kicker was arrested at a Kinkos after an alleged shotgun attack on the Jungle Palace, the home of Las Vegas magicians Siegfried & Roy. Ya know, I could continue this column for another 87 years and I'd never get the chance to write that sentence again.
PEE WEE FOOTBALL PARENTS ... The aunt of a Pop Warner player in New Orleans was recently charged with aggravated assault after she allegedly waved a weapon following a game in a football league for 8- and 9-year-olds. This woman needs help-and a one way ticket to Oakland.
JABAR GAFFNEY ... The Texans wideout actually gets two. One for his premature celebration gack against the Jags where he lost control of the ball, turning a TD into a touchback. And a follow-up TOY for jumping into the stands after the play.
RETRO TURKEY ... From 1999's TOY list (and one of my all-time faves): Dion Rayford, the Kansas football player who wedged himself, Winnie the Pooh style, into the drive-thru window of a Taco Bell after becoming enraged that workers left a Chalupa out of his order.
JERRY RICE ... The greatest receiver of all time has become easier to cover than American Pie.
DENNY GREEN ... He passed over Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger to stick with Josh McCown (who supposedly reminded him of Brett Favre), then benched the kid (after he won three of four) in favor of Shaun King for a 35-10 loss to the 2-7 Panthers. And you thought your relatives were hard to understand.
T.O.'S MNF PROMO ... Brought to you by the same folks who once blasted "Playmakers" because of its inappropriate, stereotypical portrayal of NFL players. This hypocrisy is harder to swallow than my mom's bean casserole. (Seriously, mom, was the recipe card upside down or something?)
LAWN PARKERS ... When I moved to a golf-course community, I never imagined I'd have to contend with neighbors who occasionally park on the lawn, which, to me, is one step away from tractor-tire gardens and couches on the front porch.
AARON BROOKS ... You can complain about last week's bizarre throw directly to Denver linebacker Al Wilson, who couldn't help but return it for a TD. Fine. Me? The holidays transform me into an optimist. So I like to think of it as progress. At least this time, Brooks threw the ball forward and to somebody.
THE OLD BOYS NETWORK ... Have you heard the old school apologists who are saying Maurice Clarett has hurt his chances in the NFL because teams won't be able to trust him after he exposed Ohio State. Are you kidding me? This is a league where the top running back will serve jail time after the season, a league that hired Lawrence Phillips three times, a league where Leonard Little of the Rams killed someone while drunk driving and was suspended for all of EIGHT GAMES. So, please, spare me the hand wringing.
CHAD JOHNSON ... Bengals Pro Bowl wideout sent a bottle of Pepto-Bismol to Browns defensive backs and was then held to three catches for 37 yards in a 34-17 loss. (Oh yeah, he also had three drops.) Apparently it doesn't cure diarrhea of the mouth, either.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS ... I don't really have one for what's happened to this once-proud franchise. Hmmm. How about this: Did you know that turkeys are so dumb they can drown in a rain storm?
BILL PARCELLS ... I'm sure he only meant this as a way to pre-emptively keep the blame for Dallas' debacle off his own back. But if the team is "stupid," then what does that say about the guy who put it together?
JOE GIBBS ... Can you imagine the feeling your turkey had the moment he realized he was in the Butterball plant and not, in fact, the petting zoo Farmer Bob had promised to send him to? That's exactly what Gibbs must go through every time he realizes just what he's gotten himself into in DC.
KEYSHAWN JOHNSON ... On his radio show, the 29th most elusive receiver in the game (based on yards) said he wanted to spank Pam Oliver for reporting his sideline argument with a Dallas assistant -- which means Key is now more of a threat to the FCC then NFL DBs.
PAUL TAGLIABUE ... Tags hasn't earned a TOY this season (yet), but the guy must be gobbling a little bit of pride after David Stern showed him just how a real commissioner disciplines his players.
RAY LEWIS ... This is how screwed up things are in the NFL now. After T.O.'s hilarious dance mocking the two-time NFL defensive MVP, we're all supposed to feel sorry for hurting the feelings of a guy who pled guilty to obstruction of justice in a double-murder case.
DUH BEARS ... Despite a nationwide shortage of flu vaccines, some members of the Chicago Bears helped themselves to the very shots health officials have been trying to save for at-risk groups like babies, toddlers and the elderly. To be fair, the Bears, who are headed for their eighth losing season in the last nine years, have never really been that concerned about making their fans gravely ill.
DAVID FLEMING ... A know-it-all, idiot, hater, loser, nerd, turkey-jerky waste of bandwidth. There, I just saved you the trouble of sending in your hate mail, because I know how busy everyone is (wink-wink) at work on the day before Thanksgiving.
Seriously, happy turkey day everybody. You're all TOYs to me.
David Fleming is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine. His book, "Noah's Rainbow," a father's emotional journey from the death of his son to the birth of his daughter, will be published in 2005 by Baywood. Contact him at Dave.Fleming@espn3.com.