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Take Your Best $hot: 4 Average Joe Millionaires

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Every night, unsuspecting basketball fans at arenas throughout the country are given a shot "“ or shots "“ at the adulation of thousands and promotional prizes ranging from gift certificates to new cars. More often than not, however, the shooting contests that have become staples of the in-game experience result in the athletically challenged contestant lobbing an air ball and being serenaded with boos by the home crowd. (This is especially true when a prize for everyone in attendance "“ say, a large, two-topping pizza "“ is on the line.) Here's a look at four fans who avoided the boos and capitalized on their 30 seconds of fame when the stakes were much, much higher.

2008: The Sawmill Worker

In February 2008, Chevrolet sponsored the Million Dollar Shootout during the first intermission of a regular season game at Vancouver's General Motors Place.

The Contestant: Darwin Head, a 35-year-old sawmill worker from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, who was randomly chosen from 8.6 million online entries.

The Rules: Head had 24 seconds to shoot 20 pucks from the far blue line toward an empty net at the other end of the rink, a distance of 114 feet. To win the $1 million prize, he needed to put at least 15 pucks into the net.

The Result: The hours of practice Head put in on the outdoor rink near his home in the weeks leading up to the contest paid off, as the 15th puck crossed the goal line just before time expired. "I didn't think I was even close to 15," Head said afterward.

The Aftermath: Head has since left his job at Carrier Forest Products Ltd. to spend more time with his wife and three children. According to an article that appeared in December, he has managed to avoid the urge to go on a major spending spree. Some of his bigger purchases include a used truck and a few used slo-pitch bats for his softball team. Head said the best advice he received after winning the contest was, "Don't be stupid."

2005: The Mechanical Engineer

Apparently, if you want to improve your odds of winning $1 million, move to Canada. Wendy's sponsored its first Kick for a Million contest in 2005, selecting one lucky fan to attempt field goals of 20, 30, 40, and 50 yards during halftime of a regular season CFL game in Toronto.

wendys.jpgThe Contestant: Brian Diesbourg, a 25-year-old mechanical engineer and avid soccer player from Belle River, Ontario, who was randomly chosen from nearly 200,000 entries.

The Rules: Diesbourg was allowed a 30-minute practice session with the Toronto Argonauts kicker before the contest. The prize breakdown was as follows: make the 20-yard field goal, win $1,000; make the 30-yard field goal, win a digital imaging package; make the 40-yard field goal, win a home theater package; make the 50-yard field goal, win $1 million paid out in equal installments over 40 years. Diesbourg wasn't required to make the kicks from the shorter distances to be eligible for the $1 million prize.

The Result: Diesbourg provided some of the best evidence to date that icing the kicker doesn't actually work. With 600,000 television viewers tuned in, Diesbourg missed his attempts from 20, 30, and 40 yards before TSN went to a commercial break. When live coverage resumed, Diesbourg's kick from 50 yards sailed just over the crossbar and he was mobbed by Argonauts players. With the kick, Diesbourg joined an exclusive club of amateur kickers that includes Lance Alstodt and Dennis Crawford, who made $1 million field goals at consecutive Pro Bowls in 1996 and 1997.

The Aftermath: Some fans felt deceived when they learned that Wendy's wouldn't pay the winner in one lump-sum. But Diesbourg didn't particularly care. "I would rather it (be) this way because I can't spend it all already," Diesbourg said. Diesourg bought a 20-foot motor boat and paid off his 2002 Dodge Ram in the first year after the contest, but maintained his job at a firm that makes assembly-line robotics.

2004: The Used Car Lot Owner

As part of Taco Bell's Rapid Fire contest before the 2004 All-Star Game at Houston's Minute Maid Park, one lucky fan stepped to the pitcher's mound for a chance to win free Taco Bell for a year "“ and $1 million.

usedcar.jpgThe Contestant: Tom Gray, a 41-year-old used car lot owner from Houston, who attended the game with his family and was selected only after there was no one in the first randomly selected seat.

The Rules: Throw as many baseballs as possible from the pitcher's mound through a 24-inch-by-24-inch target at home plate. Prizes of increasing value were awarded for each successful toss. One pitch through the target would earn Gray free Taco Bell for a year; five pitches through the target would earn him $1 million.

The Result: Gray channeled Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, who stood beside him on the mound and celebrated wildly after Gray heeded the advice of his son Matthew "“ "Point at the target" "“ and coolly tossed five baseballs through the small opening.

The Aftermath: "I have no idea how I did it," Gray said afterward. Neither did Tom Overton, the account manager for the Dallas-based promotions company that proposed the contest to Taco Bell. Overton had put the odds of a random fan winning the grand prize at greater than 100-to-1 and the insurance premium was set at $35,000. "I guess we've got a bunch of rubber-armed employees, because they couldn't do it," Overton told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "We had them try it over and over, and we thought it was worth the risk. You just go back to the office and say, "˜Well, we learned on that one. Pay the claim and move forward.' We got that one wrong, but I promise you, we won't next time."

1993: The Office Supply Salesman

During the 1993 season, Lettuce Entertain You restaurants and Coca-Cola sponsored a contest at Chicago Bulls games where a fan was selected to take a shot from the free throw line at the opposite end of the court for the chance to win $1 million.

harlem.jpgThe Contestant: Don Calhoun, a 23-year-old office supply salesman who was noticed by a team staffer because of his shoes. Calhoun was wearing gold suede hiking boots with rubber soles, which the staffer figured wouldn't scuff the court. Calhoun initially turned down the offer to participate in the contest, but reluctantly obliged after the staffer insisted.

The Rules: Make a 79-foot shot, win $1 million.

The Result: While Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen claimed to have been unable to make the shot in practice, and 17 of the 18 fans to participate in the promotion that season hadn't even managed to hit the rim, Calhoun's quarterback-style heave found the bottom of the net. The 18,000 fans in Chicago Stadium went crazy.

The Aftermath: The company that insured the promotion refused to pay the prize because Calhoun, who played 11 games at Triton Community College near Chicago, did not sign a waiver saying he had not played high school, college, or pro basketball for six years. The Bulls and the contest's sponsors agreed to pay Calhoun with or without the insurance company's support. "The fact is, he made a shot that nobody else could make, and he deserves it," Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf said. As part of his whirlwind tour after making the shot, which was dubbed the Immaculate Connection, Calhoun met President Bill Clinton and flew to New York to recreate the shot for Dateline. (It took him 54 attempts.) Calhoun eventually quit his job and signed a one-year contract with the Harlem Globetrotters. Two years later, he married his high school sweetheart and told a reporter in his hometown of Bloomington, Ind., that he dreamed of starting a production company focusing predominantly on material to motivate young people.

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Let Alexa Help You Brine a Turkey This Thanksgiving
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There’s a reason most of us only cook turkey once a year: The bird is notoriously easy to overcook. You could rely on gravy and cranberry sauce to salvage your dried-out turkey this Thanksgiving, or you could follow cooking advice from the experts.

Brining a turkey is the best way to guarantee it retains its moisture after hours in the oven. The process is also time-consuming, so do yourself a favor this year and let Alexa be your sous chef.

“Morton Brine Time” is a new skill from the cloud-based home assistant. If you own an Amazon Echo you can download it for free by going online or by asking Alexa to enable it. Once it’s set up, start asking Alexa for brining tips and step-by-step recipes customized to the size of your turkey. Two recipes were developed by Richard Blais, the celebrity chef and restaurateur best known for his Top Chef win and Food Network appearances.

Whether you go for a wet brine (soaking your turkey in water, salt, sugar, and spices) or a dry one (just salt and spices), the process isn’t as intimidating as it sounds. And the knowledge that your bird will come out succulent and juicy will definitely take some stress out of the holiday.

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Big Questions
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
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Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.


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