Strong words were shouted and there was fear that fisticuffs would result as the deadline for the fourth annual Sammy Awards approached.

At one point, emotions were so raw that I said things to my mirror that I would later regret, and only my most ardent desire for decorum prevented me from punching myself in the face repeatedly and with great vigor.

The question was whether to open this year's competition to professional politicians and athletes or to keep intact the Sammies' amateur status.

The zany election-year antics of Sarah Palin, Joe Biden, Rudy Giuliani, Eliot Spitzer, John Edwards and Joe the Plumber, combined with the almost inexplicable arrogance of such sports luminaries as Roger Clemens and O.J. Simpson, almost won over the contest committee, which consists of me.

In the end, it was decided to keep the pristine nature of the competition.

There must be a place where non-professionals can make their mark, and what better avenue for that than the coveted 2008 Sammy Awards.

The Best Imitation of Mr. Magoo By a Snake" Sammy goes to:

An Australian reptile.

Last January, a snake in Brisbane mistook four golf balls for chicken eggs and required surgery to avoid what would have been a painful death.

A couple had placed the balls in a chicken coop to encourage their hen to nest. We're not sure whether the hen fell for the subterfuge, but the snake happily gobbled up the dimpled meal.

The snake got a mulligan on life when a local veterinarian removed the balls from its intestines.

___

The "Bone of Contention" Sammy goes to:

An Oklahoma gladiator.

NBC News reported that police in Ardmore, Okla., arrested a man for stabbing another man in the neck with a pork chop bone.

The victim was covered with blood, but recovered. His alleged attacker, 38-year-old Tony Willis, was arrested a few blocks away from the crime scene. The criminal mastermind not only had blood on his clothes, but still had possession of the bone.

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The "Weekend at Bernie's" Sammy goes to:

Two New York senior citizens.

Virgilio Cintron, 65, received a $355 Social Security check in January. The only thing preventing him from cashing it was the fact that Virgilio happened to be dead at the time.

That small inconvenience didn't stop his roommate, James O'Hare, and another man, David Dalaia, from trying to cash the check, according to the New York Post.

The two 66-year-olds put Cintron's corpse into an office chair and wheeled him from his West 52nd Street apartment several blocks to Pay-O-Matic Check Cashing on Ninth Avenue.

They went inside to cash the check, leaving Cintron, with his pants half on and a coat draped over the chair, outside.

The store clerk, who knew Cintron, asked to see him. However, when the two geniuses went outside to get their pal, a crowd had gathered, including Travis Rapp. a New York Police Department detective.

The city trains its detectives well. Rapp "immediately realized that this individual was deceased" and arrested O'Hare and Dalaia.

___

The "Fancy Meeting You Here" Sammy goes to:

A Polish man and his wife.

The Polish tabloid Super Express reported in January that a man visiting a brothel was surprised to find that one of the establishment's employees was his wife.

"I was dumbfounded. I thought I was dreaming," he told the newspaper.

The gentleman's wife had told him that she worked at a store in a nearby town. Sadly, the couple, married for 14 years, are divorcing.

___

The "Happy Meal" Sammy goes to:

An unhappy customer.

In Jacksonville, Fla., 31-year-old David Spillers couldn't contain his disappointment upon discovering the absence of the two orders of french fries he requested at a McDonald's.

So, first he rammed his car into the kiddie play area of the restaurant, then drove into the side of the place where customers usually sit.

No one was hurt, but Spillers faced charges of reckless driving and felony criminal mischief.

A police spokesman said that once Spillers was tracked down, "he said he was very remorseful and was going to go back to the restaurant and apologize."

___

The "God is my co-pilot" Sammy goes to:

A man demanding to speak to God.

Imagine you're on an airplane 35,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean, and you see a man being restrained by the crew and screaming that he wanted to "speak to God."

It wouldn't be a pleasant experience under any circumstances, but in the case of this flight from Canada to London's Heathrow Airport, the gentleman doing the screaming happened to be the co-pilot.

Insisting that the plane was low on fuel, and demanding to speak to the deity, the co-pilot was shackled by his ankles and handcuffed to a seat as the jet was forced to make an emergency landing at the Republic of Ireland's Shannon Airport.

___

The "Mother of the Year" Sammy goes to:

A Central Florida mother of four boys.

In February, Melissa G. Dean, 33, was charged with child neglect after telling authorities that she had gone "on strike" a month earlier, leaving her 17-, 16-, 14- and 13-year-old sons home alone.

She said she couldn't get her kids to clean the house and stop fighting, and she had no control over them.

Dean, a Walgreens manager, said she decided to "go on strike" because no one would help with her children, saying the police and courts would do nothing.

The mom spent nights at a friend's house and would cook and deliver meals to her offspring. Showing that she still cared, Dean spent one night a week at home and called the kids often.

___

The "Take These Two Tablets and See Me In the Morning" Sammy goes to:

Moses.

In March, an Israeli researcher said in a study that Moses, who led the children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt, was a junkie.

Benny Shanon, a professor of cognitive psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, wrote in the Time and Mind journal of philosophy that Moses was on psychedelic drugs when he heard God deliver the Ten Commandments and saw the "burning bush."

Not terribly surprisingly, Shanon said he has also dabbled in some narcotics. His drug of choice was ayahuasca, a powerful psychotropic plant, during a religious ceremony in Brazil's Amazon forest in 1991.

He said the psychedelic effects of ayahuasca were comparable to those produced by concoctions based on the bark of the acacia tree, which is frequently mentioned in the Bible.

___

The "Bats In the Belfrey" Sammy goes to:

Baseball player John Odom.

After spending three years in the low minor leagues, Odom was traded by Calgary Vipers of the Golden Baseball League to the Laredo Broncos of the United League.

So what did the Vipers get in return for their ballplayer?

Ten baseball bats. No other player _ 10 bats.

"They just wanted some bats, good bats _ maple bats," Broncos general manager Jose Melendez said.

"I don't really care," Odom said. "It'll make a better story if I make it to the big leagues."

___

The "One Time Only" Sammy goes to:

A college student in San Diego.

A 22-year-old woman using the pseudonym "Natalie Dylan" went on the television show "The Insider" in September to talk about auctioning off her virginity to pay for her college education.

"I don't think auctioning my virginity will solve all my problems," she said on the TV program. "But it will create some financial stability.

"We live in a capitalist society," she said. "Why shouldn't I be allowed to capitalize on my virginity?"

Natalie, who has a bachelor's degree in women's studies, wants to earn a master's degree in marriage and family therapy. She was hoping the bidding would hit $1 million.

The online auction site eBay wanted no part of the auction, so she turned to the Moonlite Bunny Ranch, a legal Nevada brothel.

As it turns out, her sister works at the establishment ... to pay off her college debts.

___

Sam Pollak is editor of The Daily Star. He can be reached at spollak@thedailystar.com or at (607) 432-1000, ext. 208.

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