I was doing my homework last night for my next game broadcast when I heard the dogs at the north end of our neighborhood starting to bark.

The barking got louder and louder, and then our very own Zero started howling his alarm as he stared out our front window.

I yelled at him to stop, but he was serious about warning us all about…something.

I gave in and went to the window, and I realized what all the fuss was about—Santa was here.

He was standing beside his sleigh and two reindeer (he only needs 2 when it’s not loaded with packages). He was stretching his legs out, since it’s a long ride from the North Pole to Winona Lake, and he was decked out in a red sweatshirt and sweatpants with black tennis shoes and a red sock hat.

I snuck out through the garage to meet my dear friend.

After exchanging our traditional greetings, Santa said “Rog, you know why I am here.”

I did.

He had come from the north end of the earth to my house for last-minute advice on who in sports had been naughty and who had been nice in 2021.

Nick (he told me I could call him Nick) has made these fly-by-night fly-bys such a regular thing that I had been jotting down some ideas over the course of the fall just in case.

I ran back into the house and grabbed my notes.

I normally am a “give me the bad news first” guy, but I started my plump friend off with those who should be rewarded for their behavior this Christmas.

He pulled out his tablet to access the massive spreadsheet he and his staff manage to chart the winners and losers.

I said he should start with Blackhawks interim coach Derek King.

With the ‘Hawks season going nowhere, they fired their coach (whose name I shall not shame the pages of this fine publication with) and replaced him with the hockey equivalent of their Triple-A head coach.

He walked into the locker room of a team who had the worst record in hockey and drowning in a franchise-wide scandal of covering up for a male video coordinator sexually harassing a playing during team’s run to the 2010 Stanley Cup championship and breathed life into them.

Immediately, Chicago’s hockey team started acting like a professional hockey outfit.

They won’t make the playoffs this year, but the Blackhawks are heading in the right direction—on ice and off.

I suggested to Santa he take good care of both Justin Fields and Carson Wentz.

Wentz had come to Indy for a fresh start and he made them a playoff contender. Fields was drafted to Chicago and he gave the Bears fans hope for the future.

Hope is a good thing…maybe the best of things.

I also asked Santa to shine on our local athletes and coaches at all levels, and to include a special little something in the stockings of all of the officials who work the games.

Then the smile on my face fell. Santa responded “uh oh, here we go…the naughty.”

The naughty, indeed.

I told him I was feeling extra gracious this year. I was willing to allow those who had been marginally naughty to slide by this time.

Except for one.

Brian Kelly left Notre Dame for LSU, telling the Irish that he was leaving to win a national championship at LSU because there was no chance of doing it in the shadow of the Golden Dome.

His players heard the news on social media, not from him.

His coaches got a text while out recruiting players to South Bend.

I growled “Nick, that man...”—but he interrupted me. He wouldn’t let me finish the sentence.

“Oh we know all about that,” Santa mumbled. “My elves love the Irish (they see the Leprechaun as one of them, in a way) and they were ready to pack into a sleigh and find Kelly and, well, I am ashamed of what they said they would do when they found him,” he admitted.

I patted him on the shoulder, and made a mental note not to ever get on the bad side of the elves ever again!

Then I snapped my head up and said “hey, please take care of…” and he stopped me again.

“Marcus Freeman. We know,” Santa grinned and said, “we got him covered.”

I smiled as he hopped back onto his ride. He said, “thanks again, and Merry Christmas.”

I nodded, and replied “you too big man.”

And I heard him exclaim, as he slipped out of view, “Merry Christmas to all, and Go Cubs… and Purdue!”