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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Cooking with Banshee: Southern Belle

It's Saturday.  And on the east coast, it is hot enough to make the devil sigh.  Here is a little something to take the edge off the heat.  This is variation of a traditional cranberry and vodka.  I got this recipe from a Kentucky Derby website.  But the credit for the name goes to my cousin Molly Sue.

The Southern Belle.


1.5 oz vodka
1 oz triple sec
5 oz cranberry juice
1.5 oz sour mix


Put a handful of ice into a cocktail shaker.  Fill a tumbler with ice (okay, this actually makes a Solo cup worth of beverage.  I use the silver ones because they seem more classy).  Give the shaker a shake and strain the contents into the glass.  Enjoy!

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Thursday, June 28, 2012

This Week in Sports: June 28, 2012

I warned everyone last week that we were headed into the doldrums of the sports calendar.  But, contrary to the name, the Wild Banshee is a creature of habit.  So here comes the weekly update.

The Week That Was:

NBA:  As I type this, the NBA draft is under way.  With the first pick in the draft, the New Orleans Hornets selected Anthony Davis from the University of Kentucky.  This pick carried about as much suspense as waiting to see if the sun will rise in the East again tomorrow.  Aside from Anthony Davis, none of these young guys better get too excited about the city that drafted them.  No trades can officially take place in the NBA until this weekend, so it's hard to know who will really end up where once all the chips fall and trades can be finalized.

Nadal suffers the agony of defeat.  (Getty Images)
Wimbledon:  The 3rd Grand Slam event of the year is underway.  Only two rounds are in the books, but two of the biggest names in tennis have already been eliminated.   In the ladies draw, Venus Williams was knocked out in the first round.   Williams, a 5-time Wimbledon champion, was beaten in straight sets by Elena Visnina.  Although there is a great fame disparity between the two, this was not really a stunning upset.  Venus Williams is now 32 years old.  She's a virtual Methuselah in the tennis world.  Williams has also been struggling with a series of injuries and a recently diagnosed auto-immune disorder.

The real shocker came on the gentlemen's side of the draw.  Rafael Nadal was beaten in the second round by Lukas Rosol.  Nadal is in the peak of his career, and earlier this month, he won his 11th Grand Slam title at the French Open.  Today he was beaten by the 100th ranked player in the world.  The big winner in all of this is likely to be Andy Murray.  Now that Nadal is knocked out of Murray's side of the draw, the path is cleared for the Scottsman to make a run to the finals at the All England Club.

The Week Ahead:  After what I consider to be a week off for road racing, NASCAR will be under the lights this weekend in Kentucky.  Other than that, the featured sporting events of the week ahead will be croquet tournaments and corn hole matches at 4th of July cookouts.

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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Mid Month Rant

Due to an outpouring of concern from listeners, I squeezed in a bonus episode of the Banshee Rant for June.

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Friday, June 22, 2012

This Week in Sports: June 22, 2012

I try to get this column posted on Thursday nights, but it seemed silly to post a weekly recap just minutes before Game 5 of the NBA Finals was set to tip off.  So, now that it's Friday ... here it is.

The Week That Was:  The third week of June brought us one last big hurrah for sports before we head into the dog days of summer.

U.S. Open:  Last weekend, the world's best golfers gathered at the Olympic Club in San Francisco to compete in the U.S. Open.  The USGA prides itself on putting the golfers through the sternest test the game can offer.  At the end of four days of competition, not one single player was under par.  Webb Simpson won the championship with a score of +1 for the tournament.  Webb Simpson may not be a household name, but it should not be too shocking that the Wake Forest grad made a strong showing.  Simpson came into the tournament ranked #14 in the World Golf Rankings and finished last season ranked at #10.  Simpson joined Bubba Watson as the second major winner in 2012.  That is not the only bond the two men share.  Simpson and Watson have been friends for several years.  They have previously played as partners in the President's Cup, and they attend the same Bible study on the tour.

NBA:  On Thursday night, the King finally got his ring.  Okay, "finally" might not really be fair to say about a man who is only 27 years-old.  When the world first watched LeBron James play ball as a high school kid, it seemed inevitable that he would win multiple NBA championships.  But it took a while for King James to win his first title.  Despite what Wild Banshee predicted about the series, the Miami Heat showed the world that in 2012, they were the best team in the NBA.  And, despite immense pressure and intense scrutiny, LeBron James was the primary reason for their success.  The Heat stole home court advantage away from the Oklahoma City Thunder when they split the first two games in OKC.  The Heat then won three consecutive games on their home floor to wrap up the series in just five games.

NASCAR:  The June race in Michigan would not normally make it into a weekly highlight column.  But this race was different because Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was the winner.  It had been four years since NASCAR's most popular driver had last been to victory lane.  I am not going to pretend to be impartial about this.  There was much rejoicing in the Banshee Lair when Junior took the checkered flag.  And there was much rejoicing throughout NASCAR because no name moves the needle for the sport more than Earnhardt.

The Week Ahead:  NASCAR heads west to the road course in Sonoma, CA.  The NHL and the NBA will both hold their drafts this week.  The fortnight at Wimbledon begins on June 25.  And Olympic qualifying will be going on all week.  I'm not going to lie.  I do not have any of these events circled on my calendar as must-see TV.  But, the beauty of sports is that you just never know when something special will happen, so there will certainly be events worthy of a recap by the time I post this column next week.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Temper Temper: Sports Tantrums of Spring

It's time for a change of seasons.  You know what that means.  It's time for Banshee Blog to flood your senses with the worst displays of self-control the sports world had to offer over the last three months. Spring may be a time for flowers and baby animals.  But, in the sports world, the season of new beginnings brought us some incredible displays of bad temper.  Without further ado ... Temper, Temper: Spring Edition.

1.  Ubaldo Jimenez Makes Business Personal.  I knew baseball would provide some good fodder for the recurring Temper, Temper feature.  I did not expect the sparks to start flying even before the season started.  On April 1, the Cleveland Indians played the Colorado Rockies in a spring training game.  Ubaldo Jimenez made the start for the Indians.  To understand what you are about to see, you need a little background.  Ubaldo Jimenez played for the Rockies for the first five years of his career.  In 2010, Jimenez threw the first no-hitter in Rockies' history.  Jimenez also started the All Star game for the National League that year.  At the end of the 2010 season, the Rockies gave a lucrative contract extension to shortstop and fellow All Star, Troy Tulowitzki.   Jimenez was not offered an extension and was reportedly irked at the perceived slight.  Midway through 2011, Jimenez was traded to the Cleveland Indians for a bunch of guys that only Buster Olney has ever heard of.  Jimenez finally got to face his former teamates during spring training this year.  And, of course, Jimenez did the only logical thing and fired a rock-hard sphere directly into Tulowitzki's elbow.

2. World Peace on Earth Day.  The irony of all this made it mandatory content for this post.  First of all, we have a man who has named himself Metta World Peace throwing a haymaker of an elbow at an unsuspecting James Harden.  For those of you who are a little more old school, Metta World Peace is the player formerly known as Ron Artest.  The same Ron Artest who was the star of the Malice in the Palace in 2004.  Second, Mr. World Peace did this on April 22 ... Earth Day.  Mr. Peace claimed on Twitter that he was just celebrating his dunk when Harden unfortunately got in his path.  Yeah, not buying that.  Not only is the wind-up ferocious, but Peace continues beating his chest after leveling Harden.  Then check out the :15 mark where Peace squares up to fight Ibaka. 

3.  Kurt Busch.  No commentary needed.

4.  Keep Your Eye on the Ball ... Not the Mic.  Last week at the U.S. Open, the Olympic Club brought the world's best golfers to their knees.  If Sergio Garcia had made the same solid contact with the ball as he did with ESPN's microphone then maybe he wouldn't have come up 20 yards short on this par 3.

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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Loyalty, Tears and the Joy of Fandom

Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania.  A Friday night in the late fall.  A seven year-old girl's breath clouded in front of her face as she chanted.  De-fense, clap clap.  De-fense, clap, clap.  Her fingers were numb from cold even inside her knit gloves.  Her father chanted and clapped beside her before they both erupted in boisterous cheers.  Their team completed a defensive stand and sent their punt return team on the field.  The North Schuylkill Spartans were about to get the ball back against the arch rival Mount Carmel Red Tornadoes with just enough time for a game-winning drive.  But joy turned to sadness for the father and daughter as the Spartans' most sure-handed player dropped to his knees and let the punt slip between his hands.  The Red Tornadoes recovered the muffed punt and won for what seemed like 147th consecutive time.
Pennsylvania high school football
North Schuylkill vs. Mount Carmel
Another year.  Same stadium.  Same little girl.  This time she was with her grandfather.  And this time their Spartans kneeled to run out the clock and capture a victory against the Red Tornadoes.  The home team turned off the scoreboard immediately after the clock hit 0:00.  But the fans who waited their whole lives to see a victory like this knew the score.  Old men and young children celebrated in the dark long after the final gun sounded.

That all happened 25 years ago, but it still feels like it was yesterday.  As you read those paragraphs, I'm sure many of you were reminded of similar moments in your own lives.  Moments with family and friends and the teams you loved.  For many, a new moment was added to the memory banks on Sunday.  Dale Earnhardt, Jr., the most beloved driver in NASCAR, won his first race in 4 years.  No, it was not the Sprint Cup Championship.  It wasn't even the Daytona 500.  Nonetheless, grown men cried in living rooms, bars and man caves around the country as the #88 took the checkered flag.  I know this for a fact.

NASCAR celebration
Junior's pitt crew celebrates
All true fans feel to a certain degree like they are a part of the team.  But perhaps more than any other fan base, the members of Junior Nation feel like they are a part of Junior's family.  And why not?  They've watched him grow up.  They've known him since he was a just a kid on the circuit, wearing his Budweiser cap backwards.  They were there when his father died at Daytona in 2001, and they saw him win on that same track just six months later.  They watched Junior struggle in the wake of Senior's death and ultimately leave the organization that bears his name.  They stuck with him while his Hendrick teammates won championships and the media scrutiny grew.  And today, those fans watched as Junior, now a grown man, broke the longest winless drought of his career.  None of this was lost on Dale.  Immediately after climbing from his Chevy, Dale thanked his fans for sticking with him and virtually apologized for making them wait so long.

You don't have to be a fan of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to understand why Sunday was special.  You don't have to be a NASCAR fan.  Really, you don't have to be a fan at all.  Shared sadness and shared joy are a universal part of the human experience.  It's the disappointments that make the victories sweeter.  It's the investment of time and emotion that make success so rewarding.  That little girl in the bleachers twenty-five years ago felt the same flood of emotions on Sunday as she shared Dale's victory with her family and friends.  That little girl, now a grown woman, is just one of thousands who felt those feelings.  And that is why we love sports.

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

NBA Finals Prediction

I admit that this post is a little late.  Game One is already in the books.  But, nothing that happened in that back and forth battle changed what I think will happen in this series.  Before I get to the official Banshee Blog prediction, I have some commentary and a little analysis.

Thoughts:  The NBA is better now than it has been at any time since Michael Jordan retired.  The regular season was exciting.  The early rounds of the playoffs were compelling.  And, now things will reach a crescendo as two evenly matched teams face each other in the Finals.  Great sports drama is born from a clash of culture and style.  No two NBA teams could provide a more stark contrast than the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder.  Miami has South Beach and the club scene.  OKC has the Cowboy Hall of Fame.  Miami has a celebrity-filled and late-arriving fan base.  OKC has the loudest and least famous crowd in the league.  Miami has three superstars who took advantage of free agency to join forces and win a championship in a glitzy city.  OKC has two superstars who skipped free agency to stay together and bring a championship to a cowtown.  Truth be told, both teams are comprised of primarily good and decent men.  But, there is a clear difference in the images they've chosen.

Analysis:  LeBron James is the best player on the planet, and he plays for the Miami Heat.  At 6'8", he can legitimately play four of the five positions on the court.  James is built like a bull but moves like a cheetah.  He is truly an amazing physical specimen.  Kevin Durant is the second-best player in the world, and he plays for the Thunder.  If this was a one-on-one competition, I am confident that James would easily win a best-of-seven series.  But this is not a one-on-one competition.  Even though basketball can be dominated by a single player more than any other major sport, it is still a team game.  And, Oklahoma City has the better team.

The Miami Heat are a fabulous defensive squad.  They play hard, and they take pride in it.  So, it might seem counter-intuitive, but it is at the defensive end that the Thunder have the real edge.  Not necessarily in terms of skill or effort.  But, in terms of match-ups.  If the Heat have any chance to slow down Durant, they must have LeBron James guard him the entire game.  But that takes a lot of energy.  Energy that James will need to hit clutch jumpers in the 4th quarter.  Guarding the league's top scorer also puts James at risk of getting into foul trouble that could limit his playing time.  On the other hand, the Thunder have several players who can take turns guarding LeBron James.  No one can actually stop LeBron, but everyone in OKC's starting lineup besides Kendrick Perkins can do a credible job guarding him for a possession or two.  But, the Thunder's best perimeter defender is Thabo Sefalosha.  At 6'7", Sefalosha matches up physically with James as well as anyone can.  And while Sefalosha is a capable scorer, the Thunder can survive a 4th quarter where he is limited by fatigue or foul trouble.

Banshee Prediction:  LeBron James will put on an extraordinary show.  At the end of this series, he will have nothing to apologize for.  But, at the end of the series, the NBA will have a new mega star in Kevin Durant when his Thunder win the championship on their home court in Game 6.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

This Week in Sports: June 13, 2012

I offer my humble apologies.  Vacations, travel and grown-up responsibilities have kept me away from the weekly update for far too long.  And, it's been a big couple of weeks.  So, without further ado, let's get to it.

The Week That Was:  Holy smokes, it was a busy week!  The Stanley Cup was awarded.  The King got a step closer to the NBA crown.  The last leg of the Triple Crown was run.  And the Pac Man lost the title ... sort of.

NHL:  On Monday night, the Los Angeles Kings won their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.  The Kings were the 8th seed in the Western Conference and cruised through to the Stanley Cup Finals.  The Kings then jumped out to a 3-1 lead over the New Jersey Devils.  The Devils showed heart when they staved off elimination in Game 4 in LA.  The Devils then made the series interesting when they won Game 5 at home to make the series 3-2.  But then the Kings exploded for a 6-1 win in Game 6 to capture the Lord Stanley's Cup on their home ice.

NBA:  An entire round of the NBA playoffs took place since I last published this column.  The Eastern and Western Conference Finals were both epic for their own reasons.  The Oklahoma City Thunder captured the West.  The Thunder are a very young team, but they battled their way through three veteran teams on the way to the Finals.  They had to defeat the Mavericks, the Lakers and the Spurs.  And the Thunder only lost three games in those three rounds.  In the East, LeBron James willed his Miami Heat past the Boston Celtics in an epic 7-game series.  So, the Finals will feature Kevin Durant, the reigning scoring champ, against LeBron James, the reigning MVP.  Game 1 took place last night in Oklahoma City.  The Thunder captured the first game despite a solid 30-point effort from LeBron James.

The Belmont Stakes:  The 144th running of the Belmont Stakes had a chance to be one of the most memorable horse races of the century.  I'll Have Another had the look of a horse poised to capture the first Triple Crown since 1978.  Then, the day before the race, a sore tendon caused I'll Have Another to be scratched from the race.  And so, what would have been appointment television in the sports world, became an afterthought on a busy Saturday.  But, those who did tune in to the Belmont, were treated to a wonderful race.  Union Rags made an electrifying run up the rail to beat Paynter by a head at the wire.

Boxing:  Saturday was a huge sports day.  After the Belmont and a Game 7 in the NBA, there was a title fight in Los Vegas.  And not just any title fight.  The wildly popular Manny Pacquiao defended his many title belts against an undefeated American named Timothy Bradley.  Everyone who watched the fight said that Pacquiao controlled the entire match.  Well ... everyone, that is, besides the two ringside judges who awarded a split decision to Bradley.  And, really, those two are the only people whose opinions mattered.  As usual, the Pac Man accepted the decision with poise and class.  The media, celebrities on Twitter and the gamblers that lost reacted a little more harshly.  The WBO is going to conduct a pseudo investigation into the proper scoring of the fight, but it's unlikely that any real action will follow.  This controversy will put to a test the old adage that "any publicity is good publicity."

The Week Ahead:  We're headed into the summer doldrums for sports.  But, this week, golf and basketball will keep sports fans in good spirits.

NBA:  The NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder are underway.  The casual fan may be surprised to know that OKC is actually favored over Miami in this series.  The Thunder won Game 1 on their home court.  Game 2 will also be played in Oklahoma City on Thursday night.  Then the series will shift to Miami for the next three games.  The 2-3-2 format of the NBA finals make it imparative that the Heat steal Game 2.  If not, they have no chance of clinching the series at home and would almost certainly be forced to win at least one elimination game on the road in Game 6 or 7.  All games will be broadcast in prime time on ABC.

The U.S. Open:  The U.S. Open is the 2nd major on the golf calendar.  But, it's Wild Banshee's favorite.  Sure, the Masters has the most pristine grounds.  And the British Open has its history and weather.  But, the U.S. Open is always played on a course that brings the greatest players in the world to their knees.  The rough and pin placements are set up in such a way that we get to see our heroes put snowmen on their cards.  For this reason, the U.S. Open is every bit is as much a mental test as it is a physical test.  The 112th U.S. Open will be played this week at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, CA.  Even though it has been 4 years since we last heard Tiger's roar in a major championship, he is the Vegas favorite to win this weekend.  The first round begins on Thursday.  During the 4-day event, there will be 32 hours of television coverage on ESPN and NBC.

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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Congratulations, Justin Combs!

Back in November, Justin Combs announced that he would be playing his college football at UCLA.  Justin Combs is a 5'9", 175 pound defensive back from Iona Prep in New Rochelle, NY.  Combs also played some quarterback during his team's high school playoff run, and he graduated with a 3.75 GPA.  Even though UCLA's coaching situation was in flux at the time, Combs chose UCLA over Iowa, Illinois, Virginia and West Virginia.  As usual, Combs will be receiving a full scholarship from UCLA, and he recently headed out to LA to join the team for the summer.  The only thing that is unusual about this story is that Justin Combs has a famous father ... Sean Combs ... aka P. Diddy ... aka Puff Daddy.

Unless you are an avid UCLA Bruins fan or log on to five times a day, Combs' recruitment process was not much of a story for most of this year.  All that changed last week when CNN raised the subject on their website.  In a passive aggressive column, CNN stated that "some" thought it was unseemly that the son of a wealthy hip-hop mogul would be given a $54,000 scholarship.  The article suggested that "some" thought that young Combs should feel some moral and social obligation that would cause him to turn down the scholarship.  Then talking heads and the sports blogosphere filled up with Justin Combs chatter.

After taking a few days to collect my thoughts, Wild Banshee will now join the Combs cacophony.  And be forewarned ... this may turn into a rant.

Justin Combs should be congratulated.  Period.  There should be no controversy ... unless you're a Bruins' alumn who thinks that 5'9 is too small to play cornerback in the Pac 12.

If people (read CNN and you, too, Bill O'Reilly) want to debate whether athletic scholarships should exist at all at state schools, then that is a whole separate topic.  But the idea that Justin Combs should not be treated like the rest of his teammates simply because his family is wealthy is absurd.

First of all, criticism of UCLA for offering Combs a scholarship shows a total lack of understanding of how college football works.  The scholarship process is the means by which a university shows their commitment to a player.  College football players give up a lot of rights (transfer freedom, summer job freedoms, etc.).  Division 1 college football programs are limited to giving out 85 scholarships.  When a school offers one of those precious 85 slots to a player, that demonstrates that the team is serious about its intention to develop the player and use his talents on the field.  If UCLA had refused to offer Combs one of it's allotted scholarships, it's quite likely he would have chosen to play at another institution.  This would not have resulted in Combs paying for school.  This would simply have resulted in Combs receiving a free education in Iowa City, Iowa or Morgantown, WV.

Secondly, Justin Combs is not the first person from a wealthy family to earn an athletic scholarship at a state university.  Tyler Hansbrough is just the first name that came to my mind.  Tyler Hansbrough's father was a surgeon in Missouri.  Surely the Hansbrough family could have afforded college.  Should North Carolina have told Tyler that he should have been a walk-on?  If so, where does one draw the wealth line?  Should the standard be that any family who could have scraped together the funds to send Johnny to college be denied a scholarship?  And should that hypothetical family be made to feel guilty about accepting a scholarship?

A third point that I cannot ignore is that athletic scholarships do not come out of the same fund that need based scholarships come from.  Make no mistake about it, if Justin Combs had not gotten that football scholarship, it was not going to a hungry young girl from the barrio.  That football scholarship was going to go to some other well-fed athlete that can run the forty yard dash in less than 4.5 seconds.

Okay, I'm done with this rant.  I just want to conclude by wishing Mr. Combs the best of luck in his future on and off the field.  And I want to tell all the critics out there to look hard in the mirror and see if there isn't a bit of envy coloring their views.

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Sunday, June 3, 2012

Sports Fashionista

This time of the year is kind of slow in terms of noteworthy uniforms.  So, this edition of the Sports Fashionista will will be kind of potpourri of image choices.

Luke Scott sporting the Wolverine Look

Catching Some Rays.  The Tampa Bay Rays have one of the best records in baseball, but their designated hitter certainly does not have one of the best looks in baseball.  Luke Scott has been sporting some weird facial hair this season.  I'm not sure if this is a tribute to General Ambrose Burnside from the Civil War or Wolverine from X-Men.  Either way, this look cannot help garner endorsement deals.

Russell Westbrook

Did I Do That?  No, that's not Steve Urkel giving a post game interview.  It is the Oklahoma City Thunder's all-star point guard Russell Westbrook.  Following a playoff victory over the Lakers on May 15, Westbrook went to the podium wearing a shirt that featured fishing tackle and glasses that did not feature any lenses.  This outfit generated lots of conversation on sports talk shows and received mixed reviews.  Who says OKC is not a fashion center?

Rickie Fowler at the TPC

Colorful Character.  On May 6, Rickie Fowler won his first PGA tournament.  But it wasn't just the 23 year-old's play on the course that turned heads.  It was also his fashion sense.  Even before this victory, Fowler had been drawing plenty of attention for his sponsor Puma with his bright color schemes and flat-brimmed hat. As a former Oklahoma State Cowboy, Fowler has made it his tradition to wear monochromatic orange on Sundays.  I like the whole "true to your school" concept.  But, the recent addition of the Death Wish facial hair gives me some pause.

(Geoff Burke/Getty Images)

It's a Jungle Out There.  NASCAR fashion is driven by its sponsors.  This week at Dover, Jimmie Johnson took an unusual sponsor to victory lane.  The primary sponsor on the #48 car was the animated movie Madagascar 3.  NASCAR drivers are very skilled at bringing media attention to their sponsors, but Johnson went above and beyond the call of duty when he donned this wig in victory lane.

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Friday, June 1, 2012

Banshee Rant: June Edition

This month's Banshee Rant features a question and answer session and a co-host.  Check it out to find out what sport Wild Banshee would kick out of the summer Olympics, whether Wild Banshee would bet on NASCAR and what sports figure Wild Banshee would marry ... and it's no one you would guess.