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Monday, December 31, 2012

Temper Temper: Best Sports Tantrums of 2012

Throughout the year, I have been gathering the best sports temper tantrums of each season on the calendar and compiling them in quarterly posts.  Well, today is the last day of 2012, so I put together a list of my favorite five temper tantrums from the 2012 sports year.  This list is so good that Meta World Peace's crushing elbow on Earth Day didn't even make the list.  And neither did the opening face off playoff fight between the Rangers and the Devils.  So, without further ado ...

#5.  Who do you think you are?  I am!  I'll be honest.  I'm not really sure if this is a temper tantrum or just a mental breakdown.  But, it involved a professional bowler, so it definitely makes the 2012 highlights.  The Iceman Pete Weber won the PBA's U.S. Open on February 26, 2012.  This was his 5th title.  And this is how he "celebrated."  

#4.  Kicking and Screaming.  Thanks to John McEnroe, tennis has long had a reputation for spoiled brat outbursts.  But, David Nalbandian took things to a whole new level back in June when he bloodied a line judge at the Aegon Championships at Queens.

#3.  Kurt Busch being Kurt Busch.  Back in the Spring, NASCAR had put Kurt Busch on probation.  After a Nationwide race at Dover in June, Kurt comments on how the sanctions have impacted him.

#2.  Minor League Game ... Major League Meltdown.  Clearly, the best baseball in America is played in the Major Leagues.  But, the minor leagues have given us some of the best baseball tantrums of all time.  Joe Mikulik, manager of the single A Asheville Tourists made name for himself back in 2006 with an epic tantrum.  Mikulik was back at it again this July when he lost control in a game against the Charleston River Dogs.  The best part about this video is the play-by-play commentary from the local news anchors.

#1.  Pit Road Brawl.  For the worst display of sportsmanship and self-control of 2012, we return to NASCAR.  In the next-to-last race of the season, Jeff Gordon took out a season's worth of frustration with Clint Bowyer by intentionally wrecking him with just two laps to go in the race.  That outrageous decision caused Clint Bowyer's team to seek some street justice on pit road.  The result was a brawl in the garage area.  Due to the access that NASCAR fans and media have to the pit area, there were a plethora of live tweets and pictures of the incident as it developed.  Apparently, Jeff Gordon was saved from harm when his own pit crew pinned him up against a tool box and surrounded him there.  And, according to reports, a nearby police officer kept this incident from getting really out of hand when he stopped two of the combatants from throwing a tire they had picked up.  All of this happened before Clint Bowyer got out of his car and sprinted to Gordon's hauler in hopes of settling things mano y mano.  Unfortunately, my favorite part of the whole chain of events is not on this video.  On the live TV broadcast, ESPN cut to commercial immediately after these events.  The commercial that aired was an ad for 5-Hour Energy.  In that commercial, Clint Bowyer is seen stalking through the woods in camouflage with a compound bow.  Classic timing.

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Saturday, December 29, 2012

This Week in Sports: December 27, 2012

Christmas has come and gone.  2012 is drawing to a close, and 2013 is just around the corner.  And, as usual, the holiday season is a sports extravaganza.

The Week That Was:  It's still early in the college basketball season and the best bowl games are yet to come.  So, pro sports led the way this past week.
(Jason Cohn/Reuters)

NFL:  Week 16 is in the books.  In the AFC, the playoff picture is pretty well set.  New England clinched their fourth straight AFC East title way back on December 2.  The Denver Broncos also clinched the AFC West that same day.  The Houston Texans clinched the AFC South on December 16 with a win at home over the surprising Indianapolis Colts.  The Ravens were the last team in the AFC to clinch their division.  Baltimore clinched the AFC North by hammering the Super Bowl champion New York Giants on Sunday by a score of 33-14.  That loss eliminated the Giants from any chance of winning the NFC East.  Both AFC wild card berths were also locked up this Sunday.  Despite losing to the Texans the week before, the Colts locked up a wild card spot this weekend by defeating the Kansas City Chiefs.  That left one wild card spot for either the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Cincinnati BengaRls.  Those two teams played each other this weekend in Pittsburgh.  With less than a minute to go in the game, the score was tied 10-10.  The Steelers had the ball in their own half of the field.  And, for the second week in a row, Ben Roethlisberger threw a critical, late-game interception.  The Bengals then threw one pass to move the ball into field goal range and kicked a last-second field goal to win the game 13-10.

In the NFC, things are a little more unsettled.  After beating the Lions 31-18 on Saturday night, the Falcons clinched the NFC South and home field advantage throughout the playoffs with a record of 13-2.  The Green Bay Packers clinched the NFC North on December 16 with a 21-13 victory over the Bears.  The remaining two divisions are yet to be decided.  In the NFC East, both the Giants and the Cowboys lost this weekend while the Redskins won.  That left the 9-6 Redskins in sole possession of first place in the division.  The Giants loss put their playoff hopes in dire straits.  However, the Cowboys still control their own destiny since they play the Redskins in the final game of the year.  The top two teams in the NFC West faced off against each other on Sunday night when the San Francisco 49ers traveled to Seattle to play the Seahawks.  The Seahawks proved that they can roll up the points even against one of the league's best defenses as they romped over the Niners by a score of 42-13.  Both the Niners and the Seahawks have already clinched playoff berths, but that win brought the Seahawks within a half game of the Niners for the top spot in the division.

(Paul Beaty/AP)
NBA:  Last year, due to a lockout, the NBA season began on Christmas day.  This year, the season got started back in the fall, but many people look at Christmas as the real start of the season.  The NBA took advantage of having the sports stage to themselves and gave us an impressive slate of games.  The most anticipated matchup of the day was a rematch of last year's NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder.  Once again, it was the Heat who came out on top with a 103-97 victory on their home floor.  Out on the west coast, the Lakers welcomed Steve Nash back to the lineup and beat the red-hot New York Knicks by a score of 100-94.  Perhaps the most surprising score of the day was in Chicago.  Jeremy Lin took his Houston Rockets to the Windy City and trounced the Bulls 120-97.

The Week Ahead:  The marquis college bowl games are finally coming in the week ahead.  But first, the NFL wraps up its regular season.

NFL:  We shall start this week's preview in the AFC where things are pretty simple.  All the playoff berths are clinched.  It's just seeding and home field that are left to be decided in the last week of the season.  If the Houston Texans beat the Indianapolis Colts, then the Texans will be the #1 seed and the road to the Super Bowl will run through Houston.  That game also has extra importance because it will also mark the return of Colts' head coach Chuck Pagano after his season-long battle with cancer.  That game will air on CBS at 1:00 p.m. EST.  If the Denver Broncos win their game against Kansas City then they will clinch a first round bye.  That game will air on CBS at 4:25 EST.  The New England Patriots also still have a chance to grab home field throughout the playoffs if they beat the Dolphins.  But that can only happen if the Broncos and the Texans both lose.  That game will be shown on CBS at 4:25 EST.

(Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
In the NFC, there are many important games.  Unlike the AFC, it's not just the seeds that will be settled this weekend.  Several of the playoff berths themselves are still up for grabs.  As it stands right now, Atlanta and Green Bay have both clinched their divisions.  Either the Niners or the Seahawks will win the NFC West, and the other will clinch a wild card berth.  The Minnesota Vikings cannot win their division, but they have the inside track to the second wild card slot.  The Vikings will host the Packers on Sunday.  If the Vikings win then they are in the playoffs.  If the Vikings lose, they are not automatically eliminated, but they would need a complicated combination of other things to fall into place.  The Vikings and the Packers will be shown on FOX at 4:25 p.m. EST.  Since that game is late in the day, both the Giants and the Bears can keep their playoff hopes alive by winning in their 1:00 p.m. games.  The Giants will host the Eagles.  The Bears will visit the Lions.  Both games will air on FOX.  But the biggest game of the weekend will be the last game of the regular season when the Dallas Cowboys travel to the nation's capital to play the Washington Redskins.  The winner of the game wins the NFC East and will host a first round playoff game.  If the Cowboys lose, they are eliminated.  The same is likely true for the Redskins.  NBC used their flex scheduling privileges to move this game into primetime on Sunday night at 8:20 p.m. EST.

College Football:  Bowl games have already been underway for about two weeks.  New Years Day will mark the start of the BCS bowls.  But before that, there are two games that stand out from the rest of the pre-New Years schedule.  On Saturday, December 29, #23 Texas will play #13 Oregon State in San Antonio at the Valero Alamo Bowl.  This game features a match-up between the Big 12 and the PAC-12.  That game will air on ESPN at 6:45 p.m. EST.  On New Years Eve, #8 LSU will play #13 Clemson in Atlanta in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.  The ACC did not have a lot to brag about as a conference this season.  This matchup will go a long way toward measuring the true difference in depth between the ACC and the SEC.  That game will be shown on ESPN at 7:30 p.m. EST.

(Andrew Weber/US Presswire)
On New Years Day, six bowl games will be played.  The Rose Bowl will be the first of the BCS games on that day.  In that game, the Wisconsin Badgers will represent the Big 10, and #6 Stanford will represent the PAC-12.  Wisconsin reached the game by virtue of winning the Big 10 Championship game against Nebraska.  However, Wisconsin was only in that championship game because Ohio State and Penn State were not eligible for post season play.  As a result, Stanford is a significant favorite in the game.  The Rose Bowl will be shown on ESPN at 5:00 p.m. EST.  The final game of the day is the game that intrigues me the most of all the bowls besides the National Championship Game.  #12 Florida State will play #15 Northern Illinois in the Fed-Ex Orange Bowl.  Florida State comes into the game with a record of 11-2.  The Seminoles earned a BCS berth as the champion of the beleaguered ACC.  The Northern Illinois Huskies have a record of 12-1 and are the MAC champions.  The MAC is not an automatic qualifier.  In order to maintain any pride through the offseason, the ACC really needs Florida State to flex its muscles on the national stage in the Orange Bowl.  This game will be played at 8:30 p.m. EST and will be shown on ESPN.

After New Years Day, there will be six more bowl games left to be played, including the Sugar Bowl, the Fiesta Bowl and the BCS National Championship game.  Hopefully, Banshee Sports will be publishing a midweek, college football update to get you ready for those games.

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Temper Temper: Sports Tantrums of Fall

It's December 20, 2012.  That means it's the last day of fall.  And, if the Mayans are right, it could also be the last day of your life.  If that's true, then it's important to get in one last installment of the recurring feature, "Temper Temper."

Fight Night in Boston.  Thanks to his very public marriage to and divorce from Kim Kardashian, Kris Humprhies of the Brooklyn Nets is known more as a lover than a fighter.  But on November 28, Humphries ends up in a brawl in Boston that spilled into the crowd.  It all starts off with Humphries giving Kevin Garnett a little extra on a hard foul.  Then little man, Rajon Rondo comes rushing into the fray and pushes Humphries out of bounds and into the fans.  My favorite part of this video is how the refs keep blowing the whistle throughout.  Like the players were going to suddenly realize the play had been blown dead and stop fighting in the crowd.

Respect My Authoritah!  Typically, fights in the sports world are between opposing teams.  At the very least, they are between players.  But, there was a breakdown in discipline on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' sidelines on December 16, 2012.  In this video, linebacker Adam Hayward gets into a pushing match with an assistant coach.  At least this particular assistant is Bryan Cox who is still quite capable of holding his own.

Save It For the Other Guys.  On December 15, the Arizona Wildcats played the Nevada Wolfpack in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl.  Although Arizona won the game, 49-48 their defense didn't really participate in the game.  Maybe that is because their players used up all their hits on each other.  Unlike the sideline battle above, this goes beyond just a little pushing and shoving.  Tevin Hood and Cody Ippolito guys are throwing haymakers.

Pit Road Brawl.  When you have the same guys trading paint with each other every weekend over the course of a 36-race schedule, there are bound to be some raw nerves.  But things really boiled over in NASCAR's penultimate race at Phoenix.  Jeff Gordon took out a season's worth of frustration with Clint Bowyer by intentionally wrecking him with just two laps to go in the race.  That outrageous decision caused Clint Bowyer's team to seek some street justice on pit road.  The result was a brawl in the garage area.  Due to the access that NASCAR fans and media have to the pit area, there were a plethora of live tweets and pictures of the incident as it developed.  Apparently, Jeff Gordon was saved from harm when his own pit crew pinned him up against a tool box and surrounded him there.  And, according to reports, a nearby police officer kept this incident from getting really out of hand when he stopped two of the combatants from throwing a tire they had picked up.  All of this happened before Clint Bowyer got out of his car and sprinted to Gordon's hauler in hopes of settling things mano y mano.  Unfortunately, my favorite part of the whole chain of events is not on this video.  On the live TV broadcast, ESPN cut to commercial immediately after these events.  The commercial that aired was an ad for 5-Hour Energy.  In that commercial, Clint Bowyer is seen stalking through the woods in cammo with a compound bow.  Classic timing.

Check back later this month when Banshee Sports posts its five favorite tantrum of 2012.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Everything In It's Place

This fall, the United States held its 54th presidential election.  But, it was the first election held during the Twitter era.  As such, during every debate and on election night, sports fans were subjected to 140 characters worth of political opinions from athletes and sports writers.  This resulted in mass complaining and mass unfollowing.  That reaction led to sports figures shouting back that they are entitled to their opinions.  They further shouted that those who don't want their opinions on their Twitter feeds are just too shallow and intolerant to appreciate what they have to say.

On Saturday, December 1, 2012, a linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs shot and killed the mother of his child before shooting and killing himself in front of Chiefs officials.  Because this story involved a murder and suicide committed by a football player, during the season and on team property, this was understandably reported by sports media outlets.  But, the next day, Bob Costas took advantage of the situation and his bully pulpit to turn his halftime segment during NBC's Sunday Night Football broadcast into a monologue on the need for more gun control laws.  To be expected, this did not sit well with many gun-owning football fans across the country.  And predictably, the sports media establishment rallied behind Costas and his freedom of speech.

On December 17, 2012, Syracuse defeated Detroit on the basketball court.  As a result, Jim Boeheim became the third coach in Division I men's basketball history to win 900 games.  As a result, Boeheim was a popular guest on the sports talk shows the following day.  Boeheim started the morning on ESPN's popular TV/radio show Mike and Mike in the Morning.  Later in the day, Boeheim was on the Dan Patrick Show on NBC Sports.  On both occasions, the basketball coach used the platform to discuss gun legislation in the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, CT.  Although Boeheim's opinions are clearly heartfelt and possibly well-informed, the timing and venue of his comments left many in the audience feeling uneasy.  And once again, those uneasy folks were labeled as close-minded and unsophisticated by others with widespread access to the public.

But judgements as to the mental acuity or the complexity of thought of those who prefer not to mix their sports and politics is simply unfair.  It's not that these uneasy fans do not think sports personalities are prohibited from having opinions about social issues.  Rather, these fans understand two things.  First, sports are a diversion from real life.  Second, and more importantly, these fans know that everything has a place.  In our increasingly compartmentalized society, we look to different people for different information.

This principle doesn't just apply to hot button political issues and elections.  Let me run you through a few scenarios.  If you show up to a meeting with your financial advisor, do you want him to hand you a brochure about your mutual fund's performance or give you a copy of his March Madness bracket?  When you sit in a church pew, do you want the minister to preach from the Word or do you want them to compare and contrast the 3-4 and 4-3 defensive schemes?  When you turn on CNN, do you want Soledad O'Brien to talk about the turmoil in Egypt or to talk about the pros and cons of the BCS?  The answers to those questions are obvious.  Likewise, sports fans do not turn on sports shows in order to hear political and social debates.

And lest you are thinking that I, the Wild Banshee, am a one dimensional, vapid and sheltered individual, I will give you a rare glimpse behind the curtain.  I have a degree in political science.  And, I have stood in a yard as flies swarmed around a dead body that was face down with bullet holes in its head.  When we turned the body over, some of those bullets were mushroomed into the ground.  So, I actually do know a thing or two about gun violence.  I am interested in the gun legislation debate.  But, I am not interested in having that debate at halftime of a Cowboys game or in the midst of an early morning college basketball discussion.

I realize that even venturing into this topic on a sports blog is somewhat hypocritical, but I've struggled for months to put my finger on what has been making me uneasy about the sports and political dialogue over the past few months.  And, since I pay for this domain name, I didn't want to let these thoughts just slip away.  Come back later in the week and we'll be back to light-hearted sports commentary.

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

This Week in Sports: December 14, 2012

The Week That Was:  In December, it is hard to find something more important in the sports world than NFL football, but this week gave us a stunning result in the world of boxing.

(Getty Images)
Boxing:  On Saturday night, Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez faced off against each other for the fourth time in their careers.  Officially, Pacquiao had one two of the three previous bouts.  The other was officially ruled a draw.  But controversy and dispute surrounded all three previous fights.  Pacquiao-Marquez IV was televised on HBO pay-per-view, and the folks who shelled out the $65 to watch the fight certainly got their money's worth.  This time around, Marquez took the decision out of the judge's hands when he delivered a thundering right hand that knocked the Pacman out cold in the sixth round.  Both men had been knocked down earlier in the fight.  Most observers had Pacquiao ahead on the scorecards heading into the sixth round.  And it was Pacman who was turning up the pressure in an attempt to finish off Marquez before the bell sounded to end the sixth round.  And then ... BANG!  Marquez landed one of the most punishing single punches I have ever seen.  Pacquiao fell face down like a sack of rotten potatoes and was motionless for several minutes before he was able to get onto a stool in his corner.  And with that, the future of the world's most popular fighter is in serious doubt.

Heisman:  Johnny Manziel made history on Saturday night when he became the first freshman to win the Heisman trophy.  Typically, the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City, the organization that awards the Heisman, invites five finalists to attend the awards ceremony,  This year, only three finalists were in attendance.  The third place finisher was Colin Klein, quarterback for the Kansas State Wildcats.  The runner-up this year was Manti Te'o, a linebacker and pure defensive player from Notre Dame.  Both Te'o and Klein are seniors.  But, it was the freshman quarterback from Texas A&M that won college football's most prestigious award.

(Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
NFL:  With only a few games left on the NFL schedule, every game takes on do-or-die importance for the teams fighting for a playoff berth.  In the NFC, the Chicago Bears relinquished their spot atop the NFC North by losing to the Vikings.  Meanwhile, almost everyone else in contention in the NFC won this week.  At the end of Week 14, the division leaders in the NFC are the New York Giants, the Atlanta Falcons, the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers.  The Seahawks and the Bears hold the wild card positions with records of 8-5.  The Minnesota Vikings, Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys are hot on their heels with records of 7-6.  It should be noted that the Redskins and the Cowboys are also only one game behind the Giants for the division crown in the NFC East.

In the AFC, things are a little more clear cut.  The marquis matchup of the week was on Monday night when the 11-1 Houston Texans visited the 9-3 New England Patriots.  The Patriots thrashed the Texans 42-14.  Nonetheless, the Texans still have the AFC's best record at 11-2.  The Patriots and the Broncos have also both clinched playoff berths.  Although it's not a mathematical certainty, the Baltimore Ravens and the surprising Indianapolis Colts are both in solid playoff positions with records of 9-4.  That leaves the Steelers and the Bengals locked in a battle for the final playoff berth.  The Bengals already won their Week 15 matchup on Thursday night to move to 8-6.  The Steelers head into the week with a record of 7-6.

The Week Ahead:  Heading into mid-December, the NFL clearly takes center stage.

NFL:  In terms of the NFC playoff picture, two games jump off the schedule for Week 15.  First is the New York Giants versus the Atlanta Falcons.  The Falcons are sitting pretty at 11-2 and have already clinched their division.  The Giants are coming off a convincing route of the Saints but are barely clinging to a one-game lead over the Cowboys and the Redskins for the top spot in the NFC East.  That game will be shown on FOX at 1:00 p.m. EST.  The other pivotal NFC game this week features the the Packers at the Bears.  The Packers currently have a one-game lead over the Bears in the NFC North division.  The Bears currently have a one-game lead over the Cowboys, Vikings and Redskins for a wild card berth.  That game will also be shown by FOX at 1:00 p.m. EST.  In a cross-conference match-up, the Steelers are visiting the Cowboys.  Both teams are 7-6.  The winner is still very much in the playoff hunt while the loser is in serious trouble.  That game will be shown on CBS at 4:25 p.m. EST.  Perhaps the most anticipated game of the weekend is NBC's Sunday night matchup between the 49ers and the Patriots.  Although it will have little impact on the playoffs picture, according to many pundits, this game may very well be a Super Bowl preview.  The game will be played at New England at 8:20 p.m. EST.  NBC will broadcast the game.

College Basketball:  March Madness is still three months away.  But, for all you bracketologists out there, it's never too early to start scouting the college basketball landscape.  On Saturday afternoon, the #5 Florida Gators head out west to face the #8 Arizona Wildcats.  CBS will broadcast that game at 2:00 p.m. EST.
(Al Messerschmidt)

College Football:  The Bowl Season kicks off this weekend.  All tolled, there will be 35 bowl games played.  The first one on the schedule is the Gildan New Mexico Bowl.  That game between Arizona and Nevada will kick off on Saturday at 1:00 p.m. EST on ESPN.  The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl between Toledo and #18 Utah State will be shown on Saturday on ESPN at 4:30 p.m. EST.  On Thursday night, BYU will play San Diego State in the San Diego County Credit Union Pointsettia Bowl.  Yes, you read that correctly.  That game will be shown on ESPN at 8:00 p.m.  This week's schedule finishes off with the always thrilling Beef O'Brady's Bowl.  This year's matchup between Ball State and Central Florida will be shown on Friday night on ESPN at 8:00 p.m. EST.  Click here for a a complete, printable bowl schedule.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Cooking with Banshee: Meatballs and Sauce

I like to cook, but I don't consider myself a chef.  Most of what I do in the kitchen comes directly out of a cookbook.  So, it's rare that I post a recipe on here that I can honestly claim as being "mine."  Of course, I didn't invent the concept of spaghetti and meatballs.  But, I have made enough of my own additions and changes to the original recipe that I consider this to be my own recipe.  So, I present to you: Wild Banshee's Meatballs and Sauce.

Serves:  A lot.  Makes about 24 medium sized meatballs.

Meatball Ingredients:
1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground pork
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups plain bread crumbs
1 cup finely grated Romano cheese
2 cloves chopped garlic
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 Tbs fresh chopped parsley
1/4 cup olive oil

Meatball Directions:
Combine all ingredients besides the olive oil in a large bowl.  Mix well.  Form about 24 meatballs and place them on a platter.  The meatballs should be about the size of a golf ball.  Heat the oil over medium heat in a large skillet.  Brown the meatballs on all sides.  Don't crowd them in the pan.  It will take a few batches of frying.  Place the browned meatballs on a platter.  Set aside the pan with remaining oil and drippings.

Sauce Ingredients:
2 large onions, chopped
4 oz white mushrooms, chopped
2 cloves chopped garlic
6 oz can of tomato paste
6 oz red zinfandel wine
28 oz can of petite diced tomatoes
28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
2 1/2 cups of water
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
3 Tbs fresh chopped parsley

Sauce Directions:
Heat the oil in the pan that was used to brown the meatballs.  Add the onions, mushrooms and garlic.  Sauté over medium heat for approximately 3 minutes or until the onions start to soften.  Add tomato paste and cook for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.  Add the red zinfandel to the pan and continue to cook for another minute, stirring constantly.  Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a large stock pot, combine the cans of diced and crushed tomatoes.  Bring up to a boil then cook over medium heat for 5 minutes.  Add the water and the tomato paste mixture from the skillet.  Add the salt, pepper and parsley.  Mix thoroughly.  Add the meatballs.  Gently mix.  Make sure all the meatballs are down in the sauce but be careful not to break them up.  Bring back up to a boil.  Reduce heat and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes.  Cover and simmer for 2.5 hours.  Stir every 20 minutes.

Serving Instructions:
The traditional way to serve this meal is over al dente spaghetti.  It also makes wonderful meatball hoagies.  Place meatballs into a sub roll.  Top with mozzarella and provolone cheese.  Melt cheese under a broiler.


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Friday, December 7, 2012

NFL Prediction Report Card: Third Quarter Grades

Week 13 is in the books.  That means that we are 75% of the way through the season.  It also means it's time for the Wild Banshee to evaluate her preseason predictions and hand out another report card.

AFC East:  Before the season, I predicted that the Patriots would be in the upper echelon of the entire AFC.  I also predicted that no one else in this division would make the playoffs.  After six weeks, that prediction looked a little shaky.  At that point, all four teams in the division were tied at 3-3.  Well, after twelve games, the Banshee is looking a little more prescient.  The Patriots are now 9-3.  No one else in the division has a winning record.  First Quarter Grade: B+       Midterm Grade: A-       Third Quarter Grade: A

AFC North:  My preseason predictions for this division were some of my bolder ones.  Picking the Ravens to win the division didn't take a lot of courage.  Even after a home loss this weekend to the Steelers, the Ravens still have a 9-3 record and a 2-game lead in the division.  The bold part of the prediction was that the Bengals would make the playoffs and that the Steelers would not.  After 12 games, the Steelers and the Bengals are tied for the final wild card spot at 7-5.  The Steelers have already beaten the Bengals in Cincinnati.  The next matchup between the two will be in Pittsburgh, so it looks like the Steelers have the inside track to the playoffs at this point.  But, things are trending in the Banshee's direction.  First Quarter Grade: A       Midterm Grade: B       Third Quarter Grade: B+

(Matt Kryger/Indianapolis Star)
AFC South:  Wild Banshee followed the lead of every sports writer in America and predicted that the Houston Texans would be one of the best teams in the entire AFC.  The Texans have lived up to the hype and currently have the best record in the AFC at 11-1.  But, I declared that no one else in the division would have a winning record.  The Colts are making me look very bad on that one.  After 12 games, the Colts are 8-4 and currently hold the top wild card spot.  The Colts' continued success leads to a continued slide in the Wild Banshee's grade for this division..  First Quarter Grade: A+       Midterm Grade: A       Third Quarter Grade: A-

AFC West:  Well, up till now, I was doing pretty well.  But, pride comes before the fall.  And, the AFC West is where I fall hard.  Preseason, I predicted that the Raiders would win the division and that the Chiefs would be a wild card team.  I also predicted that the Broncos would have a losing record.  Turns out, that the Raiders and Chiefs are battling the Jacksonville Jaguars for the worst record in the entire league.  Meanwhile, the Broncos have posted an impressive 9-3 record and have already clinched the division title.  But, since I already got an "F" on my midterm exam, my grade for this quarter can't drop any further.  First Quarter Grade: D-       Midterm Grade: F       Third Quarter Grade: F

(Nick Wass/AP)
NFC East:  Grading my predictions for this division is another humbling experience.  It's embarrassing to admit now, but I predicted that the Eagles would win the division.  I also went out on a limb and predicted that no one else in this division would make the playoffs.  Well, after 12 games, the Eagles have degenerated into the worst team in the NFC.  Technically, the Eagles are tied with the Panthers for that distinction, but the Eagles have lost 8 consecutive games.  Meanwhile, the Giants are currently perched on the top of the division with a record of 7-5.  After 12 games, the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins are both 6-6.  That puts both of them just one game behind the Giants in the division and just one game behind the Seahawks for the final wild card berth.  Since I will apparently have the order of finish all jumbled up, I am looking another "F" square in the face.  However, the overall mediocrity of the division allows me to hold onto a passing grade.  First Quarter Grade: A       Midterm Grade: C     Third Quarter Grade: D+

NFC North:  Before the season started, I predicted that the Packers and the Bears would be the best two teams in the division.  But, I might have gotten carried away when I predicted that they could both get to 13 wins.  Right now, the Packers and the Bears are both 8-4.  One of them will win the division. The other will likely be a wild card.  Even if I might have missed the mark with the 13 win prediction, I still get some credit for picking the top two teams in a division that looked strong from top to bottom.  First Quarter Grade: B       Midterm Grade: A-       Third Quarter Grade: A-

(Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
NFC South:  In the preseason, I predicted that the Falcons would win this division.  But, I certainly did not predict that the Dirty Birds would dominate the NFC standings.  With a record of 11-1, the Falcons have already clinched the division and appear to be on their way to clinching home field throughout the playoffs.  The Saints did manage to get up off of the mat after a dismal 0-4 start.  But, after getting back to 5-5, they have lost two games and fallen out of realistic playoff contention.  Meanwhile, it is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that are showing some signs of playoff life with a 6-6 record.  First Quarter Grade: B       Midterm Grade: A       Third Quarter Grade: A

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Saturday, December 1, 2012

This Week in Sports: December 1, 2012

I took a week off from this column to cook a Thanksgiving dinner.  For those of you who have never done it ... yes ... it is a multi-day task.  A lot happened since the last update column, so I will add a bonus section to this week's post.

The Week I Was Absent:  I picked a busy week to take a break.  NASCAR crowned a champion and the NCAA football landscape shifted dramatically ... on the field and off.

Keselowski hugs team owner Roger Penske
NASCAR:  Brad Keselowski had a 20-point lead over Jimmie Johnson when the engines fired at Homestead, Florida on November 18.  That was a significant lead, but with a strong finish, Johnson still had a very realistic chance to put pressure on the young Keselowski.  As it turns out, Johnson had a dismal day.  Keselowski cruised to a championship in Roger Penske's iconic #2 car.  The championship was a first in NASCAR for Roger Penske who was already American motor sports royalty.   It was also the first championship for 28 year-old Brad Keselowski.  As evidenced by his post-race interview on ESPN, Brad clearly enjoyed the victory.

College Football:  The last time I published this column was November 17.  Back at that time, Kansas State was #1 in the BCS standings and Oregon was #2.  In that column, I declared that Kansas State had a weak opponent up next on their schedule.   Turns out that the Baylor Bears were a little stronger than I gave them credit for.  Baylor ruined Kansas State's national championship hopes by defeating the Wildcats by a score of 52-24.  Oregon also lost at home to Stanford by a score of 17-14 in overtime.  Those losses left Notre Dame as the sole undefeated team in the nation and propelled the Irish to the #1 ranking in the BCS standings.  Alabama moved into the #2 spot with Georgia at #3.

Revised Big Ten map
NCAA Conference Realignment:  While the SEC has established itself as the most dominant football conference, the Big Ten continues to pride itself on being the conference with the highest academic standards required for admission.  On November 19 and 20, the Big Ten officially added Maryland and Rutgers.  Maryland was one of the founding members of the ACC.  Rutgers is leaving the crumbling Big East.  Both schools will being play in their new conference in 2014.  The additions bring the Big Ten up to 14 members and extend the conference's footprint all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.

The Week That Was:  College athletics garnered most of the headlines on Thanksgiving week.

College Football:  Thanksgiving weekend is rivalry weekend.  For Notre Dame, their annual battle against USC held extra importance.  Notre Dame was the #1 ranked team in the BCS standings.  A win against the Trojans would assure them a place in the BCS championship game in January.  The stout Irish defense capped off their excellent regular season with a fourth quarter, goal line stand that sealed the victory.  Notre Dame won the game by a score of 22-13.

The other half of the BCS national championship game was a little less clearly defined at the start of the weekend.  Alabama was ranked #2, and Georgia was ranked #3.  If both teams won their final regular season games then they would face each other in the SEC championship.  That would make that game a de facto national semi-final.  Georgia throttled a very mediocre Georgia Tech team 42-10.  And, Alabama dismantled a lousy Auburn team 49-0 in the Iron Bowl.

College Basketball:  Thanksgiving break features a large slate of high profile, non-conference match ups.  Indiana was the preseason #1.  The Hoosiers lived up to that ranking by thoroughly beating #14 North Carolina 83-59 in the Big Ten-ACC challenge.  But it's Duke that has made the strongest statement to start the season.  Back on November 13, Duke beat preseason #3 Kentucky in the Georgia Dome.  On November 24, Duke won the Battle For Atlantis by defeating #2 Louisville at a tournament in the Bahamas.  The Blue Devils followed that up by beating #4 Ohio State at home.  Pretty impressive stuff.

NCAA Conference Realignment:  In response, to the loss of founding member Maryland, the ACC moved quickly to add Louisville to the conference.  Louisville will start play in the ACC in 2014.  The Big East responded to the loss of Rutgers by adding Tulane and East Carolina.  The addition of Tulane and East Carolina are just the latest in a long line of drastic changes for the Big East.  Thankfully, the Big East has provided a webpage to help us keep track of their shifting membership.

The Week Ahead:  Football takes center stage in this first week of December, but it's not the only sport with big events on the calendar.

College Football:  The PAC 12, the Big Ten, and the ACC will all hold conference championship games this weekend.  But the nation's eyes will be focused on Atlanta, Georgia for the SEC championship game between Alabama and Georgia.  In addition to the prestige of winning the SEC title, the winner of this game will be #2 in the BCS standings and will have a date to face Notre Dame for the national championship.  This game will be played at 4:00 p.m. EST and will be shown on CBS.

(Chris Faytok/The Star-Ledger)
NFL:  It's Week 13 in the NFL.  The top of the playoff picture is starting to come into focus.  But the wildcard in both the AFC and the NFC are still very much up for grabs.  In the NFC, the teams that are at 5-6 cannot afford any more losses if they want to maintain a realistic chance at the playoffs.  One of those teams is the Cowboys.  The Cowboys get to host the dismal 3-8 Eagles on Sunday night.  That game will be shown on NBC at 8:20 p.m. EST.  The other 5-6 team in the NFC is the Washington Redskins.  The Redskins will host the division-leading New York Giants on Monday night.  That game will be shown on ESPN at 8:30 p.m. EST.  In the AFC, the Steelers, the Bengals and the Dolphins are battling it out for the final playoff spot.  The Dolphins trail the other two by one game.  Thus, the Dolphins face a must-win situation when they host the red-hot Patriots on Sunday afternoon.  That game will be shown on CBS at 1:00 p.m. EST.  The Bengals will be traveling to the West Coast to play the struggling San Diego Chargers.  That game will be shown on CBS at 4:25 p.m. EST.  The premier game on Sunday's schedule will be played between the Steelers and the division-leading Baltimore Ravens.  The Steelers have lost their last two games and will be starting third-string quarterback Charlie Batch when they face their arch rivals in Baltimore.  The game will be played at 4:25 p.m. EST and will be broadcast on CBS.

Rodeo:  The National Finals Rodeo will get underway on December 6 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  The NFR is the Super Bowl of rodeo.  All tolled, over $6 million in prize money is on the line as the world's top cowboys gather for the nine-day event.  Beginning on Thursday night, GAC will broadcast the rodeo live from 10:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. EST.

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