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Monday, December 30, 2013

Best Sports Tantrums of 2013

2013 is coming to an end.  Most other sites are putting together year in review columns that praise a year of excellence in athletics.  Well, not Banshee Sports.  If you want to reminisce about Phil Mickelson winning the British Open or Peyton Manning setting the NFL TD passing record, there are plenty of other sites out there to fill that need.  At Banshee Sports, we are continuing our annual tradition of featuring absurdity in the sports world.  And so, without further ado, we present the Best Sports Tantrums of 2013.  These debacles are presented in chronological order.

1. Basebrawl.  The World Baseball Classic is supposed to be an international celebration of a peaceful and passive game.  But, when Mexico and Canada squared off in pool play on March 9, 2013, the teams were not in a celebratory mood.  Perhaps the Canadians nerves are still raw over the Zimmerman Telegram.  Or perhaps the Mexicans just take the unwritten rules of baseball just a little too seriously.  At any rate, what ensued was one of the finest basebrawls you'll ever see.  This fight features haymakers and body slams and ends with a confrontation between the Canadian players and Mexican fans.  Good thing that the United States is situated between these two countries or else we might see the military version of chin music coming up in the next few weeks.

2.  Friday Night Fights.  I know that people in Texas think they have the market cornered on serious high school football.  Well, evidently, things can get pretty serious on Friday nights in Pennsylvania, too.  On September 6, 2013, Hamburg High faced off against Anville-Cleona.  In the third quarter, a routine skirmish broke out between the two teams.  Then, Joey Cominsky, a senior quarterback and safety for Hamburg, took things to a whole other lever when he ripped the helmet off an opposing lineman and then beat him over the head with it.  Cominsky was ejected from the game and served a mandatory one-game suspension.  Then the law stepped in, and Cominsky was charged with assault and disorderly conduct.

3.  Fight Night in Toronto.  The NHL is the best friend of this column.  The Temper Temper column had been having a slow year until hockey got back on the ice, and we didn't even have to wait for the regular season.  This is a great fight under any circumstances, but it is especially great because it happened during a preseason game.  And, if you stick with this to the end, you'll get to see one of the greatest treats in hockey: a full-fledged goalie fight.

4.  College Class.  Most Big Ten football fans like to root against Ohio State.  That's partly because they win a lot.  But it's also because just when you start to not hate them, they give you a gem like this.  Like many Big Ten fans, I woke up on the morning of The Game with a resolution to root for the Buckeyes.  I wanted to see the Big Ten in the national championship game.  And then this happened.  After the initial fight, you can go ahead and skip ahead to the 3:00 mark.  And then we all remembered just why the Buckeyes are so easy to hate.

5.  A Bear and a Monkey.  Okay.  This is not in chronological order.  And it might not even really be a sport.  But, this video from the Spring Tantrums post is just too outrageous to leave off the Best of 2013 list.  There is really no end to the comments I could make about this video.  But, I'll just say that this is simultaneously the funniest and most violent sports tantrum I've ever seen.

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NFL Predictions Final Report Card

The 2013 NFL regular season is complete.  For twelve teams, that means it's time to prepare for the playoffs.  For the remaining twenty teams, it's time to regroup for September.  And for Banshee Sports, that means it's time to hold myself accountable for the predictions I made in the preseason.  In 2012, I gave myself an A- for a final grade.  This year ... well, let's just say that I should probably invest in a tutor or some summer school.

AFC East:  I started off the preseason column with a bold prediction.  I declared that the Dolphins would win the division and the that Patriots would miss the playoffs.  I just made two mistakes on that.  I believed in the Dolphins, and I doubted the Patriots.  Despite suffering what should have been a devastating series of injuries, Belichick and Brady guided the Patriots to their twelfth division crown in the last fourteen years.  Meanwhile, the Dolphins eliminated themselves from the playoffs by losing at Buffalo and at home to the Jets in consecutive weeks to end the season.  But, perhaps more shameful than any of that, I predicted that the Jets would be one of the worst teams in the league.  Instead, Rex Ryan did a masterful job of leading a team with depleted talent and a rookie QB to a very solid 8-8 record.  First Quarter Grade: B+  Midterm Grade: C+  Third Quarter Grade: B-  Final Grade: D+

(Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
AFC North:  I didn't exactly go out on a limb when I correctly picked the Bengals to repeat as winners of the AFC North.  I did go out on a limb when I picked the Browns to make the playoffs.  And, the quarterback play of the Browns basically cut that limb off and allowed me to crash violently to the ground.  Despite that prediction going awry, I am going to give myself some credit for correctly declaring that the ever-steady Steelers and the defending champion Ravens would both miss the playoffs.  First Quarter Grade: A  Midterm Grade: A-  Third Quarter Grade: B+  Final Grade: B+

AFC South:  Before the season started, I picked the Houston Texans to be one of the best teams in the NFL.  Obviously, that was incorrect.  The Texans turned out to be terrible and fired their head coach before the season was over.  But, I was certainly not alone, so I'm not too embarrassed about that error.  My real shame comes from declaring that the Colts were a fluke in 2012.  The Colts easily won the division and did so with some extremely impressive wins over some of the league's best teams.  First Quarter Grade: F  Midterm Grade: F  Third Quarter Grade: F  Final Grade: F

AFC West:  The AFC West is the division that saved my credibility.  I did some pretty good work in this division, if I do say so myself.  Sure, I didn't need a crystal ball to predict that the Broncos would be a great team.  But, picking the Chiefs to make the playoffs took a little foresight.  It took some guts to put that pick in writing and publish it for all to see on the interwebs.  The Broncos finished the regular season with the best record in the NFL.  And the Chiefs easily secured the first wild card slot in the AFC.  I'd gloat more, but I can still see my AFC South grade while I type this.  Also, I did not see the Chargers making the playoffs.  But then again, the Chargers themselves didn't see themselves making the playoffs until Ryan Succop's field goal attempt was about halfway to missing wide right.  So, I still give myself a perfect score in this division.   First Quarter Grade: A+  Midterm Grade: A+  Third Quarter Grade: A+  Final Grade: A+

NFC East:  Heading into the season, I picked the Redskins to repeat as the winners of the NFC East.  Sure, I'm a Redskins fan, but I did truly make that pick with my head and not my heart.  I thought that a healthy defense would mean an improved defense.  I was wrong about that.  I also underestimated the Dan Snyder disfunction factor.  I also undervalued Chip Kelly.  I did not believe the Eagles offense could be totally revamped in just one year, and I certainly did not foresee that Nick Foles would be the man under center during a resurgence.  At 10-6, the Eagles are a deserving division winner.  Of course, I did correctly predict that Dallas would do some very Dallas things and cost themselves a playoff birth.  The Week 15 meltdown at home against the Packers was a perfect example.  It's that Cowboys flop factor that keeps this grade from being an F.  First Quarter Grade: B  Midterm Grade: B-  Third Quarter Grade: D+  Final Grade:  D

(Nam Y. Huh/AP)
NFC North:  When I made my preseason picks, I made just one miscalculation.  I believed that the Bears actually had a secondary.  Turns out I was mistaken.  The Bears defense was abysmal in their loss at Philly in Week 16 and again at home against the Packers in Week 17.  The Packers were able to tread water well enough during Aaron Rogers' 7-game absence to put themselves in a win-and-get-in situation on the final Sunday of the year.  And win, they did.  Although, it did require a bizarre forward-pass-fumble-rooskie to best the Bears at Soldier Field.  Green Bay's 8-7-1 record is nothing to gloat about, but was good enough to win the black and blue division.  And it was good enough to continue the downward slide for my grade in this division.  First Quarter Grade: A  Midterm Grade: A-  Third Quarter Grade: B+  Final Grade:  C+

NFC South:  If you've got a weak stomach, now is the time to turn away.  My picks in the NFC South are more disgusting than a squished skunk in the middle of the road in July.  Okay, maybe not quite that bad.  I correctly predicted that two teams from this division would make the playoffs.  But I picked the wrong two teams.  My picks, the Falcons and the Buccaneers finished the year at 4-12.  To put that in perspective, that's the same record as the Raiders and the Jaguars.  In contrast, the Panthers and the Saints played exactly like I thought those other two teams would.  The Panthers not only won the division, but they earned a first round bye in the playoffs.  Good work by them.  Bad work by me.  First Quarter Grade: F  Midterm Grade: F  Third Quarter Grade: F  Final Grade: F

(Elaine Thompson/AP)
NFC West:  This was the best division in football ... by a long shot.  In the end, only two teams made the playoffs, but the Cardinals barely missed.  And the Rams were certainly no one's doormat.  In a bit of a coin flip in the preseason, I picked San Francisco to edge out Seattle for the top spot in this competitive division.  Turns out, it was the Seahawks that finished just ahead of the Niners.  In fact, the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC runs through Seattle.  Still, these teams are both very good and very consistent and performed pretty much exactly the way I thought they would.  So, I'm giving myself an A for this division.  That and I need a little self-esteem boost after that NFC South grade.  First Quarter Grade: B  Midterm Grade: A  Third Quarter Grade: B+  Final Grade: A

Overall Grade:  For a girl that was used to making dean's list throughout college, that report card is hard to look at.  My overall GPA ends up as a 2.0.  In the grand scheme of things, that isn't the worst thing ever.  In fact, if I was a student athlete, I wouldn't even have to be worried about staying eligible with those marks.  First Quarter Grade: B-  Midterm Grade: C+  Third Quarter Grade: C  Final Grade: C

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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Christmas Wishes

Twas the week before Christmas, and all through the country
Not a league was content; all commishes were grumpy.
Dollars and cents are what drive their train,
And even the successful still have something to gain;
The athletes play hard, and the fans they all cheer,
But the games can be bigger by this time next year.

As the year comes to an end, the folks in charge of every major sports league have visions of things besides sugar plums dancing in their heads.  If I was in charge of sending a Christmas letter to Santa on behalf of each of the major American sports, here is what I'd ask to see under the tree on Christmas morning.  Only one request per sport.  After all, Santa is a busy man.

College Basketball:  If we could have one thing in the world, we would like to see Santa swoop in and change the NBA's age requirements.  The media and fans gripe and complain all the time about the "one-and-done" rule that allows players to leave after their freshman year.  But, the thing is, it's not our rule.  It's an NBA rule.  If we could get Santa to force the NBA into a system more like the one that MLB maintains with college baseball, we'd be in much better shape.  Instead of featuring unpolished freshman who haven't attended a single class in the spring semester, we'd have a slate of older guys who can read and hold decent press conferences.  Now, that's what we'd call marketable.

College Football:  Santa, what we really want is an 8th day in the week.  A decade ago, we expanded out of Saturdays and moved into Thursday nights.  It was a good run.  We had UVA beating FSU in 1995 and NC State beating FSU in 2012.  But, the NFL has moved into our Thursday space and cramped our style a bit.  We have now claimed Tuesdays, Wednesday and Fridays for MACtion.  But we need a night for the Sunbelt and the WAC to shine.  If Santa could bring us a night between Thursday and Friday we'd be delighted.  And we know that all degenerate gamblers will be, too.

NFL:  We're basically the gods of the sports world.  Unfortunately, the real God didn't consult us when he designed the human brain.  So, we need to ask Santa for a concussion cure.  And let's be clear.  We're not asking for a concussion prevention device.  Injuries are a part of the game.  But, even our bloodthirsty fans don't really want to promote the early onset of dementia.  And the fans especially don't want key players missing games for precautionary reasons.  So, if St. Nick could bring us something that would fully cure concussions after a few hours and completely erase the lasting effects, that would be excellent.

NHL:  Oh Santa, if we could have anything in the world, we'd like to have a TV contract with ESPN once again.  No offense to our current partners at NBC.  They do a fine job with the broadcasts.  But we all know that ESPN drives the sports conversation.  And they drive that conversation towards sports they actually broadcast.  Just ask the MLS.  Their TV contract gets them a slot every night on the SportsCenter Top 10.  We know we'll never be as popular as the NFL.  We just want ESPN to force Mike and Mike to talk about us once in a while and to have a reason to occasionally run our stories on the ticker at the bottom of the screen during Tuesday night MAC football games.

MLB:  We don't know if Santa has the power to erase memories, but if you do, here is our request:  We'd like to have all sports fans' recollection of the years 1998 through 2005 erased.  We know that the summer of 1998 made everyone who was burned by the strike of 1994 feel good about our national pastime again.  But, those juiced up years have cost us more PR than we ever bargained for.  We don't want to give back the revenues we earned in those years.  We just don't want modern day journalists and fans to think about any of those years when they are voting on the Hall of Fame or discussing our current and strong steroids policy.

NBA:  Santa, what we really need this Christmas is for you to deliver a contender to the Big Apple.  We did our best to create this ourselves.  We let that crazy Russian billionaire move his team from the swamps of Jersey and into trendy Brooklyn.  He broke the bank on bringing a collection of all stars to the Nets, but even that hasn't worked.  Basketball is an urban game, and it just seems like a crime to us that America's greatest urban center hasn't had a good team to root for in a couple decades.

MLS:  If we could ask Santa for one thing, it would be that we actually deserve to be on a list of "major" American sports.  Perhaps Santa is already working on this request by giving us a brand spanking new franchise in Orlando for 2015 and another one on the horizon for Miami in the near future.  Moving into highly populated Florida will certainly propel us to attendance heights that will demand national respect, right?  Wait, what?  Professional teams in Florida struggle for fans in baseball and football?   Well then, we'll just ask Santa to continue to let us get on SportsCenter's Top 10 on even if American football was played that night.

NASCAR:  Our number one Christmas wish is that Dale Earnhardt, Jr. would win a championship.  Actually, our top five Christmas wishes are all that Junior would win a championship.  We've got a lot of great personalities in our sport.  But, the sports landscape is a crowded one.  And, we admit that if we want to get ourselves back into the spotlight, we need our most famous and most popular driver to really shine on the track.  Junior certainly has the talent and Hendrick has the resources to make this happen, so we're really not asking too much from Santa here.

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Friday, December 20, 2013

Temper, Temper: Sports Tantrums of Fall

It's weirdly warm here in the Mid Atlantic, but I checked my calendar five times.  It's officially winter.  That means that it's time to post the fall sports tantrums column.  As usual, Banshee Sports needs to thank hockey for returning so that we can end the year with a bang.

1.  Fight Night in Toronto.  This video is long enough that I don't want to waste your time with too much writing.  But, just keep this in mind: this is a preseason game.  A PRESEASON game.  And, if you stick with this to the end, you'll get to see one of the greatest treats in hockey: a full-fledged goalie fight.  This is why hockey is the greatest gift to this column.

2.  Beautiful Game ... Ugly Incident.  Fights between fans happen all the time at professional sporting events.  And we've seen a few fights between players and fans.  But a coach fighting a fan?  Now that is pretty rare.  This video comes to us from soccer-crazed continent of South America.  Nelson Vivas, head coach of Quilmes in the Argentine Primera Division, had heard more lip from a disgruntled fan than he could endure.  I don't know what is more surprising here:  The fact that Vivas could hear and identify the fan or that, while presumably sober, Vivas thought it would be acceptable to fight the fan?  In case you missed it, Vivas successfully rushes the heckler and punches him in the face.  You can catch the replay of the blow at the 1:50 mark.  The incident happened on Friday, October 18, 2013.  By Monday, Vivas was fired.

3.  Truck Race Tantrum.  It's not just the big boys of NASCAR that have blog-worthy meltdowns.  This clip comes from the truck series at Martinsville on October 27, 2013.  There is a lot of back-story business and politics that contributed to all of this.  If you want to know about that, send me an email.  But, this clip stands alone as a great temper tantrum because it involves guys trying to wreck each other under caution, a guy in a truck stopping to taunt a pit crew, a pit crew assaulting a truck while they were actually needed to to their job, and ... a sledge hammer thrown at the open window of Sprint Cup Chase contender, Kevin Harvick.

4.  Hitting a Defenseless Player.  Typically, we hear that phrase in the context of a safety laying out a wide receiver on the football field.  Well, in this case, we're talking about hockey.  Mayhem broke out on in the 3rd period as the Flyers decided to take out their aggressions on the Washington Capitals during a 7-0 beat-down on their home ice.  This starts out as an evenly matched fight between two willing position players.  It devolves into a line brawl.  And, in the middle, the Flyers' Ray Emery assaults the Caps goalie, Braden Holtby.  It's clear from the start that Holtby isn't interested in fighting.  Nonetheless, Emery lands 13 punches to Holtby's head with nary a counter-punch even attempted.  If you've got the time, watch this video all the way through because the most compelling footage comes near the end.

5.  College Class.  The Michigan-Ohio State game is always an emotional game.  This year's contest actually featured a first half brawl.  The fight includes a helmet being ripped off and haymaker to the facemask.  But, the most memorable part of this video happens after Brian Floyd is ejected.  After the initial fight, you can go ahead and skip ahead to the 3:00 mark.  Let's just say, Floyd did not have warm and fuzzy feelings towards the fans at the Big House.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Cooking with Banshee: Pineapple Black Bean Salsa

The Christmas season involves a lot of visiting and visitors.  As a result, there are a lot of occasions where we are expected to have a little something tasty on hand to share with friends and family.  At first glance, this dish might not seem like it's geared for the holiday season, but trust me on this one.  My gourmet cousin Julie Anne Chittock introduced me to this sweet and spicy salsa when she served it as an evening snack on Thanksgiving night.  I tweaked it a bit from her version.  So, if it's a touch too spicy for you, blame me ... not Julie.

Pineapple Black Bean Salsa

2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
2 20 oz cans of diced pineapple, drained
1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
1 red onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 cup lime juice
1 Tbs kosher salt
2 Anaheim peppers, finely chopped, stemmed and seeded
2 jalapeño peppers, finely chopped, stemmed and seeded

Finely chop the diced pineapple.  Combine all the other ingredients with the pineapple.  You can serve this immediately.  If you wait a day or two, taste before serving and adjust the lime juice and salt as necessary because the beans will absorb those ingredients.

Feliz Navidad!

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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Fantasy or Reality?

As I type this column, a lot of you are are frantically making final tweaks to your fantasy football playoff rosters.  I, on the other hand, am enjoying the thought of watching NFL football this Sunday without the pressure of choosing between Ben Tate and Shane Vereen for my flex position in the semi-finals.  Don't get me wrong.  I'm not some kind of old school, purist snob.  Quite the contrary.  I've been playing fantasy football for over a decade, and I am currently the commissioner of two separate fantasy football leagues.  I tried like heck to make the playoffs in both leagues.  I just came up short.  And yet, I feel strangely liberated as I await the start of this Sunday's games.

You see, football is perhaps the greatest thing we have in our culture.  That is only a slight hyperbole. It is a game that perfectly captures American culture.  Every weekend, we get to participate in a 60 minute morality play.  We choose sides based on regional alliances, individual personalities and traditions.  Those two sides then engage in a struggle of controlled violence.  During the course of that struggle, twenty-two men line up opposite each other to engage in over a hundred skirmishes.  At the end of each contest, the scoreboard declares a clear winner.  And, at the end of the season, there is an empirical judgement passed on each team.

Fantasy football allows us to feel like we are actually part of what's happening on the field.  It gives us a personal stake.  But, in reality, fantasy football turns the ultimate team sport into a disconnected collection of individual achievements.  How many of us have watched our favorite team score a touchdown only to have our celebration ended abruptly when we realized our fantasy opponent owned the guy who just crossed the goal line?  I've got my hand raised.  And every time that happened, I thought back wistfully to the days when only the scoreboard mattered and not individual stats.

I'm not bashing fantasy football.  And, come next August, I'm sure I will be chomping at the bit to draft my new team.  For those of you still competing for your fantasy championship, I wish you the best of luck.  But for the rest of us, let's sit back and enjoy watching the end of the season play out as a team game.

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Saturday, December 7, 2013

NFL Prediction Third Quarter Report Card

It's time for my third quarter prediction report card.  But perhaps a better description of this column would be:  Wild Banshee eats crow ... and chokes on it ... and dies of embarrassment.  Before writing this column, I checked the laws of the Internet to see if you actually get your blog privileges revoked for making preseason predictions as terrible as mine were.  Turns out there are no laws of the Internet and that the cyberspace is actually built upon the principle that any moron has a right to publish their opinions in a public forum.  And so, I will carry on and analyze my lack of preseason analysis.

AFC East:  I started off my preseason predictions with a bold pick in the AFC East.  At first, it looked like I might have been on to something when I picked the Dolphins to unseat the Patriots at the top of the division.  But the Patriots are just too good to be denied.  At 9-3, the Pats just about have the division wrapped up.  But, despite the bullying mess swirling around their locker room, the Dolphins have continued to remain in the thick of the playoff hunt.  Right now, the Dolphins are tied with the Ravens for the final wildcard spot in the AFC.  Meanwhile, the Jets are starting to look like the truly terrible team I thought they'd be.  Although I was way off in predicting the Patriots' demise, I do get some credit for seeing the Dolphins as a potential playoff team.  First Quarter Grade: B+  Midterm Grade: C+  Third Quarter Grade: B-

AFC North:  Like most folks, I picked the Bengals to repeat as winners of the AFC North.  Despite a rash of significant injuries, the Bengals are at 8-4 and have a two game lead in the division.   The Browns are not living up to my preseason admiration.  They hung in the wildcard race for a while, but at 4-8, Cleveland is virtually eliminated from playoff contention.  Meanwhile, the Ravens are clinging to the sixth and final seed in the AFC.  If the Ravens prove me wrong and earn a spot in the playoffs then I'll have to downgrade myself a little more.  But for now, I think my AFC North predictions deserve a B+.  First Quarter Grade: A  Midterm Grade: A-  Third Quarter Grade: B+

AFC South:  It's at this division where I have to start serving myself up a heaping helping of crow.  My preseason picks for this division are nothing short of horrific.  I thought the Houston Texans would be one of the best teams in the league.  Instead, they are one of the worst teams I've ever seen.    I still think I was right that the Colts are a very mediocre team ... especially without Reggie Wayne for the rest of the season.  But, I was clearly wrong when I said that Indy would miss the playoffs.  At 8-4, the Colts are virtually assured of taking home the division crown.
First Quarter Grade: F  Midterm Grade: F  Third Quarter Grade: F

AFC West:  The AFC West is one of the lone bright spots in my preseason predictions.  It didn't take the foresight of Nostradamus to pick the Broncos to win the division.  But, picking the Chiefs to rebound from last year's 2-14 record to make the playoffs did take a little bit of nerve.  With twelve games in the books, it looks like things are going to shake out just the way I predicted in this division.  The Broncos are 10-2 and have beaten the Chiefs twice this season.  Kansas City has a strangle hold on the fifth seed with a record of 9-3.  So yeah ... I'm gonna pat myself on the back a bit here.  First Quarter Grade: A+  Midterm Grade: A+  Third Quarter Grade: A+

NFC East:  At the midterm mark, I stated that I was not ready to issue any apologies yet for my predictions in this division.  Well, I'm ready now.  I don't hide the fact that I am a Redskins fan.  But, I really was making my preseason picks with my head and not my heart when I said that Washington was poised to improve upon last year's mark of 10-6.  Regardless of where the picks came from, they turned out to be terrible.  The Redskins are 3-9 and in the midst of the heated battle for the top draft pick in 2014 ... a pick which belongs to the Rams due to the RG3 draft trade.  As I predicted in the preseason column, the Cowboys are doing Cowboy things by playing great one week and then playing lousy the next.  But the Cowboys are currently tied for the top spot in the division.  The real surprise in this division is the Philadelphia Eagles.  Not only are they are tied for the division lead at 7-5, but they are getting better every week.  That's a far cry from the dismal outlook I predicted at the start of the year.   First Quarter Grade: B  Midterm Grade: B-  Third Quarter Grade: D+

(Al Bello/Getty Images)
NFC North:  Before the first snap of the season, I picked the Bears to win the division, and I predicted that the Lions would be the team that pushed the Bears the most.  I also predicted that the Packers would miss the playoffs.  After 12 games, the Lions are on top of the division at 7-5.  The Bears, despite a significant injury to their starting QB are just one game back of the division lead at 6-6.  Unlike the AFC, a .500 record probably will not secure a playoff berth in the NFC, so it looks like I will be correct in picking that only one team from the Black and Blue division will make the postseason.  Since my pick to win the division is no longer in the lead, I have to downgrade myself just a bit.  But, I still have high hopes to end the season with a solid A in the NFC North.  First Quarter Grade: A  Midterm Grade: A-  Third Quarter Grade: B+

NFC South:  If you wanted to make a lot of money in Vegas this fall, the best thing you could have done was read my preseason predictions for the NFC South ... and then picked the total opposite.  Holy smokes, my picks were horrendous!  I really thought the Falcons would be among the league's elite teams this year.  Instead, the 3-9 Falcons are in line to get one of the league's elite draft picks in April.  And, Atlanta is joined in that dubious distinction by Tampa Bay ... a team I picked to make the playoffs as a wild card.  In contrast, the Saints and Panthers have both proven themselves to be legitimate Super Bowl contenders, regardless of who ultimately wins the division.  First Quarter Grade: F  Midterm Grade: F  Third Quarter Grade: F

(Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
NFC West:  Based on a comparison of the two teams schedules, I predicted that the San Francisco 49ers would edge out the Seattle Seahawks for top spot in the division.  Turns out, I might have underestimated the Seahawks' regular season prowess.  At 11-1, Seattle has a three game lead in the division and is the only team in the NFC to have already clinched a playoff spot.  The Niners are still in good shape to make the playoffs at 8-4.  And, in my defense, I did predict that Seattle would win the Super Bowl, so their performance does not shock me at all.  In light of the harsh grades I've handed out so far, I am going to give myself a pretty solid mark in this division.  First Quarter Grade: B  Midterm Grade: A  Third Quarter Grade: B+ 

Overall Grade:  Not surprisingly, my overall grade dropped a bit more again this report card period. Even with a couple of miracles to end the season, I don't think I'll make the prognosticator's dean's list.  But, I'm reminding myself that D stands for "diploma."  And right now, I have a solid C.  First Quarter Grade: B-  Midterm Grade: C+  Third Quarter Grade: C

Think I was too harsh or too lenient?  Want to make some predictions of your own to end the year?  Then, by all means, leave a comment and let me know.

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Cooking with Banshee: Rotisserie Chicken

I know this recipe seems a little daunting at first glance.  It does require some specific equipment, but almost anyone who owns a gas grill can purchase a rotisserie kit at a reasonable cost.  And, this recipe alone will make the investment worthwhile.  Not only is the chicken tasty, but it is just plain fun to cook meat on a spit.

This recipe has a bit of a Mexican flair to it, but mostly it's just juicy and delicious.  Once the meat is removed, it can be used in all sorts of dishes.  Chicken salad and burritos are just two examples.

1 whole chicken
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup lime juice
1 cup chopped cilantro
1 lime, cut in half
1 package taco seasoning

Thoroughly rinse the chicken under cold water.  Drain completely and pat dry.  Place the chicken in a baking dish and pour some of the lime juice over and inside the chicken.  Put your hand underneath the chicken skin and create a pocket between the skin and the meat.  Baste lime juice underneath the skin.  Rub half the chopped cilantro under the skin.  Cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and baste with the remaining lime juice.  Thoroughly drain the chicken.  Rub the chicken skin with olive oil then rub with taco seasoning.  Stuff the lime halves and the remaining cilantro into the chicken cavity.  Secure the chicken to the rotisserie rod.  Truss the legs and wings with string.  Place the rotisserie rod on the grill.  Turn on the rotation and cook for approximately 90 minutes.  Internal temperature should be 170 degrees.

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Monday, November 11, 2013

Too Much of a Good Thing

Are you ready for some football?  If it's Thursday, and you're talking about the NFL ... the answer for me is "no."  No.  I am not ready for NFL football on a Thursday night.  When Thursday night NFL first got started, most people, including me said that there couldn't possibly be anything bad about more football.  But, it turns out that Thursday night football football is like that second piece of cheesecake or that sixth beer.  Sometimes you really can have too much of a good thing.  Due to financial reasons and the need to fill their own network with programming, it seems unlikely that The League will stop playing on Thursdays.  But, here are a few reasons why this fan thinks the NFL should stick to Sunday and Monday.

UVA fans after Thursday night upset of FSU in 1995
1.  College Showcase.  There was a time when all televised football was played on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.  And that time wasn't long ago.  High school football was played under the lights on Friday nights.  The big boys left that alone.  Then there was the dawn of college football on Thursday nights.  This was a chance for games that might get overshadowed on Saturday afternoon to get primetime, exclusive exposure on ESPN.  The ACC and the Big East were two conferences that embraced this stage early on.  And, over the years, they put on some good shows on Thursday nights.  But now, that exclusive college stage is gone.  Even when the NFL matchup may be blasé, it's still the NFL.  And, therefore, it will detract from the college boys' audience.

2.  Terrible Games.  Typically, the NFL releases its schedule in April.  So, way back in the spring time these Thursday night games get locked in as stand-alone events.  Anyone who has tried to make preseason predictions will tell you that it's extremely difficult to make long term predictions about what games will be entertaining match-ups at the halfway part of the season.  But, what's worse than that is that the quality of play is often very messy.  That's due to teams often only having three days to physically recover and mentally prepare after their Sunday slug tests.  But, doesn't the short week impact the college games I just extolled?  Probably.  But we don't watch college football for the perfection of play.  We watch it for the pageantry and the possibility of an upset.

(Bloomberg via Getty Images)
3.  Fantasy and Games.  Let's not kid ourselves.  Fantasy football is a huge part of the modern fan experience.  By the time the dust settles on Tuesday morning, and you have a chance to analyze what improvements your team needs, you only have 2 days to make adjustments before the Thursday night game rolls around.  That's barely enough time for players to clear waivers, let alone negotiate and complete a trade.  The Thursday games are also problematic for those of us who participate in weekly Pick 'Em competitions.  My league, like many others, requires all picks to be locked in before the kickoff of the first game of the week.  That gets increasingly problematic as the season progresses and injury reports get more complicated.  For example, this week, many of us will have to have our picks locked without knowing whether or not Peyton Manning will answer the bell for the Sunday night game against the undefeated Chiefs.  Sure, we might not know before 1:00 p.m. Sunday kickoffs, but we'd sure have a lot better idea than we'll have before we start scrounging up some pre-game dinner on Thursday evening.

Like, I said before, I don't expect the NFL to retreat from a territory where they have already planted their flag.  But, if any of y'all happen to have Roger Goodell's email address, please forward this on to him.

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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

NFL Prediction Midterm Report Card

The best thing about sports is that there is an empirical stat that tells if you have succeeded or failed.  The worst thing about sports writers is that they get to run their mouths with no guide to judge their knowledge.  Well, I'm a prosecutor in my day job.  So, I believe in accountability.  Therefore, I put out a quarterly report card on my NFL predictions.

The NFL regular season is seventeen weeks long.  That makes it tough to decide when to publish a midterm report card.  I decided to wait until all the teams had played at least eight games.  After the first quarter, I gave my preseason predictions a grade of B-.  Mid term marks weren't so hot, either.

AFC East:  My preseason prediction for the AFC East was perhaps my boldest pick of the year.    Before the season started, I dove in head first to swim with the fishes.  I predicted that the Dolphins would win the division and that the Patriots wouldn't make the playoffs.  After four games, the Dolphins portion of the pick was looking pretty solid.  But, after starting off 3-1, Miami lost 3 straight games.  The Dolphins might have saved their season by beating the Bengals in Week 9 to move to 4-4, but they are now totally embroiled in the ugly Incognito/Martin mess.  The Patriots have also slowed down after a 4-0 start.  They are now 7-2 and are solidly on top of the division.  I didn't predict that, but I am not really surprised.  It's Brady and Belichick.  Winning is what they do.  The real shocker in this division is that the New York Jets are 5-4 and gaining momentum heading into their bye week.  I thought the Jets would be one of the worst teams in the league.  First Quarter Grade: B+  Midterm Grade C+

(David KohlAP)
AFC North:  As I predicted, the Bengals are on top of the the division, but mounting injuries making are making them look like less and less of a legit threat to make a deep playoff run.  The rest of the division is a muddled mess of mediocrity.  But, mediocrity might be all that it takes to get that final wild card in the AFC.  At 4-5, the Browns are still right there in the hunt.  Since the Browns were such a bold pick, I give myself some extra credit for having them still in the conversation at the halfway point of the season.  First Quarter Grade: A  Midterm Grade: A-

AFC South:  I started writing this column on Sunday night during the Indianapolis-Houston game.  At that point, the Texans were putting a beating on the Colts, and I had convinced myself that my preseason picks were actually reasonable and had written as much.  Then I fell asleep at the half.  When I woke up, I learned that Andrew the Giant led the Colts to second half comeback and basically cemented their strangle hold on the division.  So, I deleted everything I had written.  The Colts are a good team.  The Texans are a terrible team.  And my picks for this division are an embarrassment.  I gave myself an "F" for the first quarter of the season., and I certainly don't deserve anything better than that at the midterm report card.
First Quarter Grade: F  Midterm Grade: F

AFC West:  I take the blame when blame is due.  But, I also toot my own horn when it's appropriate.  And, it's appropriate in this division.  Like everyone else, I predicted that the Broncos would win the AFC West.  Unlike everyone else, I picked the Chiefs as a wild card.  Well, at the halfway point of the season, it seems to be a forgone conclusion that both of these teams will make the playoffs.  The Chiefs are 9-0 and actually lead the division.  But, they have had the benefit of a soft schedule thus far.  Therefore, the 7-1 Broncos are still in a good position to win the division.  These picks might have been a fluke after just 4 games.  But, after half the season, I feel that "prescient" is a better description.  If there was a grade higher than an A+, I'd give myself that.  First Quarter Grade: A+  Midterm Grade: A+

NFC East:  I don't know what to say about this division.  I'm pretty sure that my predictions haven't been very good so far.  The Redskins certainly aren't looking like they are poised to repeat as division champs.  But, RG3 is looking much better lately, and after winning two of their last three games, Washington still has a pulse.  The Cowboys are on top of the division, but they aren't doing anything to dispel my proclamation that they consistently find a way to ruin a good season.  Meanwhile, the Eagles are hanging in there.  Surprisingly, it's the Giants who are lifeless and hopeless at the bottom of the division.  So, while my predictions don't look solid right now, I'm not prepared to issue any written apologies to my readers just yet.  First Quarter Grade: B  Midterm Grade: B-

Injured QBs shaking hands (Morry Gash/AP)
NFC North:  Before the season started, I picked the Bears to win the division, and I predicted that the Lions would be the team that pushed the Bears.  I prognosticated that the Packers would miss the playoffs.  At the halfway point in the season, the whole division is at 5-3.  Well, the whole division besides the Vikings.  The Bears have already endured and survived a couple weeks without their starting quarterback.  The Packers are just heading into what could be a lengthy stretch without Aaron Rogers.  I dropped my grade a bit at the midterm due to the Bears lack of separation, but, because of those factors, I think this pick is poised to end improve as the year progresses.  First Quarter Grade: A  Midterm Grade: A-

NFC South:  Okay, if you read my preseason predictions for this division please avert thine eyes.  It's a horror show.  I though the Falcons were the class of the division.  And I thought that the Buccaneers would be a solid wild card team.  I could not have been more wrong.  Even though the Saints lost to the Jets in week 9, they have shown themselves to be the class of the division.  And, the Panthers at 5-3 have proven to be the only legit challenger to the Saints in this division.  First Quarter Grade: F  Midterm Grade: F

NFC West:  I picked San Francisco to win this division.  But, that had more to do with my analysis of the schedules than it did to do with my belief if he two teams.  I thought those teams were basically even, and, after nine weeks that appears to be true.  Frankly, I'm not sure why I graded myself so low in the last quarter.  With all the craziness in the NFL, even a predictable pick that comes to fruition deserves some credit.  First Quarter Grade: B  Midterm Grade: A

Overall Grade:  I did a little math, and it looks like my GPA would be a little under 3.0 at the halfway point of the season.  That's a C+ at best.  Not good.  I'll grant you that.  And not a good trend, eider.  But, There is a long way to go in this season.  My fate lies in the hands of the Redskins in the NFC East and the Bears in the NFC North.  If those two teams exert some dominance to close the year, I could still claim some bragging rights.  First Quarter Grade: B-  Midterm Grade: C+

Think I was too harsh or too lenient?  Want to make some predictions of your own?  Then, by all means, leave a comment and let me know.

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Saturday, November 2, 2013

Winner, Winner!

Banshee Sports was born in November of 2011.  It's been a work in progress ever since then.  The name has been tweaked, and there has been a radical aesthetic makeover facilitated by the talented folks at Lunatorium Designs.  Banshee Sports celebrated its 2nd birthday by unveiling a new email subscription app.  But, even on your own birthday, it's better to give than to receive.  So, Banshee Sports announced that it would be giving away a 30 for 30 prize pack.  The lucky winner was drawn randomly from the list of email subscribers at the end of the month of October.

I am proud to announce that the winner is Al Burke.  Al provides calm and knowledgeable sports commentary on Twitter ... particularly on football.  If you participate in the wild world of Twitter then you know that "calm" is a supreme compliment.  As you can see by his bio, Al writes for a number of websites.  He also runs the Global Gridiron page on Facebook.  Mr. Burke was one of the earliest and most faithful supporters of Banshee Sports, so I'm excited that he won this prize drawing.  Also, Al Burke lives in Vancouver, so that officially makes Banshee Sports an international website.

For those of you who didn't win this time, don't worry.  There will be another give away in the spring.  So, go ahead and subscribe.  The prize will be good, but having the Wild Banshee's wit delivered to your inbox on a regular basis will be even better.

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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Cooking with Banshee: Grilled Chipotle Shrimp

This is possibly the best dish I've ever made.  To put it in perspective, my parents had guests in town who had driven 500 miles for the visit.  They asked me to cook for their dinner party.  And this is what they asked me to make.  I usually serve this as an appetizer, but it can certainly be the main course if you want to do the surf and turf thing or have some hearty veggies as a side dish.  However you decide to serve this, do not skip out on the cilantro cream sauce.  The sauce makes this dish truly special.  I do want to give credit where credit is due.  I got this recipe from Taste of Home.

Grilled Chipotle Shrimp

Grilled Shrimp Ingredients:
2 lbs large raw shrimp (peeled and deveined)
2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped
1/4 cup adobo sauce (taken from the can of chipotle peppers)
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs water
2 Tbs lime juice
1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp salt

Shrimp Directions:
In a small saucepan, mix the brown sugar, chopped chipotles, adobo sauce, garlic, water, lime juice, olive oil and salt.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat.  Stir and cook for 2 more minutes.  Remove from the heat and cool completely.  Pour into a large, sealable bag.  Add the shrimp.  Coat evenly.  Refrigerate up to 2 hours.  Turn occasionally.  Place on a grill pan or thread onto skewers.  Grill for 6-8 minutes at medium heat or until the shrimp turn pink.  Turn periodically.

Cilantro Cream Sauce Ingredients:
1 cup sour cream
1/3 cup cilantro, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 Tbs grated lime peel
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp fresh mint, minced

Cilantro Cream Sauce Directions:
Comine all ingredients in a small bowl.  Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.  Serve as a dipping sauce with the shrimp.

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Five Reasons to Pay Attention to the NBA

The NBA season got underway this week.  I know that brings a big yawn and an emphatic shoulder shrug from a lot of you.  Yeah, I know there are 82 games.  And I know that half the league makes the playoffs.  But, I also know that there are a lot of fun things to watch during this season.  Here are five reasons to pay attention to the NBA this season.

1.  Return of D-Rose to Chicago.  The Miami Heat have won the last two NBA championships, but they didn't have to face the 2010-2011 MVP to get either one of those titles.  Derrick Rose tore his ACL in the first round of the playoffs in April of 2012.  That injury kept Rose out for all of last season.  Despite having to push on without their best player, the Chicago Bulls still made it to the second round of the playoffs last year and challenged the Heat in a very physical series that was closer than the 5-game elimination would indicate.  This year, Derrick Rose returns to the Bulls at full strength.  It will be a treat to watch him rejoin a group of teammates that were all forced to grow in his absence.

2.  Kobe's Last Gasp.  Maybe this is actually more of a death rattle.  Kobe Bryant is 35 years old.  This will be his 18th season in the NBA.  And last season ended prematurely when he tore his achilles with just a few games left in the regular season.  Bryant currently has five championship rings, and it is pretty clear that he is consumed by the goal of matching Michael Jordan's six championships.  The problem is that when Kobe returns from this devastating injury, he'll be coming back to a terrible roster led by a lousy coach and a clueless heir in the front office.  This set of circumstances will certainly lead to some excellent post game quotes from the Black Mamba.

3.  Superman in Houston.  Yeah, the Dwight Howard drama over the past two seasons was annoying.  But, now that Superman has a permanent home, it will be interesting to see how things develop.  The Houston Rockets are a perfect fit for Howard.  It's a big enough market to be a big star, but the spot light is not so bright that Dwight should be blinded.  James Harden, the other star on this team, is used to being second fiddle and seemed comfortable in that role when he was winning the 6th Man of the Year award in OKC.  And, Dwight now has a coach in Kevin McHale that can teach him everything he was lacking in his offensive game.

4.  The New Look Nets.  It's cool that Brooklyn has a team.  It's even cooler that the Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov opened up his wallet to make sure the Nets make a serious playoff fun in their second year in the Big Apple.  The Nets already had a solid team with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez.  But they made a big splash this offseason by adding two future hall of famers in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.   Prokhorov was also able to convince fellow Russian Andrei Kirilenko to take a $7 million pay cut to come to the Nets.  It will be interesting to see if the Nets can challenge the Heat in the East.

(Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
5.  Good Times in Golden State.  The basketball world is simply better when the Golden State Warriors have a good team.  Last year, the Warriors became the darlings of the playoffs when they upset the Nuggets in the first round and stole two games from the Spurs in the next round.  Led by sharpshooting and youthful guards, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, the Warriors play a free-flowing and exciting brand of basketball.  And, for this season, they have added a lock-down defender with Team USA credentials in Andre Iguodala.  The Warriors might still be too young to make a serious run at the title.  But, the run will be fun to watch.

These are just five of the many fun reasons to watch the NBA this season.  Do yourself a favor and check it out.

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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Deserving Fan Bases

Every professional sports franchise has a hard-core group of truly dedicated fans.  But, when it gets down to the championship games, only two fan bases are left.  The rest of us find ourselves leaning and eventually rooting for one team or the other.  So, what pushes the undecided fans in one direction or the other?  For me, it often comes down to which fan base I think is more deserving of the joy of winning.  What are my criteria for deciding what fans deserve to celebrate?  Here they are, in no particular order.

Joe Nathan dressed as Tony Romo (Tony Gutierrez/AP)
Year-round Devotion.  Most sports fans change their focus to a certain degree depending which sport is in season.  But, putting a pot on the back burner is far different from removing it from the stove altogether.  If you are a fan base that is wholly unaware of the existence of a team until their playoff run begins, then I cannot be excited to watch you hoist the trophy at the end.  This is the reason I can never feel good about the Texas Rangers winning a World Series.  The greater Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area is so absorbed by the Cowboys and Longhorns football that they do not even remember that they have a baseball team unless it's actually Game 7 of the ALCS.  If the fan base doesn't think about a team except when the trophy is about to be rewarded, then that fan base simply does not deserve to have the trophy.

Knowledge and History.  You've got to respect a fan base that really understands the game.  The rules.  The strategy.  And the history.  You can actually pick up on this by paying attention to crowd reactions during telecasts.  But, you can pick this up even more if you spend any time on Twitter or Internet message boards.  This doesn't mean that a team needs to have existed since 1906 to be worthy of a title.  The Jacksonville Jaguars come to mind here as a young fan base that still fulfills this criteria.  I've encountered a large number of Jags fans in my real life and online.  These fans get involved in some of the most detailed discussions of draft strategies and defensive schemes that I've ever heard.  And, most of these fans were football fans long before the Jaguars were born in 1993, so they have a healthy respect for the history of the game.  If the Jags ever make another run in the playoffs, I'll be pulling for the folks who have backed them through these down years.
(Steve Ringman/Seattle Times)

Pain and Suffering.  The mere fact that a city has enjoyed recent success doesn't eliminate them from my list of worthy fan bases.  As I stated above, if you're knowledgeable and passionate then you can still be a fan base deserving of a title.  The Red Sox and Cardinals are battling for the World Series right now, and both of their fan bases fit this description.  But, being knowledgeable, passionate and long suffering certainly gets you bonus points in my book.  Cubs fans are the first group that come to mind, but they are hardly alone.  In some ways, the city of Seattle might have it even worse.  The last professional championship brought home to the Emerald City was when the Super Sonics won the NBA title in 1979.  And that team has since been yanked out of town and relocated to Oklahoma City. The Mariners and the Seahawks both have passionate fan bases that have never won a title.

Quality of Life.  I have a hard time getting really excited for a fan base that already gets to live in an awesome place.  I know San Diego has never won a championship.  But, how depressing can a loss
really be when you got to watch the game in sunny 75 degree weather and have a beach right outside the ballpark?  In contrast, I give you the cities of Cleveland and Buffalo.  The fans in those cities have never gotten to celebrate a championship in any major sport.  And, it's hard work being a fan there.  I mean physically hard.  Both cities have frigid, lake effect weather and no pansy domed stadiums to protect their fans.  It's even tough for indoor sports like hockey and basketball.  In order to get to the games, the fans have to dig their cars out of snow drifts in the driveway and then slip and slide across icy parking lots at the arena.  All this just to support a team that has never rewarded them with success.  Compare that to life as a pro sports fan in a lovely city like Charlotte or Phoenix.

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Friday, October 11, 2013

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

Everybody has a busy life these days.  Kids.  Jobs.  Sports to watch.  So, I know it's hard to remember to check in at Banshee Sports on a regular basis.  But, I also know that nobody really wants to miss out on brilliant posts like the Best Sports Tantrums of the Year, the discussion of the Mythical Michael Jordan, the Fan's Voice series of guest posts or yummy recipes like Becky Lee's Sweet Chile.  So, I'm here to help.

I have added a new subscription feature to the right side of the screen.  All you have to do is enter your email address in the box.  Once you've confirmed your email address, you will get new Banshee Sports posts delivered directly to your inbox.  The good news for you is that we're only talking about about 1 or 2 emails a week.  The better news for you is that you will never again miss a Wild Banshee's take on the Redskins nickname or her opinion on football fashion.

But this is America.  Even when something is flat out good for you, I know folks still need a little extra incentive to take action.  So, here's the incentive.  Everyone who subscribes by the end of October will be eligible to win a fabulous ESPN Films Prize Pack.  And, this isn't some stock Amazon package.  I personally selected three ESPN films that I think are truly exceptional and fascinating.  These films will be intriguing to sports fans as well as students of American culture.  The films in the prize pack are The UCatching Hell and You Don't Know Bo.

So, by all means, subscribe to Banshee Sports by email.  And spread the word to your friends.

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