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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Fan's Voice: Bills Fan Always and Forever

So far, the Fan's Voice series has featured the Jaguars, the Broncos and the Packers.  Today's installment is written by Chris Carlberg and it's all about the Buffalo Bills.

The Buffalo Bills played the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday Night Football in October of 1991.  I was 10 years old, and I was there.  I watched Jim Kelly’s K-Gun offense dominate the Bengals.  I listened, and joined in, as the 80,000 fans at Rich Stadium chanted “Norman, Norman” every time Boomer Esiason took the field.  I learned that Norman was Boomer’s real first name, and I learned that we were screaming it as loud as we could so he couldn’t hear the plays and so his players couldn’t hear him.  I also learned that sometimes intoxication looks like a red and blue painted, shirtless, 270-pound man with buffalo horns on his head.

(Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
I have countless memories of Rich Stadium and watching the Buffalo Bills play football.  The college-atmosphere of Orchard Park on game day, where the whole town stops what they’re doing on Sunday afternoons until the game is over and every front lawn in town turns into a makeshift parking lot.  I watched with heartbreak from the front row as Deion returned a punt down the sideline.  I watched Drew Bledsoe lead the Bills to a last-minute comeback win over the Dolphins in a snow storm, despite Ricky Williams 234 rushing yards.  I remember watching #83 in awe as Andre Reed would grab another one in traffic over the middle and take it in for 6.  I also remember running out of that same tunnel at Rich Stadium just like my favorite player, wearing #83 for the Maple Grove Red Dragons, on our way to a State Championship.

I am, and always will be, a Buffalo Bills fan.  It seems like the good old days are gone, and recent history says that I’m crazy to still root for this team.  At times, its hard to disagree, but my allegiance runs deep, and no matter how hard it is to not be driven away by defeat and mediocrity and embarrassment, I refuse.  Every year they beat me down and tell me to stop watching, stop reading, and stop cheering them on.  But I press on because they are my team.  And there are many Bills fans like me, though fewer and fewer each day it seems.  As droves of young sports fans move south to avoid 6-month winters, unemployment and New York taxes, the ability to stay faithful to the team we love has become more and more daunting. 

I also acknowledge that Bills fans are not alone in our plight.  There are football fans all over the country that root for their awful teams, year after year, loss after loss.  In many ways we are no different than the Browns fans or the Lions fans or the Raiders fans that watch or listen or follow their team each week with horrified disappointment.  We all stand together, wondering how, in good conscience, we will be able to mold our young children into fans of our favorite teams.  Do we really wish this upon them?  Maybe we should just let them root for the Steelers or the Patriots … at least then they can know what winning feels like.  No way.

And even though Bills fans have much in common with the others, the Buffalo Bills have found a way to separate themselves from the rest.  They not only lose on the field, but they’ve actually established for themselves a legacy of embarrassment and mediocrity and collapse.

Let us review some of the highs, and epic lows of the past few decades:

In the 1970’s the Bills drafted OJ Simpson who lead the Bills to playoffs and became one of the top running backs in NFL history.  He is the only player to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a 14 game season, and when he retired he was the League’s 2nd all-time leading rusher.  Then he killed people.  Not exactly the name you want on your Wall of Fame.

The 1980’s saw Bill Polian and Marv Levy build the Bills into a powerhouse as they signed and drafted Hall of Famers like Jim Kelly, Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas, James Lofton, and Andre Reed.  So the stage was set for the Bills to make history in the 90’s.  And history they did make.  The Buffalo Bills represented the AFC in 4 consecutive Super Bowls (1990-1993).  They also made history by losing all 4 games by a combined 139-73, which begs the question: “Isn’t it better to have gotten there and lost than to never have gotten there?”  The answer is no.  Other than “Wide Right” in 1990, the Bills weren’t even competitive.  They were embarrassed in front of the world over, and over, and over, and over.

Music City Miracle
The 1999 season for the Bills was franchise-altering, and, as such, it is worth summarizing with a few bullet points:  Doug Flutie started the first 15 games of the season, leading the Bills to a 10-5 record, clinching a playoff spot prior to week 16, and basically becoming a local hero and an inspiring underdog story for the sports nation.  The final week of the season, Wade Phillips (who is terrible) rested his starters, including Flutie, and started Rob Johnson (who is terrible).  Johnson played well, led the Bills to a win, and much to the horror of everyone who knows anything about sports, was named as the starting QB for the Wildcard Playoff game against the Tennessee Titans.  With Flutie on the bench, the Bills new starter was 10 for 22 for 131 yards but remarkably had the Bills up by 1 point and in position to win with 16 seconds left in the game.  The next play was so unbelievable that it has its own title:  “The Music City Miracle.”  After a handoff and a cross-field lateral, the validity of which is controversial, the Bills kickoff was returned 75 yards for a touchdown. 

The Bills lost that game, cut Andre Reed, Bruce Smith, and Thurman Thomas (the last 3 players from the super bowl years), and haven’t made it back to the playoffs for the past 13 years, which is the longest drought in the NFL.  The Browns and Raiders, both of whom are awful, have the second longest drought at 10 years.

The Bills are 82-126 since 2000 and have burned through 7 coaches during that same time period, each one seemingly more inept than the one before.  They haven’t had a winning season since 2004, and have been last in their division since 2008.  They also find a way to make themselves the laughing stock of the NFL Draft each year, baffling experts and analysts and wasting their top-10 draft picks on 3rd rounders like JP Losman and EJ Manuel.

The numbers are staggering and sad.  Sometimes its hard to remember why you cheer for a team like the Bills … a team that hardly resembles the team you grew up idolizing.  But if you look carefully, you can actually see Jim Kelly behind the bench at all the Bills home games, running up and down the sideline waving a towel and cheering for his team.  If he hasn’t lost hope, neither will I.  That is why I am and always will be a Bills fan.

If Chris Carlberg's name sounds familiar to you, it's because this is not his first appearance on Banshee Sports.  Chris was the winner of the inaugural Banshee Sports Bracket Bonanza.  When Chris isn't watching the Bills or winning prizes from me, he is a sales consultant for DePuy Synthes in their spinal division.  Nowadays, Chris mostly watches his Bills on television since he and his growing family are located in Concord, NC.  

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Fan's Voice: Packer Family

This is the third installment of the Fan's Voice series of guest posts on Banshee Sports.  It's a series that allows folks who aren't nerdy enough to run a sports blog to have a public forum where they can proclaim their love of their favorite NFL team.  This post comes to us from Nick Tarasovitch.

Years back, before being married and having kids, a good friend randomly gave me a Green Bay Packers nightlight.   He, as well, thought it was random and somewhat humorous, but he knew how much I loved Packers football.  Fast-forward seven years, and that five-dollar nightlight provides a comforting light in my young daughter’s bedroom.  In fact, it’s part of her nightly routine that she turns on the Packer nightlight before she turns off her reading light and hops into bed.

When thinking about this writing this article, it was one of those nighttime routines that made me realize that being a Green Bay Packers fan is truly a big part of my life. I actually then took a mental inventory of my Packer apparel and counted more shirts, sweatshirts, shorts, jerseys, memorabilia than I even remembered owning.  Then I thought about all the fan gear I’ve bought the kids and my wife.

And then there’s my “Packer” football. During my first visit to Lambeau Field, I bought a Wilson NFL football from a Kmart that was in walking distance from the stadium.  My brother and I threw that ball for hours under the parking lot lights of Lambeau Field the night before the game.  It’s amazing how the sentiment of being at Lambeau with that ball has made me care for it like it was an authentic signed piece of history.  It’s the feeling you get from being in Green Bay that never leaves you.

My History

The Packers have been a part of my family since the Bart Starr era, which is when my grandfather began following the team. Although I never had the privilege of meeting my grandfather, his passion for the Packers carried onto my Dad and two uncles, and then to me and my brother.  Growing up, we’d watch every Packers game that was on TV and it was always a big deal.  Pizza, special snacks, and all the stuff we weren’t allowed any other time.  It was something we all gathered around to watch and cheer on together.

I remember Brett Favre’s first season, when he replaced Don Majkowski, in the early 1990’s.  He was young and gutsy and had a cannon for an arm.  He was my favorite player for the seventeen seasons that he was with the Pack.  I own three #4 jerseys that I rarely bring out of the closet after all the turmoil his return to the NFL had caused in 2008.  But he’ll always be my favorite player, the player I cheered for religiously season after season.  There’s rumor that he and the Packers front office have reconciled and that his number will officially be retired in an upcoming season.  I’d be delighted to see that happen, along with his nomination into the Hall of Fame.

Lambeau Field

Imagine an amazing NFL stadium sitting in the middle of a small town, with a gas station and shopping plaza on one side, a practice facility on the other, and your grandparents’ small house surrounding the other two sides. That’s Lambeau Field.  I’ve never seen a stadium like it.  If you walk across the street, you’re walking on the front sidewalk of small, modest row homes.  On one side there are a few hotels and lots of shops and restaurants.  There is no stadium like it because it’s not placed in downtown of a big city surrounded by parking lots and then the big city.  It’s surrounded by a small town.  No skyscrapers, no parking decks, just a small town with a lot of love for its football team.

I’ve seen the Packers play in Buffalo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Carolina.  Packer fans travel well.  Outside of Steelers followers, Packer fans may arguably be the next most well-traveled fan base.  But watching them on the road isn’t comparable to watching them play at Lambeau.  The tailgating, the parties, the fans, the stadium, everything is different.  I’ve never seen such a family friendly atmosphere as well.  There are always punks and folks out of line no matter where you go, but overall, seeing two games at Lambeau, there hasn’t been a friendlier, more fun environment to watch a game. I can’t wait to go back.

Rodgers and the 2013 Season

Training camp has officially started, and preseason games are only a few weeks away.  The Packers should be solid once again, but I’m not sure they’re experienced enough to be a Superbowl-bound team.  It’s hard to belief Aaron Rodgers is their most seasoned player.  He still seems like a kid to me.  The offensive line has been shuffled around, so hopefully they’re improved from last few seasons as they given up close to league-leading sacks.  Rodgers could use a few extra seconds to get the ball out. I’m very excited about the new running backs, particularly Eddie Lacy, the rookie out of Alabama.  The Pack hasn’t had a solid, go-to back since Ahman Green, and even he wasn’t spectacular given his fumbling issues.  I think most people would agree that if the running game improves it will logically open up the passing game for Rodgers and his stellar group of receivers.  It was disappointing to see Greg Jennings leave, especially since he went to the Vikings. But Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb have been consistently strong performers, while the speedy James Jones has been up and down with his butterfingers.

I will proudly wear my #52 Matthews jersey every Sunday this season.  The guy is a beast and so much fun to watch.  The addition of rookie DE Datone Jone out of UCLA will hopefully help the rush defense which was 26th in the league last year.  In addition, most teams have adjusted well to doubling up on Matthews, and the lack of another high-quality DE prevented him from getting as much pressure on QBs as he had in prior seasons.  2012 first-round pick LB Nick Perry out of USC is making a return after a rookie season plagued with injury.  I’m hopeful his presence will have a positive impact.  But there’s a lot of inexperience in the secondary which continues to frighten me.  Morgan Burnnett out of Georgia Tech needs to be ready for prime time after the Pack cut Charles Woodson last season.  There are quite a few unfamiliar names in that defensive backfield, hopefully some or all of which are about to shine and improve another area of weakness on the Packer’s defense.

It’s terrible I need to even mention this, but hopefully Mason Crosby (K) shows up this season after a sub-par performance in 2012.  He had been solid in prior years, but was pretty bad last year.  It’s important to have a reliable kicker.

I’m anxiously awaiting the Packers vs. 49ers rematch in SF on September 8th.  Hopefully the outcome is better than when they met in the playoffs last season and Colin Kaepernick ran around everyone like it was nothing.  Regardless, it should be another exciting year of Green Bay Packer football.  I look forward to pulling out the #52 jersey and getting my kids in their #12 t-shirts.  It’s time for the passion to pass on to the next generation.

Go Pack Go!

I'd like to express a huge thank you to Nick Tarasovitch for contributing.  This is where I usually out plugs and shout-outs.  But, Nick keeps a pretty low profile on the Internet.  He's too busy raising a family, earning a living and rooting for his Packers to get involved in a lot of online shenanigans.

If you'd like to express your thoughts about your favorite NFL team, please contact Wild Banshee via Twitter or email.

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Cooking with Banshee: BBQ Mac and Cheese

Cooking with Banshee is taking a little different tact for the July edition.  Instead of giving you a recipe, I am going to tell you about a recipe I got from Jed Gray at the  Lots of people claim to have the best macaroni and cheese of all time.  Well, all those people are wrong.  Mr. Gray's BBQ Mac and Cheese is the most unique and tasty macaroni and cheese of all time.  Not only is this dish delicious, but it is interesting and fun to make.

BBQ Mac and Cheese smoking on the grill
Why do I think this is the most excellent mac and cheese of all time?  Well, first of all, I consider myself a connoisseur of this dish, and I declare it's the best.  But, more importantly, I took it down to a 4th of July picnic in Charlotte, North Carolina.  This picnic was filled with people whom I consider to be tremendous cooks and even more tremendous eaters.  Jessica Smartt, a blogger who posts recipes on her own site, had this to say about the BBQ Mac and Cheese: "It was actually amazing how different and delicious it was.  The smokiness and unique flavors of the cheese came through entirely.  I stuffed myself and still wanted more."

So, why do I think this is fun to make?  Well, it is macaroni and cheese cooked on the grill.  It involves smoking wood chips.  And, you get a chance to fry up bacon in a cast iron skillet.  It doesn't get much better than that.

Why didn't I post the recipe?  Well, that is simple.  I didn't invent this recipe.  And, unlike the stuff I find in magazines or cookbooks, this was invented by someone I actually know (at least in the Twitter sense of the word "know").  If you want to try this delicious recipe, then you need to follow this link to  And while you're visiting, you should check out the other recipes and articles.

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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Time for a Name Change

It is time for the Washington Redskins to change their name.  Those of you who know me personally probably had to read that sentence several times to make sure their eyes were not deceiving them.  I am a traditionalist.  I am a political conservative.  I am a Redskins fan.  And yet, I believe that the time for a name change has come.

I've written in the past about political correctness getting ridiculous when it comes to choosing a sports mascot.  A mascot is not inappropriate merely because it refers to a group of people or a particular ethnicity.  The Vikings and the Celtics come to mind.  And the Fighting Irish.  Those mascots are not offensive or divisive.  I think a mascot named the Zulus would be fine.  They were a proud warrior culture.  That would be akin to the common Spartan mascot.  But having a logo that looks like King Shaka and calling the team the Darkies would be obviously inappropriate and offensive.  And that's really where the Redskins fall.  They are not the Blackhawks.  They are not the Illini.  They are not even the Braves.  They are a racial epithet.

I realize that virtually no fan (including me) thinks anything one way or another about real Native Americans when they are cheering for the Redskins.  I am confident that not every person of Native American descent is outraged by the name.  Nonetheless, the word "redskin" is not one that needs to be part of our common parlance.

(Larry French/Getty Images)
But, changing the Redskins' name is not just socially enlightened.  It could also make good business sense.  Realizing that your company has a bad public relations image and gets in the news regularly for being a cultural lightening rod is not somehow being soft or bowing to political correctness.  It's just realizing that your image needs a makeover.  It will be great public relations.  And committed Redskins fans are not going to abandon RG3 and company over a new name.  That's especially true because Redskins don't have to do a mea culpa and apologize for their history.  The organization can simply make a statement that they are now moving in a new direction.  It's simply a change.  Not a total divorce from the history of the franchise.  Plus, a new name and logo will give fans a reason to open up their wallets and buy new gear.  We already know that alternate jerseys create a merchandizing buzz.  This could be so much bigger.

(Geoff Burke/US Presswire)
If there was ever going to be a good time to make this admittedly difficult change, this is it.  In the wake of the Aaron Hernandez murder charges, an alarming number of players being arrested in this off season and the never-ending concussion saga, the NFL could use a headline that the press will adore.  And if Dan Snyder gives the NFL that headline, the league could very well make it worth his while.  And in terms of the team on the field, there is a renaissance going on in D.C.  The fans are optimistic and excited.  And for good reason.  Washington is the defending champions of the NFC East.  And, they have a young core of talented players, led by RG3 on offense and Brian Orakpo on defense.  It's an excellent cast of characters to usher in a new era in our nation's capitol.

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Sunday, July 7, 2013

Puig Needs to be an All Star

Allow me to introduce myself ....  I am far more than a casual sports fan.  I run this sports blog and have a Twitter account dedicated exclusively to sports.  Baseball is probably about 5th on my list of sports that I follow year round.  But I know what's going on at all times.  I am also in my early thirties.  I am well educated and middle class.  I'm single and have no children.  So I have disposable time and disposable income.  In other words, I am the demographic that Major League Baseball absolutely must have watching the All Star game if they intend to remain at all relevant in the national sports consciousness as the years progress.  And yet, the MLB All Star game is not appointment television for me.

What will earn the Midsummer Classic a spot on my iCalendar this year?  Yasiel Puig.  And yet, the idea of including Puig in the the All Star game is somehow controversial in the baseball world.

Yasiel Puig
(Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)
Yasiel Puig is a 22 year-old, rookie outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers.  He is a Cuban defector who came to the United States via an escape to Mexico in 2012.  Without even seeing Puig play, you can tell he is something unique.  The man is built like an NFL linebacker.  His hitting statistics are amazing.  He is batting over .400 with a slugging percentage threatening .700.  But some of Puig's finest work has actually been done on defense.  Puig has made some dazzling throws from right field.  And the guy can really run the bases, too.  It's not just his home runs that have elevated his slugging percentage.  It's also his ability to stretch a single into a double.  Puig is the rare, true, 5-tool player.  In June, Puig was named National League Rookie of the Month and also National League Player of the Month.

(Created by
So, why is the idea of including Yasiel Puig in the All Star game so controversial?  Well, the legitimate reason is that Puig has only been in the major leagues since the start of June.  Baseball is a sport that is all about the long haul.  Since Puig's body of work has all taken place over the short time span of one month, there are legitimate questions about whether he's a good player or only having one good month.

But, the real reason Puig is controversial is because the self-appointed gate-keepers of baseball are amongst the most pretentious group of people in America.  They make the Academy of Motion Pictures voters look like a group of common film fans.  This week, Jonathan Papelbon, a closer for the Philadelphia Phillies, went so far as to call the idea of Puig making an appearance in the All Star game "a joke."

I'll tell you what really is a joke:  The over-blown, self-importance that baseball insiders place on the All Star game.  At the end of the day, the All Star game is a spectacle put on to entertain the fans.  It's entertainment.  Pure and simple.  And don't be fooled by the MLB marketing campaign claiming that now the All Star game counts.  It only "counts" because the fans were not entertained when 2002 All Star game ended in a tie after both squads ran out of pitchers.  Entertainment value is the reason that the starting lineups are selected by the votes of the fans.  And, entertainment value is the reason that every team must have a representative on the team.  It's so that every fan has someone familiar to tune in to watch and cheer for.

Bruce Bochy, NL All Atar Manager
Well, the fans want to cheer for Yasiel Puig.  They couldn't vote him into the starting lineup because he was down in Triple A for too long to start the season.  The players and managers, including the aforementioned Jonathan Papelbon, had the next chance to give the fans what they want.  They chose not to.  Of course, they couldn't put him into one of the eight pitcher slots they had to select.  But they also chose not to make Puig a back-up for any of the outfield slots.  Next, came the manager's turn.  And Bruce Bochy of the San Francisco Giants also decided that protecting some imagined concept about the integrity of the game was more important than entertaining the fans that pay his salary.  As manager for the NL squad, Bochy got to name the next nine members of the National League roster.  Bochy couldn't find a place on the team for Puig ... who, by the way, plays for his team's arch rival.

So, 33 members of the 34-man All Star roster are set.  Fortunately for MLB, the fans get one last chance to get the most exciting player in baseball into next week's All Star game.  Puig is on the list of five players that the fans can choose from in the online voting for the final roster spot in the National League.  I expect that the fans will do the right thing.  And then MLB should thank the fans for getting me and the rest of my demographic to tune into the game.

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