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Friday, August 30, 2013

NFL Preseason Preview 2013

After a seemingly endless summer, football season is finally here.  So, it's time for Wild Banshee to post her official 2013 NFL predictions.  Last season's predictions involved a bit of science, but they were all done in the span of one day.  In hopes of improving on last year's mark of only picking 7 out of 12 playoff teams, this year's projection project began way back in June.  I found a website that posted the NFL schedules in a grid format.  I then predicted the winner of each and every game.  After many revisions and  tweaks over the course of the summer, I had a projected record for each NFL team.  Those records are the basis for my 2013 NFL playoff predictions.  And lest anyone scoff too much at what you are about to see, it should be noted that every year since 1996, five teams make the playoffs that didn't qualify the year before.  Every year besides last year, that is.

So without further ado, I present the official Banshee Sports NFL predictions for 2013.

AFC East:  No use easing into things.  Might as well start off with a bold prediction.  The Miami Dolphins are going to break the Patriots' decade-long strangle-hold on the AFC East.  I don't think that the Dolphins are going to set the world on fire.  But, I think 9-7 will be good enough to win this division.  I know this is blasphemous, but I think the Patriots are going to hover right around the .500 mark.  Tom Brady is still an upper echelon quarterback, but between free agency, injuries and the criminal justice system, he is gonna run out of targets to throw to.  As for the rest of the division, the Jets and the Bills will be in the running for the top spot in the 2014 common draft.  Division Winner:  Miami Dolphins.


AFC North:  The Baltimore Ravens are the defending Super Bowl champions, but the Cincinnati Bengals are the defending champions of this division.  And I see no reason to pick against them this year.  Andy Dalton has proven to be a competent quarterback, and the Bengals have continued to add potent weapons around him.  Meanwhile, the Ravens have made some curious off-season moves that left even the most ardent of Ravens' supporters scratching their heads.  The Steelers have done nothing to improve themselves after a lackluster 8-8 season in 2012.  Which brings us to the Cleveland Browns.  I know that the Browns are the punchline of almost every NFL joke, but I see them as a team on the rise.  They have new ownership and new leadership under GM Michael Lombardi.  Due in large part to the decline of the Ravens and the Steelers, I believe the Browns will finish the regular season at 9-7 and earn a wild card berth.  Division Winner:  Cincinnati Bengals.  Wild Card:  Cleveland Browns.

AFC South:  After two radical predictions, I'm going back to conventional wisdom in the AFC South.  The Texans were the class of the division for the last two years, and I believe they will be again.  In fact, I consider them the favorite to have the best record in the AFC.  As for everyone else ... well, the success of the Colts in 2012 defied explanation and logic.  And, since I can't explain it, I'm not going to predict that the Colts repeat that performance in 2013.  .500 is a reasonable expectation for the Colts this season.  The Jaguars will make significant strides forward this season, but the Jags and the Titans will both finish the season with losing records.  Division Winner:  Houston Texans.


AFC West:  Last season, I was a Peyton Manning doubter.  I did not predict that the Broncos would make the playoffs.  And, after the Broncos posted a 13-3 regular season record, I looked foolish.  I do not intend to make that mistake again. I think the Broncos will win the division by a comfortable margin and challenge the Texans for the best record in the AFC.  But, I am just too stubborn to completely turn my back on last year's AFC West predictions.  I think the Chiefs are going to have a big bounce back this season.  A new coach and a new quarterback are part of the solution.  But, the number of injuries they suffered last year just simply cannot happen for a second year in a row.  The return of Eric Berry might be the most significant reason that the Chiefs will capture a playoff spot in 2013.  Division Winner: Denver Broncos.  Wild Card: Kansas City Chiefs.


NFC East: I don't really hide the fact that I am a Redskins fan.  But, my reasoning for picking them to win the NFC East is made more with my head than my heart.  I think the Redskins will be a little better this year, and I don't think any of the other teams in the division made significant improvements.  RG3 might not be full strength to start the season.  But Alfred Morris will be more experienced, and the rest of the offense will be more familiar with the unique style they adopted last season.  And, the return of Brian Orakpo on defense cannot be underestimated.  The rest of the division is kind of a mystery.  The Giants seem to over-achieve every year.  And the Cowboys always seem to go the opposite direction.  And with Chip Kelly taking the job that Bill O'Brien apparently did not want in Philly, the Eagles are likely to be in a messy transition phase.  So, for the second year in a row, I think the NFC East will only send one team to the post season.  Division Winner:  Washington Redskins.


NFC North:  Here comes another bold prediction.  The Chicago Bears will dethrone the Green Bay Packers as the champions of the Black and Blue Division.  The last time I made this prediction, I was a first year student in law school, and I was mocked by the people I was trying to win as friends, including a Chicago native.  But the Bears finished that season 13-3.  I am not predicting that sort of greatness for the Bears in 2013.  But, I do believe that the Bears are the best team in a bizarre and tumultuous division.  I believe that the Packers and the Vikings have taken significant strides backwards.  And while the Lions have moved forward, I do not believe they will be able to keep pace with the Bears over the course of a 16-game season.  Division Winner:  Chicago Bears.


NFC South:  Last year saw a changing of the guard in the NFC South.  The Atlanta Falcons dethroned the New Orleans Saints as the boss of the division.  Of course, the Saints were without their leader Sean Peyton since he was serving a suspension in the wake of the bounty scandal.  There is no doubt that the Saints missed Peyton.  But, the Falcons were also legitimately good.  And, they will be excellent again this year.  The addition of the aging but still effective Steven Jackson will bring more power rushing to an offense that already features the best receiving corps in football.  But, I do not see the Falcons duplicating their 13-3 mark from last season.  That's because the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will make some big strides forward in their second year under head coach Greg Schiano.  Doug Martin will emerge as one of the best running backs in the league and lead the Bucs to a playoff berth.  Division Winner: Atlanta Falcons.  Wild Card: Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

NFC West:  We wrap up this preview column with a look at the toughest division in the NFL.  Although the Falcons actually knocked of the Seahawks in last year's NFC divisional round of the playoffs, many people believed that by the end of the 2012 regular season Seattle had grown into the best team in the conference.  Of course, it's the San Francisco 49ers that won the division and represented the NFC in the Super Bowl.  During the offseason, it looked like the Seahawks gained a bit of an advantage when they signed Percy Harvin away from the Vikings, but Harvin will apparently miss most, if not all, of the 2013 season with a hip injury.  But, the Niners have suffered their share of key injuries, too.  Best case scenario, wide receiver Michael Crabtree might return from achilles surgery in time for the last few games of the season. I believe that the Seahawks might be the best team in the NFC West.  However,  Seattle has to travel to Houston, Indianapolis and Atlanta while San Francisco gets all those foes at home on the West Coast.  Therefore, the 49ers have an edge to win the NFC West.  Division Winner:  San Francisco 49ers.  Wild Card: Seattle Seahawks.

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Fan's Voice: Hail to the Redskins!


This is the fifth 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 is written by Todd Smartt.

I grew up in the Washington, D.C. area when things were going well for the Redskins.  We had a hall of fame coach, we went to all kinds of NFC Championships and won a few Super Bowls.  As a young boy, I was given a Redskins football outfit (pads, pants, jersey and helmet).  And, I lived in a neighborhood with all kinds of kids my age who also rooted for the mighty Redskins.  All of this added up to the perfect age where a formidable football fan experience and superiority complex for the Skins could be developed. For a while I assumed every team had a section of men that dressed up like women and wore wigs and pig snouts.

(AP Photo/David Stluka)
The teams of the 1980’s and early 90's were made up of hard-nosed guys like John Riggins, Art Monk, Joe Theisman, Doug Williams, Dexter Manley (great football name), Charles Mann, Mark May (would you please just smack Lou holtz in the teeth?), etc ....  They were fun for me to watch because they won and they were on TV every week.  Not because I knew anything about football.  

I drifted away from the Skins for 2 years when my family moved to California and out of the local viewing area.  But then my passion was reignited when we moved back to southwest Virginia where the Skins were back in their rightful place on our TV set each week.  I drifted away again during college when the local networks were filled with nothing but Rust Belt teams.  For 4 years, I had to endure the stench of Cleveland Browns fans and the grey-skied ignorance of Steelers fans.  

Fast forward to adulthood when I moved to Charlotte (where I learned that banking attire was apparently preferred garb for football games).  The Panthers were in the midst of some good times and made a Super Bowl run my 2nd year there.  I teetered on joining the Panthers band wagon after so many years of failure and disarray in Washington (never-ending "transition period" of coaches, players, ridiculous free agency spending and a Jerry Jones-esqe owner).  But then I got to meet one of my idols -- Joe Gibbs.

Not only did I get to meet him, but I was involved with an outreach ministry to high schools kids with which he was also involved.  Needless to say, when he went back to coach a 2nd time I wept and peed my pants at the same time when I heard the news.  He's not on a pedestal in my eyes because I stopped doing that with athletes/celebrities after I realized that they are human with the same struggles as the rest of us, but I do respect him greatly. 

(Jason Smith/Getty Images)
Here's what I know about Joe Gibbs.  In addition to the outreach ministry, I got to interact with him in a variety of settings.  I got to spend time at his house, I got to know some of the fine folks at Joe Gibbs Racing, and I got to see him at plenty of race tracks.  One of the greatest moments of my life was when I saw him at the Rockingham Speedway.  I was there with my then-employer and now-father-in-law.  I had seen Coach Gibbs a few nights earlier at a fundraising dinner.  At that dinner, I was the main character in a skit that made him laugh.  When I saw him at the racetrack, Coach said, “Hey, Todd,” and then just started laughing.  My boss was not sure what was happening, because he did not know that I knew Coach Gibbs at that point. Then he kept laughing at me and said, “That was some funny stuff.”  My boss/father-in-law was not sure what to do.  I again wept and peed my pants at the same time again.  Shortly after that, I was given a Skins polo that Coach Gibbs wore during a game in his 2nd coaching stint. I only wear it during playoff games … which has been exactly once since it was given to me.  

But, it was not just about Coach Gibbs.  The team in that era had players who were easy to root for.  At that time Chris Cooley’s sports blog came out.  It was one of the first athlete blogs online (http://chriscooley47.blogspot.com).  It offered an inside glimpse into his personal antics and into the locker room before any of this social media stuff came out.  Captain Chaos is one of my favorite skins of all time.  But, he wasn’t the only character on that squad.  In fact, Clinton Portis was several characters all on his own.  During that era,
I was on the Skins site everyday to see if there were any new Clinton Portis videos.  Some of my favorites are Choo Choo and Napoleon Dynamite, but there are many classics.

A few side notes:

I love Dan Snyder, and I don't love him.  Fed Ex field sells out every game even when the Redskins are terrible.  But, that’s partly because Snyder sells an exorbitant amount of tickets to away teams each week because he knows he can make more money than keeping them in DC.  But I don't fault him for being a good businessman.  What I do fault him for is for meddling.  Would I meddle if I owned an NFL team?  Yes.  Will I ever own an NFL team?  Probably not.  Would I pay Albert Haynesaretoosmallforhimsworth $100 million?  Maybe.  I give Snyder credit for trying to make big off-season acquisitions, but at some point someone has to have told him that 2 or 3 of these "reaches" for greatness weren’t wise. Neon Deion?  Donovan McNabb?  It seems like more recently someone (hopefully his GM) has gotten in his ear and told him to write checks.  Period.  No meddling.  No favorites.  No ridiculous deals that will ruin a cap for 3 years.  

I feel for Browns fans, Bills fans, Raider fans, etc ....  Even though Washington has not been consistently good, at least we have been good enough to make the playoffs every once in a while over the last 20 years.  I really do feel for those who have to pour their heart and soul into a team that has no shot at winning a division, a conference, a playoff game or a Super Bowl.  

The Redskins’ future looks bright.  We made the playoffs last year.  Our star QB broke many ligament-type things in his knee to end the season last year, but he seems to be rehabbing well.  We are some $13 million under the salary cap.  We have a lot of young talent that seems to be playing more consistently.  And, we are the Skins.  Also, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is a Redskins fans.  And he's like redneck Jesus, so I take pride in the fact that we have that in common.

Lastly, would someone please tell Dallas that they are not America's team?  Is that just me?  And that they are truly terrible.  And that they should please keep Tony Romo forever because it means they will not be good.  

HTTR!

Banshee Sports is extremely thankful for Todd Smartt contributing this labor of love.  This is where I usually give out plugs and shout-outs.  But, Todd is a working man who usually uses his hands to make a living rather than typing things for the interwebs.

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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Sunday, August 25, 2013

College Sports Make-Over

A week from now, the college football season will be underway.  And, if you're the NCAA, the season cannot start a minute too soon.  One of top recurring topics on sports radio this summer was pointing out and bashing the hypocrisy of the NCAA.  The investigation into North Carolina never materialized while the Miami investigation drags on forever.  The O'Bannon lawsuit attracted some active college players and caused a divorce with EA Sports.  Then the summer ended with Johnny Football's future eligibility being in jeopardy over allegedly receiving money for autograph sessions.  The culmination of events resulted in a cacophony of criticism for the NCAA as an institution and calls for its dissolution.

Maybe it's because I'm a girl, but the idea of college sports becoming nothing more than minor league level professional sports almost brings me to tears.  The reason collegiate athletics brings out unique passion in fan bases is because rooting for a college is not just about rooting for the players currently wearing the uniform.  It is about rooting for an image, for a larger institution and for the traditions of that institution.  Unlike most professional sports teams, there are very real cultural differences between the collegiate teams with which we align ourselves.  But, times have certainly changed since the NCAA was founded in 1906.  Some systemic changes are needed or the entire concept of student athletes may become a thing of the past.  I believe that collegiate athletics can change while still preserving the differences between schools that leads to all that we love about college sports.

The talking heads of sports incessantly repeat the mantra, "College sports are big business."  Well, that's not actually true.  The top levels of college football and men's basketball are big business.  With the exception of a few women's basketball programs and handful of baseball programs, the other sports programs cost their schools money.  Because of this, I do not believe that the NCAA needs to be disbanded altogether.  That system works fine for the non-revenue sports and for small colleges.  However, FBS college football and Division 1 men's basketball should split off into their own organization (for purposes of this article, I will call it the "Collegiate Athletic Organization" or (CAO).  It will be an organization that gives some compensation to the athletes that generate so much revenue but will not lose all the current feeling of amateur athletics.  The remaining sports at the other levels (including FCS football schools) should maintain the status quo.


College Football.

The CAO would invite all the current schools playing in the FBS to join.  Heading into the the 2013-2014 season, that would include 118 schools.  Those 118 teams include some small programs like the Old Dominion Monarchs, the Idaho Vandals, and the UTSA Roadrunners who traditionally have football budgets that are just a fraction of those at the traditional power schools.  In the CAO, there will be an increase in spending.  So, it's possible that not everyone will want to get in on the new system.  But, for those who do join, here is how things would work in the CAO.

Paid to Play.  Every school would have a $1 million salary cap per year.  That $1 million would be divided amongst 100 scholarship players.  Schools can fund that payroll any way they see fit.  The school would also be free to divide up the payments amongst those 100 slots in whatever manner they choose.  If you want to be the kind of school that pays all 100 guys $10,000 per year, you can do that.  If you want to be the kind of school that treats stars differently, then that is your prerogative, as well.  But, whatever monetary agreement the school and the player reach, that is the limit.  No outside payment will be allowed.  Without that restriction, college sports would turn into the wild west with kids choosing schools based purely on who has a rich alumnus ready and willing to pay them $100,000 to "work" for a couple hours in the summer at his car dealership.  Certainly, under this plan, star players will not be maximizing their market value.  But, a third string guard at UTEP is probably doing all right for himself.  Also, since room and board and tuition are already taken care of, a few thousand dollars a year allows for kids from poor families to have pizza in the dorm and see a few movies.

Scholarship Structure.  In the CAO, every school would have 100 scholarships slots for each season.  That is up from the limit of 85 under the NCAA rules.  But, that number needs to be higher because the structure of those scholarships and the method by which they are locked down will be significantly different in the CAO.

Unlike the current system, the scholarships in the CAO are not merely renewable on a year-to-year basis at the discretion of the college.  These scholarships would be valid for 5 years.  The financial package discussed above would be part of the scholarship offer.  Normal contract law would apply.  Colleges can offer slots to kids as early as they wish.  But, like all other contracts, the player (or his parents since we're dealing with minors) would be able to accept those offers whenever they are made.  Prior to acceptance, a school can withdraw their offer.  But, once an offer is accepted, that school is locked in.  As far as transfers are concerned, "non-compete" clauses can be made a part of the scholarship offer, or not, depending on the negotiation process.

The scholarship start date would be the players' projected high school graduation date.  That's when the player starts to get their free education.  And that's when the player counts against the school's limit of 100 slots.  Players still only have 4 years of eligibility, but that fifth year allows some flexibility for red shirting or finishing school after a guy's playing days are done.   But here is the rub.  A school is stuck with the 100 guys they've signed for that five-year period, regardless of whether those players end up being part of the team.  Although this new structure seemingly puts an inappropriate amount of focus on locking up players at a very young age, this wrinkle actually gives colleges much more incentive to focus their recruiting efforts on guys who are nearing the end of their high school careers.  If a school offers a scholarship to a 14 year-old boy and his family accepts, then that kid will count on their roster in the years to come.  That remains true even if the kid stops growing or stops improving.  It also remains true even if the kid can never get academically eligible or ends up in jail for that five-year period.  The only way a kid comes off the scholarship list is if he declares for the NFL draft.  Hence, there will be a renewed incentive for colleges to focus their attention on young men with good character and solid academics.

Bowls and Postseason.  Bowl games are an important part of the fabric of college football.  But, the public has made it clear that it is thirsting for a championship that is decided on the field.  The addition of a playoff system does not need to destroy the joy of bowl season.  It is the absurd number of bowl games that has ruined the fun.  In the CAO, there would be a total of 12 bowl games.  Four of those bowl games would be part of an 8-team playoff.  But earning a bid to one of the remaining 8 bowl would still be a be an achievement.  The term "bowl-bound" will once again have some prestige.

The non-playoff bowls that would be sanctioned would be the following games:  Alamo Bowl, Aloha Bowl, Citrus Bowl (aka Capital One), Cotton Bowl, Gator Bowl, Holiday Bowl, Liberty Bowl and Peach Bowl (aka Chick-Fil-A).  These bowl games would have to wait to select their teams until after the playoff teams are selected.  But after that, those bowls would be able to pick schools by whatever method they choose ... just like in the old days.  Those bowls would be played in the week between Christmas and New Years, once again restoring a special holiday feel to the games.

The Playoff Bowls and Championship.  The bowls that would serve as the quarterfinals for the playoff system would be the Fiesta Bowl, the Orange Bowl, the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl.  The 8-team field would be comprised of the the champions of the top 6 conferences and 2 at-large teams.  The at-large teams would be chosen by the CAO selection committee.  These bowls would be re-united with their traditional conference tie-ins.  Some years this will result in appropriate seeding.  Some years it will not.  But having a known bowl destination for winning a conference was a special part of conference play in the 1980's.  It was always fun to see Roses thrown on the field in Ann Arbor or oranges landing in the end zone in November in Norman.

The quarterfinal bowls would be played on and around New Year's Day.  The match-ups would be as follows:

Fiesta Bowl:  MWC v. At-large #1
Orange Bowl:  Big 12 v. ACC
Rose Bowl:  PAC 12 v. Big Ten
Sugar Bowl:  SEC v. At-large #2

The 4 winning teams would then be re-seeded by the selection committee.  The semi-finals would be played the next weekend at the home field of the higher-seeded team.  This ensures that there will be stadiums filled with vocal fans for the semi-finals.  It would be unrealistic to expect the fans who just traveled to a bowl site to make another unscheduled trip to a neutral site.  The CAO Championship Game would be played at a rotating site chosen years in an advance.  The game would be played on that empty Saturday in the weekend between the NFL conference championship games and the Super Bowl.

Basketball.

The CAO basketball structure would be similar in many ways to the football structure outlined above.  The CAO would invite all the teams that currently play Division 1 men's basketball.  Those 351 teams could remain in their current conferences.  The scholarship and payment scheme would be basically the same as the football structure, but the numbers would be smaller.  There would be 20 scholarship slots with a $200,000 salary cap.  The 5-year scholarship structure would also apply.   But, because the NBA has different rules than the NFL regarding draft age eligibility, declaring for the draft and even playing in the NBA would not free up one of the 20 slots.  However, much like the transfer rules, players and colleges can negotiate a non-compete clause that would apply to the NBA for a certain number of years.  This will improve the quality of play in college because fewer players will be free to leave after one brief year on campus.  March Madness is already one of the best things we have in American sports.  The tournament would remain basically unchanged in the CAO.  But, the field would be trimmed back to the logical number of 64 teams.



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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Cooking with Banshee: Corn Salsa

Not sure if this recipe is more aptly called salsa or pico de gallo.  I just call it delicious.  If you enjoyed the popular Banshee Guacamole, then you will definitely enjoy its partner, corn salsa.  Of course, I did not invent this concept, but I but this specific blend of ingredients is my own creation.

Ingredients:
6 roma tomatoes (seeded and diced)
1 small red onion (diced)
2 jalapeƱo peppers (stemmed, seeded and diced)
2 habanero peppers (stemmed, seeded and minced)
1/2 cup of cilantro (chopped)
1/2 cup black beans (rinsed)
1/2 cup corn
1 Tbs kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 Tbs lime juice
1 tsp lemon juice


Directions:
Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and combine well.  Cover and refrigerate for an hour before serving.

Tips:
As listed, the recipe has a little kick.  But not too hot.  Appropriate for most people and their guests.  You can easily adjust the heat by changing the number and type of peppers.  Also, changing the salt content changes the heat.  More salt makes a hotter salsa.  Really, all the ingredients are negotiable.  That's the beauty of salsa.




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Saturday, August 17, 2013

Cooking with Banshee: The Royal Apple

I am a proud Virginian.  As such, I am blessed to live in an area of the country where history and hard cider are both abundant.  The Royal Apple pays homage to both.  My understanding is that this drink was enjoyed by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry as they planned and executed the American Revolution.  Fermented cider was readily available in colonial times.  And rum was one of the few spirits that was also available in colonial taverns.  I learned this drink from a local pharmacist named Charles Moss.  He scratched the instructions down for me on a napkin at my favorite local watering hole.  Mr. Moss learned it in Colonial Williamsburg at the Chowning's Tavern.  Now, I'm sharing it with you.

Royal Apple

Ingredients:
12 oz hard cider (I used Bold Rock Cider. It's brewed locally in Nelson County, VA.)
1 oz light rum
1 Tbs lime juice
1/2 tsp sugar

Directions:
Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker full of ice.  Shake gently.  You don't want to waste all the fizz of the cider.  Plus, if you shake it too hard, the cap will pop off.  Pour the contents into a glass filled with ice.  Enjoy!


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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Banshee Blitz

This is the third edition of the Banshee Blitz.  That basically means that I've been preoccupied with my real job while a bunch of sports stories were breaking.  So, instead of in depth analysis, you're gonna get some off-the-cuff commentary.  And, let's be honest.  That's what the Interwebs are best suited for.  So, here we go.

Stewart at Southern Iowa Speedway
(Mary Willie/Des Moines Register)
Extracurricular Racing:  If you tuned into the NASCAR race this weekend to See Tony Stewart, then you were sorely disappointed.  Instead of taking the green flag at Watkins Glenn, Stewart was stuck in a hospital after undergoing a second surgery on his broken right leg.  Stewart broke his tibia and fibula in a sprint car race at Southern Iowa Speedway in Oskaloosa, Iowa.  That is a half-mile, dirt oval.  If you want a better idea of how small time this race really was, check out the video.  Not just the wreck itself but the cleanup, too.  There is no word yet about if or when Tony Stewart will return to the Sprint Cup circuit.  But, it is clear that the injury has eliminated the #14 team from a chance for a slot in the Chase.  I understand that racing is just in Smoke's blood.  I know that it's what he does for a living, and it is what he does for fun.  But getting hurt during the NASCAR season at a place like SIS just strikes me as ridiculous.  This would be like Bubba Watson showing up at your local municipal course on a random Wednesday and getting injured by some careless duffer's errant shot hitting him in the head.  Okay, that's not a perfect analogy, but you get the picture.  Auto racing is incredibly dangerous.  If you are a world class driver, then you need to limit your death defying appearances for the ones that really matter.

(Yong Kim/MCT)
Riley Cooper, Racism and the Eagles:  If you're reading this blog, then you are probably already well aware of the video of Riley Cooper angrily spewing the n-word.  Not in a casual rap-quoting manner but in an angry and threatening manner.  You're probably also aware that Cooper has since been dismissed from practice, fined by his team, sent to sensitivity training and reinstated on the Philadelphia Eagles roster.  That all occurred in the space of about 5 days.  The swiftness of the punishment and secrecy of the fine caused a lot of national talking heads to demonstrate surprising levels of cynicism about the motives of all authority figures involved.  But, since that time, I have read and heard some very intelligent discussion about this specific incident and the larger topic of race relations in our culture.  Joseph Nardone's piece on Sports-Glutton.com and Scott Burks' piece at the Klown Times are just two examples.  So, I just want to add one brief thought to the discourse over this ugly incident.  And, I use the word "ugly" intentionally.  What Cooper did was not illegal.  And, thankfully, no one was physically harmed during the incident.  What Cooper did was nasty and mean and unbecoming.  But, sports have long been an instrument to bring about social change in our nation ... especially on the topic of race.  I believe the behavior of Cooper and the other Eagles going forward can serve as a great lesson to all of us about contrition, forgiveness and reconciliation.

(Photo by @LBroookeee)
Johnny Manziel:  At this time last year, very few people knew the name Johnny Manziel.  Back then, he was just waiting for his freshman year of college to start and hoping that an offseason arrest wouldn't derail his college football career at Texas A&M before it even got started.  In less than a year, "Johnny Manziel" was transformed into "Johnny Football."  He became the first freshman to win the Heisman trophy and took on folk hero status along the way.  Manziel's image was greatly aided by head coach Kevin Sumlin's rule banning freshman from talking to the media.  Then then the gag came off.  And ever since then, Manziel has found himself in a whirlwind of fame and controversy.  Although Manziel avoided any arrests this offseason, he spent the spring and summer jet-setting, globe-trotting, hobnobbing, drinking, partying and running his mouth on Twitter whenever anyone had the gaul to criticize his extravagant and reckless behavior.  And all the while, the media chorus alternated between reporting on his childish exploits and chastising anyone for judging what the chattering class deemed to be the behavior of every 20 year-old "kid."  Sure, a lot of college kids to stupid things.  But, it was 20 year-old "kids" that have for generations poured out their blood on foreign soil as enlisted men in the United States military.  So, let's just dial it back a bit with this idea that Johnny Manziel is too young to be expected to behave with dignity and maturity.  And, my concern over Johnny's offseason behavior was never over one particular incident.  Ignoring the parking ordinances in College Station is not a capital crime.  And a few underage beers aren't going to ruin anyone's life.  But an overwhelming sense of entitlement and constant disregard for the rules of society eventually leads to trouble.  And now Johnny Football is facing the possibility of having his collegiate career terminated prematurely because he allegedly took money in exchange for putting his signature on TAMU memorabilia.  Is this a stupid NCAA rule that should change?  Probably so.  But, it's still a rule ... just like the underage drinking laws and the parking ordinances.  And disregarding the rules has consequences.  Part of me hopes this finally serves as a real wake-up call for Johnny Manziel.  After all, he is fun to watch on the gridiron.  But another part of me hopes there is a serious penalty in his future so that he can serve as a warning to the 16 year-olds who are looking up to him right now.

(AP)
In Support of Taunting:  There was some chatter last week about the NFL's renewed focus on banning all forms of taunting.  I'm a conservative and low key person, so it might come as a surprise to many of you that I detest these rules in the so-called No Fun League.  But, let me be clear ... Personally, I abhor taunting and showboating in all forms.  If you score a touchdown, you should act like you've done it before.  Same with a sack.  Same with an interception.  And, for the love of all that's holy, I do not believe that gaining four yards for a first down is not worthy of an Adonis pose.  But, as Bob Costas once said, "Sports is drama without a script."  And, drama thrives on good guys battling villains.  This is something pro wrestling has understood and exploited for the better part of fifty years.  When the NFL legislates bad behavior out of sports, it takes away some of the fun of choosing a team to root for.  Cleansing the game of unattractive behavior has also removed any opportunity for the good guys to stand out.  I miss the days of Terrell Owens preening on the star in Dallas.  Not because I liked that nonsense.  But because I liked the chance to root against it.


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