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Friday, January 31, 2014

Cooking with Banshee: Backfield BLT Dip

It's Super Bowl weekend!  According to Vegas and all the experts, this year's game should be a classic.  But, no matter how good the game is, the Super Bowl is even better with some quality pre-game food.  Whether, you're hosting a big bash, attending a little get together or just watching at home with your family, this football-themed dip will be a fan favorite.

Backfield BLT Dip

1 lb bacon
16 oz cream cheese
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
2 cups shredded fontina cheese
1 (10 oz frozen  package of frozen spinach, thawed and drained
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 Tbs dijon mustard
1 1/2 cups chopped, seeded tomatoes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray 1 1/2 quart baking dish with cooking spray.

Coarsely chop the bacon.  Crisp the bacon in a skillet over medium heat.  Set aside half of the bacon.

In a large bowl, combine the remaining crisp bacon, cream cheese, shredded cheese, spinach, sour cream, mayonnaise and dijon mustard.   Spoon mixture into the greased baking dish.  Bake for 30 minutes, or until bubbly.  When the contents of baking dish are hot and bubbly, sprinkle the chopped tomatoes and the remaining bacon on top.  Serve immediately with tortilla chips, crackers or toasted bread.

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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Movie Review: Rush

Rush, debuted in theaters in the United States on September 27, 2013 to great anticipation and fanfare.  Rush was released on DVD on January 28, 2014.  Wild Banshee rented it immediately so that I could share my thoughts with you all.

Directed by Ron Howard, Rush is the first big budget racing movie since Days of Thunder in 1990, and the trailers played before all the big summer blockbusters.  The film documents the real-life Formula One racing rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda.  A majority of the film focuses on the 1976 championship battle between the two contrasting personalities.  As far as the plot is concerned, I am not going to provide any spoilers here.  If you are a F1 fan, then you probably already know what transpired during the epic championship battle of 1976.  If not, Google will answer any questions you may have.

While the 1976 F1 season is interesting in its own right, like most sports films, the movie is really about the men who played out the drama.  James Hunt, played by Chris Hemsworth, is depicted as a flamboyant British playboy who races hard and lives even harder.  The Austrian Niki Lauda, played by Daniel Bruhl, is depicted as an all-business, mechanically meticulous individual.  James Hunt died several years ago, so we are not privy to his thoughts on the film.  Niki Lauda, however was intimately involved in making the film.  For the most part, Lauda vouches for it's factual accuracy as well as its tonal depiction of the two men.

From a visual standpoint, the movie flat-out looks cool.  The coloring and cinematic style choices give the movie an authentic, mid 70's feel.  Then of course there is that iconic 1970's hair.  The racing footage is riveting and unique.  The events of the 1976 F1 season are also compelling.  But, what drives most great sports films is the characters.  And, this is where Rush falls short.  The film is rated R for a reason.  And that reason is the way that both men speak and act.  Neither Lauda nor Hunt are particularly likable characters.

In conclusion, Rush is an interesting story, and it looks good on the screen.  Although the characters are not emotionally compelling, those two facts alone make the film worth the price of a rental.

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Richard Sherman: Sportsmanship, Race and Image

We are now a week removed from the NFC Championship between Seattle and San Francisco.  The Seahawks won by a score of 23-17, but all anyone was talking about on Monday morning was Richard Sherman and his extraordinary post game "interview" with Erin Andrews.  I know that I'm a little late on writing a post about this.  However, unlike sideline reporters, I do not believe that instant reaction is the best reaction.

A quick recap.  The Seahawks beat the Forty Niners by a score of 23-17 to advance to the Super Bowl.  The win was sealed when Richard Sherman deflected a fade pass in the endzone away from Michael Crabtree and into the hands of his Seahawk teammate for an interception.  Sherman celebrated his great play by getting in Crabtree's face, patting Crabtree on the butt and flashing the choke sign at Colin Kaepernick.  Crabtree responded to all this with a shove to Sherman's face.  Moments later, FOX's Erin Andrews put a mic in Sherman's face.  A WWE-quality rant followed.

Actions speak louder than words.  Sherman was pretty loud in his chat with Erin Andrews, but that adage remains true in relation to the final moments of the NFC Championship game.  Sherman's words drew a lot of attention.  And understandably so.  They were surprising and unexpected, and they were easy for the mainstream media to latch onto.  They were the kind of thing that was easy for a casual fan to discuss at the water cooler on Monday even if they had not watched the game.  But, for most serious sports fans, Richard Sherman's rant was extremely entertaining and not at all offensive.  If you know anything at all about Richard Sherman then you know that he talks like this before, during and after almost every game.

What Sherman actually said on camera was not gracious, and it was not nice.  Sherman dislikes Michael Crabtree, and he told the whole world about his opinion of their relative skill sets.  But, Sherman did so without any profanity.  And he didn't engage in the kind of bizarre race-baiting that Ali engaged in against Frazier.  And, what Sherman said was nothing nearly as abhorrent as Mike Tyson's "eat your children" speech.  Sherman's rant in Erin Andrew's mic was adrenaline-driven, self-aggrandizement.  Nothing more.  And nothing unusual for Sherman.

What I disliked about Sherman's behavior at the end of the game was the way he treated his opponent.  The way that Sherman behaved towards Crabtree and especially towards Kaepernick showed a complete lack of class.  And, don't give me any word-mincing garbage about the words that Sherman actually uttered towards Crabtree.  Context is everything.  Sherman's antics were a terrible display of sportsmanship.  And, make no mistake about it, sportsmanship is not a racial issue.  When I think of sportsmanship and class on the field, the first two names that come to mind are Walter Payton and Emmett Smith ... both were African-Americans and both stood in stark contrast to the bombastic behavior of their Super Bowl-winning teammates.

Richard Sherman's image is no accident.  Richard Sherman is a very bright guy.  He was salutatorian of his high school class in 2006.  Then he chose to attend Stanford University rather than local power USC.  Sherman earned his undergraduate degree in communications from Stanford before his senior year and ultimately earned his masters degree.  The man can speak the king's English and has an impressive vocabulary.  And yet, Sherman has chosen to look like Lil Wayne and rant like a pro wrestler on the mic.  And, that image has served him well.  After all, clean cut, quiet guys like Russell Wilson don't get to be the star of Beats by Dre ads.

Lil Wayne ... pre hair cut
I wouldn't be afraid of sitting next to Richard Sherman on a subway any more than I'd be afraid to sit next to The Undertaker.  They both play characters.  Their real lives are likely very much divorced from the persona they have adopted in the public.  But, Sherman has chosen his image on purpose.  And it is entirely appropriate for football fans (and their parents) to dislike the image Richard Sherman has chosen and crafted.

Contrast makes sports great.  Part of the fun of being a sports fan is choosing sides.  And part of the fun of that choice is picking an image and ideal that you want to get behind.  That dichotomy is why the Miracle on Ice was so enjoyable for Americans.  It is also the reason that the 1987 Fiesta Bowl between Penn State and Miami is still worthy of discussion in books written twenty-five years later.  Rooting for Dale Junior is much more fun with a guy like Kyle Busch around taunting fans with a bow after his wins.  People were excited to see the upstart Arizona Diamondbacks knock off the New York Yankees in the 2011 World Series because it was a fun story to root for.

Sherman's angry celebration (Elaine Thompson/AP)
The list goes on and on.  But, these aren't frivolous and silly alignments.  These alignments are ways to vicariously identify ourselves with people on a big stage.  And our sports allegiances are a way to teach our children about real life values.  Children draw a lot of conclusions about life based on who their role models root for.  I know that I did.  I remember how my father reacted to Reggie Miller's choke sign in Madison Square Garden.  Class and sportsmanship mattered in my family.  And lest anyone think this is a race-driven issue for me, one of my earliest sports memories was my father and grandfather being outraged that the bombastic Fridge was allowed to score a touchdown in Super Bowl XX instead of allowing the long-suffering and classy Walter Payton to score in the big game.

Conclusion.  Richard Sherman is a worthy role model in many respects.  He escaped his horrific Compton roots.  He never broke the law.  He got a great education and earned a graduate degree at a prestigious university.  But, now that Sherman is on the biggest stage, he has purposely chosen the image of a brash and arrogant egotist.  Sherman is not a criminal.  He is not a thug.  But, on the field, he has chosen the image of the anti-hero.  And if some fans choose to dislike this image and the way that Sherman acted on the field after the NFC Championship game, those fans are not necessarily racist.  Those fans might be proponents of humility and sportsmanship.  The kind of humility and sportsmanship that many men of many colors in many sports have embodied before Richard Sherman had ever strapped on shoulder pads for the first time.

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Saturday, January 18, 2014

NFL Playoff Predictions: Conference Championships

The NFL Conference Championships are here.  This is the round of the playoffs that gave us The Catch, The Drive and The Fumble.  The match-ups we have this weekend are tailor-made to provide new additions to NFL lore.  Last weekend, Wild Banshee was 3-1 on predictions.  That brings my overall record to 6-2 for the playoffs.  Here is who I think will advance to the Super Bowl.

New England at Denver:  Sunday at 3:00 p.m. EST on CBS.  This is a match-up made in TV-ratings heaven.  Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, two of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, will be playing for a spot in the Super Bowl.  But football, perhaps more than any other sport, is a team game.  And the team that surrounds Peyton Manning at this point in the season is superior to the team that surrounds Tom Brady.  Bill Belichick has performed miracles with his injury-riddled Patriots defense.  But, unlike last weekend against the Colts, the Patriots will not be be able to spend all their energy concentrating on stopping just one or two players.  The Broncos have a dazzling array of receivers for Manning to throw to.  The Broncos are also ready, willing and able to run the football.  The Patriots should be able to have some success in the running game, as well.  But, in the end, the Bronco's offensive firepower will be too much for the Patriots to handle.  Peyton Manning will get a chance to win his second Super Bowl ring in his brother's home stadium.  Denver: 35-24.

San Francisco at Seattle:  Sunday at 6:30 p.m. EST on FOX.  We've seen an offensive explosion in the NFL over the last few years.  But this is going to be an old-school, throwback style game.  These are two teams that like to run the football and pride themselves on physical defense.  These two teams have already played each other twice this season.  Each team won on their own home field.  The rubber match will be played in Seattle.  The Seahawks' offense was not a thing of beauty last weekend against the Saints, but the defense held the explosive Saints to a mere fifteen points.  The Niners have been better on offense since Michael Crabtree returned to the lineup in Week 13, but they are still not a team that should strike fear into the heart of the Seahawks.  The Niners were able to put up twenty points last weekend at Carolina.  But, the Seahawks secondary is far superior to that of the Panthers.  In the preseason, I picked the Seahawks to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.  I'm not going to back away from that now.  Seattle: 20-17.

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New Years Resolutions

I wanted this post be my 200th post at Banshee Sports, but the time-sensitive nature of the NFL playoffs took precedent.  Then I got cold feet a bit on even delving into this topic.  Banshee Sports is not a navel-gazing pop psychology site.  This is a sports blog.  The kind of sports blog that celebrates adults having tantrums over games.  But, my dear friend Jessica Smartt (who also happens to be my cousin and a far more accomplished blogger than me) said she'd be delighted to read a post like this.  Better late than never, I guess.  So, here goes.  Here are my official New Years resolutions for Banshee Sports.

Less Snark, More Substance.  I started thinking about this after a Twitter exchange with Travis Williams back in December.  We were discussing some ideas about how to realign the ACC's divisions for football in 2014.  In the course of the discussion, Travis told me that he is going to try to cut back on snarkiness in 2014.  This was a bold statement because snark is the foundation of the sports blog community.  But Travis has proven that he can write insightful and hilarious columns without being mean.  That's a model to aspire to.  Don't worry, though.  I'm not going to turn Banshee Sports into a hyper-technical breakdown of the X's and O's.  Sports are fun.  And I'm going to try to stay funny.  But the reminder I got from Travis is worth taking to heart.  As Speaker Sam Rayburn once said, "Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a good carpenter to build one."  I want to be a carpenter and not a jackass in 2014.

Return of the Sports Fashionista.  Banshee Sports is still just a little over 2 years old, so its identity is still not completely defined.  There were a lot of changes in 2013.  But, one of the things I let slip through the cracks last year was the Sports Fashionista feature.  I intend to correct that in 2014.  Football is the easiest sports fashion to analyze.  But, there are plenty of other noteworthy outfits.  As I type this, my retinas are being burned off by Rafael Nadal's hot pink Nikes.  And the Winter Olympics should provide some fantastic fodder to get this feature revived in February.

Share the Love.  I never envisioned Banshee Sports as my own personal soap box.  Sure, I do the writing, but I always viewed this site as a place to celebrate the things I love: sports and food.  Like any good celebration, the more the merrier.  In 2013, we had some fun with the NFL Fan's Voice series.  In 2014, I'm hoping to have even more guest posts.  I expect to bring back the Fan's Voice series once we're all missing football again during the dog days of summer.  And, I've been discussing some possible additions to the Cooking with Banshee column.  But, I'm open to other ideas, as well.  So, consider this an open invitation.  If any of y'all have a topic that you want to write about, drop me a line.

Stay Away From Vegas.  I consider myself to be pretty knowledgeable about sports.  Especially football.  Therefore, I always assumed that if I had the opportunity, I could make some coin by putting my money where my mouth is out in the desert.  This year, I took a little baby step into gambling at (formerly  It turns out that gambling is hard.  Since I joined the website in August, I have only won 37% of my picks.  Fortunately for me, I learned this lesson with fake money.  And I have canceled all plans to relocate to Nevada.

Branch Out.  In the very near future, yours truly will be filling up even more space on the Internet.  Joseph Nardone has graciously invited me to join his team of writers at Busting Brackets.  This is definitely a step up in class for me.  I have a lot to learn.  Therefore, I haven't actually published anything there just yet.  But, moving forward, my college basketball thoughts will be exclusively at Busting Brackets.  Check them out.

Thanks for indulging me in my New Years musings.  If you have any suggestions about how to make Banshee Sports more fun, I'm all ears.

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Saturday, January 11, 2014

NFL Playoff Predictions: Divisional Round

Last weekend, the NFL gave us one of the greatest weekends of football anyone could imagine.  The only game that wasn't thrilling right to the final gun was the Chargers' big road upset of the Bengals.  Incidentally, that is also the only game that Wild Banshee missed in last week's predictions.  This weekend, Vegas only has one game listed with a point spread of less than a touchdown.  I know there is a reason why those seers in the desert get paid to bet on sports while I merely pay for the privilege to watch sports.  But, even for the pros, it's called gambling for a reason.  Here is how I see things this week.

New Orleans at Seattle:  Saturday at 4:30 p.m. EST on FOX.  Heading into last weekend, all we heard from the media was a relentless mantra about the Saints' road struggles and Drew Brees' preference for indoor games.  The Saints silenced most of that chatter with a road win at Philadelphia.  But, this week, the competition is getting ratcheted up a few notches.  While the Saints were battling the Eagles last week, the Seattle Seahawks were resting and getting healthy.  That's an extra advantage that the Seahawks really didn't need.  In Week 13, the Seahawks dismantled the Saints by a score of 34-7.  And, that was without the services of Percy Harvin.  Well, Harvin will likely be back in the lineup for this weekend.  But even if Harvin does not play, there is no reason to believe this weekend's outcome will be any different.  The Seahawks have a very solid offense and a dominant defense.  Seattle was my preseason pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, and I believe they will begin their road to the Meadowlands this weekend with a dominating performance at home.  Seattle: 35-14.

Indianapolis at New England:  Saturday at 8:00 p.m. EST on CBS.  I struggled with this pick.  First of all, I didn't predict that either one of these teams would even make the playoffs this season.  My bad.  I swallowed my pride and correctly picked the Colts to beat the Chiefs last weekend.  But, that required a miraculous comeback by the Colts.  It was the type of miracle that never gets performed against Brady and Belichick.  Andrew Luck is a great quarterback, and he will have plenty more playoff victories in his career.  But this weekend will not be one of them.  With Reggie Wayne removed from the lineup, T.Y. Hilton is the Colts only legitimate threat at reciever.  Despite the fact that the Patriots have suffered more than their share of injuries on defense, Belichick will concentrate on Hilton and figure out a way to neutralize him.  On the other side of the ball, it's never wise to pick against the Golden Boy Tom Brady in January.  Due to Luck's ability to make big plays in the clutch, the final score of this game will be closer than the game really was, but the Patriots will be victorious.   New England: 31-24.

San Francisco at Carolina:  Sunday at 1:00 p.m. on FOX.  If you are an old school fan who likes hard hitting defense, then this game is for you.  If you are a new school fan who likes innovative offense centered around athletic, young quarterbacks, then this game is for you.  In other words, this is the game of the weekend.  And Vegas agrees.  They have this game set with a spread of just one point.  In Week 12, San Francisco hosted Carolina, and the Panthers prevailed by a score of 10-9 in a defensive struggle.  I expect a close game again this time, but I think there will be a different outcome.  Back in November, Michael Crabtree was injured.  Since Crabtree's return, the 49ers' offense has been rejuvenated.  The Panthers don't have any weapon like that returning to their lineup.  Just like last time, the 49ers will be able to concentrate their defense on stopping Cam and Steve Smith.  Meanwhile, the Panthers' defensive attention will be divided.  Kapernick will not run wild like he did in Green Bay last weekend, but he will be effective enough to lead his team to victory.  San Francisco:  21-17.

San Diego at Denver:  Sunday at 4:30 p.m. EST on CBS.  I am glad that the NFL saved this game for the last game of the weekend.  For me, this was the most perplexing game of the weekend.  If you just look at the records, this game is a no-brainer pick in favor of the Broncos.  After all, the Chargers needed a last-second missed penalty on a field goal to even make it into the playoffs.  Meanwhile, the Broncos coasted to the top seed in the AFC.  But, if you look a little closer, the Chargers have a lot going for them.  First of all, they beat the Broncos in Denver in Week 15 by a score of 27-20.  And, yes, the Broncos did still have something to play for on that day.  The Chargers simply came into the mile high city and took care of business.  I know it sounds crazy, but I think the Chargers will do it again this weekend.  Last weekend, the Chargers went to Cincinnati and comfortably handed the Bengals their first home loss of the season.  Certainly, Peyton Manning is a far superior quarterback to Andy Dalton.  But, the Broncos' defense is far inferior to the Bengals' defense.  This is especially true without Von Miller in the lineup at linebacker for the Broncos.  Phillip Rivers and his bolo ties will continue their improbable run towards the Super Bowl with an upset win at Denver.  San Diego:  35-31.

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Saturday, January 4, 2014

NFL Playoff Predictions: Wild Card Weekend

It's wild card weekend in the NFL.  Since the NFL switched to it's current format of four divisions in each conference in 2005, the eventual Super Bowl winner played on wild card weekend in six of the last eight years.  Three of those years, it was actually a wild card team that won the Lombardi Trophy.  To put it simply, there is good reason to pay attention to the four games this weekend.  Last year, Wild Banshee went 3-1 on wild card weekend picks, so there is good reason to pay attention to this post, as well.  We'll handle these in chronological order.

Kansas City at Indianapolis:  Saturday at 4:30 p.m. EST on NBC.  These teams come into this game with identical 11-5 records.  Yet, they've taken very different paths to get there.  The Chiefs got off to a red hot 9-0 start only to lose five of their last seven contests.  The Colts are ending the season with some momentum by winning four of their last five games.  One of those late season wins came against the Chiefs in Kansas City in Week 16.  The Colts have also beaten San Francisco, Seattle and Denver.  That's some pretty good work.  And, I expect that good work to continue this week.  The Chiefs will struggle to protect Alex Smith without their starting right tackle, and Andy Reid will continue his life-long, inexplicable aversion to the run game.  On defense, it looks like the Chiefs vaunted pass rush will not be at full strength.  Houston will be back in the lineup, but Hali will likely be out.  And even if he does play, Hali may not be at full strength.  That will allow Andrew Luck to be good enough to carry his Colts to a victory.  Indianapolis: 24-21.

New Orleans at Philadelphia:  Saturday at 8:15 p.m. EST on NBC.  We have two very exciting offenses matched up in the primetime game on Saturday.  But, I believe this game will actually be decided by defense.  Specifically, the Saints defense.  The Saints have only given up 30 points twice this season.  Once at New England and once at Seattle.  The Eagles have given up 40 points twice this year, and one of those times was a 48-point debacle against the Vikings in mid December.  More troubling for the Eagles is the fact that they are ranked dead last in the league in passing defense.  And this week, they'll be facing one of the greatest passers of all time in Drew Brees.  I know the game is outdoors.  And I know the Saints have struggled on the road this year.  I also know that it will be cold in Philly on Saturday night, but I believe the Saints defense will do what needs to be done to secure a victory.  New Orleans: 31-24.

San Diego at Cincinnati:  Sunday at 1:00 p.m. EST on CBS.  San Diego was part of an extraordinary confluence of events on the last Sunday of the season to earn a spot in these playoffs.  That was exciting.  But it also means that the Chargers are in inconsistent 9-7 team.  That record includes losses to the likes of Houston, Tennessee, Oakland and Washington.  Yikes!  The Bengals are a much better team than anyone in that group.  And the Bengals will be at home where they are undefeated this season.  The forecast for Sunday afternoon in Cincinnati calls for cold rain changing over to snow during the game.  This likely will put a damper on both teams' passing attacks.  San Diego and Cincinnati both have adequate running games, but the Bengals are much better at stopping the run than the Chargers.  The Chargers will also be coming from the West Coast and battling an early 1:00 p.m. EST start time.  Gamblers will tell you that rarely ends well for the traveling team.  I do not believe this will be a blowout, but I do believe the Bengals will win comfortably.  Cincinnati: 28-17.

San Francisco at Green Bay:  Sunday at 4:30 p.m. EST on FOX.  There is cold, and then there is cold.  And it is going to be COLD in Green Bay on Sunday evening.  We're talking below zero temperatures at kickoff.  Typically, one would think that kind of weather would favor the home team.  But, let's be honest.  No one is actually accustomed to playing in sub-zero weather.  So, weather might be a factor but not a factor that actually helps either team.  Once again, I think this game will be decided by defense.  The Niners have a good one.  The Packers do not.  And that weakness will be even worse without the injured Clay Matthews.  Aaron Rogers might be the greatest quarterback of this generation, but the Niners will keep this a low scoring affair.  For the second time this season, San Francisco will beat the Packers in Green Bay.  San Francisco: 21-17.

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