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They are linked by the ownership of championship rings earned while playing for Washington teams. Mitch Kupchak was the sixth man on the Bullets 1978 title team and Darrell Green starred at cornerback on the Redskins 1987 and 1991 Super Bowl champion teams. But it’s possible they’ve never even met. Kupchak left town for a free agent deal with the Lakers in 1981 and Green didn’t arrive until two years later when he was the last pick of the first round of the draft.
Is it possible though, that Kupchak stole Green’s move with comments he made about Kobe Bryant this past week? The move?
Speaking on Sirius XM Radio this week, Kupchak, the longtime Lakers GM said about Kobe, “He has indicated to me that this is it. He’s on the last year of a deal. There have been no discussions about anything going forward and I don’t think there will be.”
You could say Kupchak was just answering a question honestly, but why didn’t he just stop with, “He’s in the last year of a deal.”? Could it be that Kupchak wants to make sure this is Kobe’s last year and doesn’t want to leave any opening for him to squeeze out another expensive contract?
Remember a year ago, the Lakers gave Kobe a two-year extension worth $48 million coming off a season that ended after six games because of a knee injury. This past season, Kobe injured his shoulder and was done after 35 games. He turns 37 in August and has 19 NBA seasons worth of a wear and tear on his body. Yes he’s a legend and had delivered five championships, but you can’t keep shelling out salary cap crushing contracts to an old player who can’t stay healthy.
By closing the door on the possibility of a contract extension for Kobe, perhaps Kupchak has, as Barney Fife would say, “Nipped it in the bud.” And here’s where the Darrell Green comparison comes in.
In 2001, as Green was entering his 19th year in the NFL, Marty Schottenheimer arrived with a John Wayne-swagger. He was the new head coach and from his first day on the job, let everybody know who was boss. Never mind the Hall of Fame-bound Green had already achieved living legend status, Marty was in charge and he wasn’t going to let anybody stand in his way – no matter who he was.
It started in training camp with Schottenheimer chewing out his 41-year-old, highly decorated star during a practice that was open to the media. Later asked about Green’s ability at such an advanced age, Schottenheimer said, “As you become older and your skills diminish - and I’m just speaking in general terms – then you better be really good fundamentally. If you try to rely on your skills alone, for a period of time you may be successful. But, ultimately it will get you.”
Asked about that comment, Green said, “My technique and Marty’s technique are two different things.”
Later, Schottenheimer was seen teaching Green the proper technique to field a punt, which was kind like showing Picasso how to properly hold a paintbrush. It had become clear that Schottenheimer was trying to pressure Green into retiring before he might have had to cut him.
That’s when Green pulled his shrewd move. About a week before final cuts were due, he called a news conference and announced his retirement – effective at the END of the season. Green was saying to Schottenheimer, “You wouldn’t dare cut me now.”
He actually said, “I’m not being run out of the league. I could play 20 years. I could play 22 years. But you know what? My time is now.”
Well it wasn’t quite his time. In what Schottenheimer says is the best coaching job of his career, he turned an 0-5 start into 5-5 and playoff contention before winding up with a solid 8-8 finish. And as things got better with the team, his relationship with Green improved greatly. And late in the season, the ageless wonder announced he would return for a 20th season. Only Jason Hanson, who spent 21 years with the Detroit Lions played longer with one team – and he was kicker. And it turned out Green lasted longer than Marty. A week after the 2001 season ended, Schottenheimer was fired when he refused to give back some of the power owner Dan Snyder had given him.
While Kupchak’s strategy may be to end and Green’s strategy was to extend, each used the power of the media to make his move. And each made his strike a season in advance.
Will this work for Kupchak? So far all we’ve heard from Kobe on the matter is a tweet:
My thoughts on next season being my last season are the same as the last time the media asked me last season. #nadanews.
The contract says Kobe won’t be in a Laker uniform for the start of the 2016-17 season, but a lot can happen between now and then. Just ask Darrell Green.
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The death of former Dolphins kicker Garo Yepremian, jogged a memory that that has stayed with me for more than four decades. He provided perhaps the wildest moment in my nearly 50 years of Redskins watching.
The date was January 14, 1973. The Redskins were playing the Dolphins in Super Bowl VII at the Coliseum in Los Angeles. I was 14-years old and Skins mattered more to me than anything in the world at the time. They were as they are now, the most important team in town, and literally the only team in town. The Senators had left for Texas more than a year earlier, the Bullets were 10 months away from arriving from Baltimore and it would be more than a year until the Caps were approved as an NHL expansion team. Every D.C. area resident was geeked for this game, including President Nixon, who offered Coach George Allen a special play he’d designed.
For the first 57 minutes and 53 seconds, things did not go well for the Redskins. Quarterback Billy Kilmer was intercepted three times and missed hitting a wide -open Jerry Smith in the end zone when his pass hit the crossbar. In those days, the goal posts were in the front of the end zone, not the back.
With 2:07 left to play and the Dolphins leading 14-0, Yepremian lined up to put the exclamation point on Miami’s 17-0 season. If his 42-yard field goal attempt was good, the Dolphins looked good enough to close out a 17-0 victory. That’s when perfection hit a bump in the road.
The kick was blocked by Bill Brundige. The ball rolled on the ground and was picked up by Yepremian, who likely had been coached to fall on it, but somehow decided it was good idea to throw it. His….umh pass went straight up in the air and was picked off by Redskins cornerback Mike Bass, who returned it 49 yards for a touchdown. What an unbelievable mistake!
I was watching the game with my family at the Crawford’s Super Bowl party up the street on their giant 25-inch screen (hey it’s all we had in those days). I’ll never forget my father, who’s not really an emotional guy, reacting to the play. He jumped out of his chair and his lit cigarette (yeah it was okay to smoke in somebody else’s house in those days) smashed into the ceiling, sending ashes everywhere.
After the ashes were cleaned up, we realized the Redskins still had a chance, down only a touchdown with two minutes left. The excitement was back. Allen even elected not to onside kick and leave it up to his defense to get the ball back. A better quarterback than Kilmer was that day might have made magic happen. But with just over a minute left and 70 yards away from a score, the Redskins failed to move the ball and Miami completed the only undefeated season in NFL history with a 14-7 win.
Even though the Dolphins historic season was the story, it seemed all anybody who wasn’t a fan of either of the teams wanted to talk about was Yepremian’s blunder. Johnny Carson got plenty of mileage joking about it on the Tonight Show.
Thing is, Yepremian was no joke as a player. A year earlier he’d been on the cover of Sports Illustrated after ending the longest game in NFL history with a 37-yard field goal in double overtime to beat Kansas City in the playoffs. He was made the Pro Bowl twice and was named to the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 1970’s.
The most amazing part, however, is how he got to be an NFL kicker in the first place. Born in Cyprus, he was urged to come to the United States at the age of 22 by his older brother Krikor, who’d been a scholarship soccer player at Indiana University. Once here, they started watching NFL games on television and it occurred to Garo that being a kicker was something he could do, even though he’d never played in a football game. He hardly looked like a football player at 5’8”, 142 pounds and already bald, but was determined.
With Krikor acting as his agent, Yepremian got a tryout with the Detroit Lions, who offered him a job in 1966. The season was already underway and Yepremian wound up playing in the first game he even attended. Late in the game with the Lions getting clobbered, Yepremian was called on to kick the extra point, which was good. He ran off the field in wild celebration, only to encounter Detroit’s star defensive tackle Alex Karras, who didn’t make it to Canton, but later provided a hall of fame movie moment as Mongo in “Blazing Saddles” when he punched out a horse.
Karras, who wasn’t fond of kicking specialists anyway because he didn’t think they were real football players, asked Yepremian what he was so happy about, considering the team was getting crushed.
“Because,” as Karras liked to tell it, “I just keeked a touchdown.”
Yepremian later learned the language and football rules a bit better and then left football after two years to join the army. In 1970, he resurfaced with the Dolphins, where he kicked for nine years and spent an additional three years in the league kicking for New Orleans and Tampa Bay.
In the many years that followed his Super Bowl gaffe, Yepremian never lost his sense of humor about it. He joked on twitter this past January as the Patriots “deflategate” story broke, “Forty-two years later I realize I should have deflated the ball to get a better grip on it.”
And despite the play making just about every NFL Films “Football Follies” specials, it didn’t cost the Dolphins the game and actually set up Yepremian pretty well for the rest of his life. The last time the Super Bowl was played in Miami, he was making the rounds along with several of his former teammates from that ’72 season. Of course I asked him about the play and he told me this:
“That season I made $20 thousand playing for the Dolphins. After the Super Bowl I more than doubled that talking about the play on the banquet circuit. And that launched my post-football career as a motivational speaker.”
After one of the funniest plays in the history of the game, Garo Yepremian got the last laugh.
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The words, “the fat lady sings,” are inscribed on the only championship ring earned by the Washington Wizards franchise. They are the second half of a quote that became attached to the 1978 Washington Bullets as they made their way to the title.
The full quote is, “The opera ain’t over till the fat lady sings.” Over the years it has been incorrectly attributed to Bullets coach Dick Motta. In fact, Motta did utter those words in ’78, but he was quoting a San Antonio television sportscaster named Dan Cook.
In those days, the Bullets and Spurs played in the same division, even though they reside in different time zones. With the merger of the ABA and NBA two years earlier, they didn’t have a place to put San Antonio, so they stuck them in what was called the “Central Division” with Washington, Cleveland, Atlanta, Houston and New Orleans, where the Jazz played before moving to Utah.
The Spurs won the division, and the Bullets finished second. That meant their playoff matchup began in San Antonio. The Spurs won the series opener, but the Bullets took the next three. For game five, they returned to San Antonio in time for Motta to watch in his hotel room as Cook delivered his six o’clock sportscast the day before the game. Though the Spurs trailed three games to one, Cook offered some hometown hope by saying, “The opera ain’t over till the fat lady sings,” meaning there was still time for the Spurs to turn things around.
The next day after the morning shootaround, Motta was asked how good it felt to be just a game away from taking the series. Motta responded by quoting Cook, turning around the meaning to caution against overconfidence. Lost in translation however, was the attribution. By the time it hit the papers, Motta got the credit for saying it.
San Antonio won game five, but the Bullets wrapped up the series in six at home a few days later. They then upset the defending Eastern Conference champion 76ers before coming from 3-2 down to beat Seattle in seven games for the championship. “Fat lady” t-shirts sold like crazy and 37-years later the saying endures.
The 2015 Wizards are a long ways from matching the ’78 Bullets. They still must finish the series they’re in with the Hawks and win two more best of seven series before earning rings of their own. But if that can magically happen, will, “I called GAME” become rallying cry of this season?
The quote comes from one of the emerging folk heroes of D.C. sports history. Paul Pierce, in the last stages of a great career, accomplished in Boston, trash talked the talk and walked the walk the walk in a first round sweep of Toronto. And in a mystical Saturday early evening, Pierce hit the shot at the buzzer to stem Atlanta’s 20-point fourth quarter comeback and give the Wizards a 103-101 win and a 2-1 lead in the series.
With three defenders on him, Pierce had banked in the shot. In an immediate post game interview, Pierce was asked tongue-in-cheek by ESPN sideline reporter Chris Broussard if he’d called “bank” on the shot.
“No,” said Pierce, “I called GAME.”
Incredibly the game-winner came just minutes after another magical ending a few Metro green line stops away. After the Nats had blown a 6-1 lead against Atlanta’s baseball team, Bryce Harper, who’d homered five times in his previous two games, delivered a walk-off homer for an 8-6 win. Both Pierce and Harper wear number 34, leaving Caps fans wondering if they can quickly issue that number as they pursue their first-ever Stanley Cup.
If you’re looking for a sign, maybe there’s this. On June 7, 1978, the day the Bullets became the last team in NBA history to win the 7th game of the finals on the road, a 17-year-old with shoulder-length hair pitched Aberdeen High School to the Maryland state baseball championship. He wore number 7. And like Harper more than likely will do, and these 2015 Wizards may do with Paul Pierce, he would go on to accomplish great things. His name is Cal Ripken Junior.
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During the three-decade drought between the Packers championships in Super Bowls II and XXXII, football fans in Green Bay used to tell a joke that went like this: How many Packer fans does it take to change a light bulb? Answer – Five. One to change it and four to talk about how much better it was to change a bulb when Vince Lombardi coached the Packers.
As Redskins fans, we can all relate. It ‘s been close to a quarter of a century since the Skins last Super Bowl and we’re still talking about building a winner the same way Coach Joe Gibbs did it back in the day.
The latest example is the drafting of Iowa tackle Brandon Scherff last week. As Dan Steinberg noted in a lengthy post on his DC Sports Bog, Hog thoughts immediately danced in the heads of fans. Could the Redskins be bringing back the good old days by drafting offensive linemen to build a team around? Even a couple of former Hogs tweeted about it.
Joe Jacoby wrote, “Building a foundation one block at a time. #hogs.” And our own Doc Walker wrote, “Redskins draft a HOG.”
Funny thing about Scherff at 6’5”, 319 pounds is he’s bigger than any of those famed Hogs of the 1980’s and was drafted higher than any of them. The reality is, the Hogs were more of a happy accident than anything else. There was no real plan to use draft picks on offensive linemen to build a foundation. Take a look at the starting offensive line from Super Bowls XVII and XVIII and how they got together.
Left Tackle: Jacoby, 6’7”, 305 – undrafted free agent out of Louisville. Played 14 years, starting on four Super Bowl teams, made four Pro Bowls and should be in the Hall of Fame.
Left Guard: Russ Grimm, 6’3”, 275 – third round pick from Pittsburgh. Played 11 years, starter for three Super Bowl teams and a backup on another. Made four Pro Bowls and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2010.
Center: Jeff Bostic, 6’2”, 268 – undrafted free agent from Clemson. Signed and cut by Philadelphia. Played 14 with the Redskins. Started on four Super Bowl teams. Made one Pro Bowl.
Right Guard: Mark May, 6’6”, 295 – first round pick (20th overall) out of Pittsburgh. Played nine years with the Redskins. Started on three Super Bowl teams. Made one Pro Bowl.
Right Tackle: George Starke, 6’5”, 260 - 11th round pick out of Columbia. Played 12 years. Started on first two Super Bowl teams.
As you can see, two of the five starters went undrafted and only May went in the first round. Jacoby, maybe the only one big enough to play in today’s game, wasn’t even supposed to make the training camp roster as a rookie in 1981. Coach Gibbs , then in his first year, .assumed by his size that “Jake” was a defensive lineman. When he found out he played offensive line, Gibbs wanted to cut him because he thought he had too players at his position. Good thing he didn’t go through with that plan. Jacoby wound up playing ahead of May, who was drafted to be a left tackle and wound up at guard.
And check out the weight on Starke. Tight ends these days weigh more than 260. Speaking of tight ends, both Doc and Don Warren, who played 14 years here, were thought of as Hogs because they did so much blocking. They really weren’t built like hogs. Starke, by the way, who was the elder statesman, having been drafted a decade ahead of his line mates, gave himself the title of “Head Hog.”
The Hogs represented a shift in football thinking at the time. The Packers famed pulling guard duo of Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston during the Lombardi years weighed about 245 each. You couldn’t be much bigger than that and still be quick enough to lead the power sweep. The Hogs, who were big for their time, looked like road graders clearing the way for the bruising John Riggins, who was almost as big as they were.
They ran at you until you dropped. As Steinberg notes in the Bog, the Redskins finished top five in rushing attempts five times during their decade of dominance from 1982 to ’91. It worked for that time.
Times though have changed, as Steinberg notes, only one of the last five Super Bowl winners was even top 10 in rushing attempts. Today’s game is about throwing the football. How well Scherff can pass block may greatly determine his success in the NFL.
The one thing that I find encouraging about Scherff is his athletic background. A lot of guys who are 6’5” can play basketball in high school. But Scherff also played tennis and as a sophomore played quarterback at 290 pounds. If you look at the background of the Hogs, Grimm also played quarterback in high school, Jacoby was all state in basketball – in Kentucky and Starke played basketball at Columbia when they were ranked.
There have been promising linemen who have followed in the footsteps of the Hogs in recent years. Chris Samuels made the Pro Bowl six times during his 10 years as a Redskin and Jon Janssen had a number of very good seasons. But because their teams never got past the second round of the playoffs, they’ll never be remembered with the fondness of the Hogs.
What Scherff and every Redskin fan knows is, it’s all about the hardware. Win something first. Then we can all go Hog wild.
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There’s no defending what Shane Ray did days before the NFL draft. The defensive end/linebacker from Missouri was arrested for possession of marijuana. The projected top 10 pick could take a tumble in the first round and cost himself millions.
Though he’s been described in publications like Sports Illustrated as a, “Freakish athlete. Moves pocket quickly with dynamic first step, excellent burst,” a drug issue is a tough thing to overlook. Redskins general manager Scott McCloughan has indicated he’s not looking to take a risk like that, so you can probably stop thinking about Shane Ray in burgundy and gold. But is that the right way to think?
Let’s go back 20 years ago. Coming out of the University of Miami, Warren Sapp was projected as high as number two in the mock drafts of the day. The Redskins held the fourth pick that year and I was really hopeful that Sapp would still be around at that spot. Defensive players like that are hard to come by.
As draft day neared, the New York Times reported that Sapp had tested positive for marijuana and cocaine at the combine the previous month in Indianapolis. The NFL quickly denied the cocaine part of the story, but the marijuana was still an issue. Sure enough, teams started backing away. But with Sapp still on the board, the Skins took wide receiver Michael Westbrook, who would go on to spend seven disappointing seasons in D.C., catching more than 50 balls in a season only twice over that span.
Down the board Sapp slid, with the shrewd Tampa Bay Buccaneers taking notice. Figuring they were one of only a few teams still sold on Sapp, they traded their first rounder, seventh overall, to Philadelphia for their spot at 12 plus two other draft picks. At 12 they got Sapp and then traded back into the first round for Dallas’ spot at number 28. They gave the Cowboys their own second round pick plus one of the two picks they got from the Eagles to draft Florida State linebacker Derrick Brooks. Seven years later Sapp and Brooks were cornerstones of a Bucs defense that propelled the team to a Super Bowl championship. Sapp and Brooks are now both in the Hall of Fame.
What did the Eagles do with the pick they got from the Bucs? They fell for what we now call a “workout warrior.” After his season ended at Boston College, linebacker Mike Mamula spent three months intensely training for the tested skills at the combine. His numbers were off the charts, but his career was a major disappointment. After five mediocre seasons, he was cut and never played another down.
A couple of months later, the NBA draft rolled around. The Bullets had the fourth pick. John Nash was the team’s general manager at the time and made no secret of the fact he liked Kevin Garnett, who had become the first high schooler in 20 years to declare for the draft. There were a couple of issues facing Nash at the time. One – he’d sent his first round picks for the following three years to Golden State in a deal for Chris Webber the previous fall. And two – there had been some big misses in recent drafts, including six years earlier when the Bullets took Tom Hammonds from Georgia Tech at nine, passing on the likes of Tim Hardaway and Shawn Kemp. Nash knew he couldn’t afford to miss. Rather than risk a high schooler who couldn’t make what was then considered a giant leap, Nash needed something safe.
He wound up taking North Carolina forward Rasheed Wallace, who had a fine career. Garnett was picked next by Minnesota and went on to a Hall of Fame career, including a championship in Boston. Had Nash gone with his gut, maybe D.C. wouldn’t be NBA title-less for the last 37 years.
And finally there is the cautionary tale of Dan Marino. After a great college career at Pitt, he seemed likely to be the second player picked in the 1983 draft behind John Elway. Somehow without anything to back it up, a rumor spread that Marino had a drug problem. As the draft got underway, that rumor apparently swayed so many teams that Marino dropped down the board like a stone.
Though the first round of that draft is regarded as the best in history with six Hall of Famers, Marino didn’t go until the second to last pick of the first round at 27 to Miami. Every team but the Redskins, who took a Hall of Famer themselves in Darrell Green with the final pick, passed on Marino. Five quarterbacks went ahead of him – Elway, Jim Kelley, who also made the Hall of Fame, plus Todd Blackledge, Tony Eason and Ken O’Brien, who will have to take a bus to get to Canton.
More up to date, what about Redskins tackle Trent Williams? He was the fourth pick of the 2010 draft. After a strong rookie year, he finished his second season on a marijuana suspension. It led to instant second-guessing. But Williams has come back to be a Pro Bowler the last three years and was a big factor in the Skins drive to the NFC East title in 2012. Would you like a do-over on that? Russell Okung, who the Redskins also considered went sixth to Seattle. Both are good players, but Williams was still the right choice.
Moral of the story, go with your gut. Off the field or off the court issues matter, but talent rules the day. And if you think you’ve found that talent, go for it.
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It was as dramatic a sports night as anyone can remember around here. Within about half an hour Tuesday night, in order, the Wizards completed a double-digit win over Toronto to take a 2-0 lead in the series, the Capitals beat the Islanders on an overtime goal by Nicklas Backstrom to tie the series at two and Yunel Escobar hit a 10th inning walkoff homer to give the Nationals a 2-1 win over St. Louis. But beyond the way the three games ended, was the fact that we actually had three major sports teams to play on the same night – two of them in playoff series. The release of the NFL schedule, which usually overshadows everything around here, had to take a back seat to actual big games.
In a city like New York, it’s no big deal to have a crowded sports night. In fact, the Big Apple has the chance to have as many as seven of their area teams playing on the same night. Imagine trying to keep up with NBA playoff games involving the Knicks and Nets, NHL playoff games involving the Rangers, Islanders and Devils, plus regular season games for the Yankees and Mets. It could all happen on one night!
Of course, there may not be enough channels to televise it all. Just with our three playing on Tuesday, Cox cable subscribers in Virginia couldn’t get the Wizards’ game because the second Comcast channel was contractually obligated to carry the Orioles-Blue Jays game. The main Comcast channel had the Caps game and even though the Wizards were on NBA TV, the game was blacked out locally. Oy.
Anyway, having lived here most of my life, it got me thinking how incredible it is to have three major sports teams at all, much less have all of them playing on the same night.
Only 11 years ago, we had no baseball team, the Wizards missed the playoffs with 25 wins and the Capitals not only didn’t make it to the postseason, they wouldn’t get back together for more than a year and a half because of the lockout that wiped out the entire 2004-05 season. Checking back on the sports pages from late April of 2004, the only local sports news involved speculation whether the Redskins would take either Sean Taylor or Kellen Winslow Jr. with the fifth pick of the upcoming draft.
And if you’re old enough, you may remember a time when the Redskins were the only major professional team in town. When the Senators left for Texas after the 1971 season, it was two years before the Bullets moved here from Baltimore and three years before the Capitals were created as an expansion team. That meant that for all of 1972 and most of ’73, it was Redskins only. It didn’t hurt that they were good. The Skins made the Super Bowl after the ’72 season and went back to the playoffs in ’73.
Just for grins I took a look back at the sports pages from this week in 1972 and ‘73. In ’72, while the rest of the country focused on Vida Blue’s holdout in Oakland and the Knicks and Lakers heading towards the NBA Finals, the only local sports news we had to chew on was the Redskins 12th round pick, quarterback Don Bunce, signing with the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League. He wasn’t exactly needed. Sonny Jurgensen and Billy Kilmer were still playing. Kilmer would lead the Skins to the Super Bowl that year. Bunce, who had led Stanford to a Rose Bowl win over Michigan, wound up playing only a year in Canada before heading to Stanford medical school. He became an orthopedic surgeon and died of a heart attack in 2003 at the age of 54.
In 1973, the late April D.C. sports news was the Redskins trading a draft pick to Houston for Alvin Haymond, who never played a game here. Oh and, there was some rub some salt in our wounds news. Joe Coleman, who’d been traded to the Tigers in the ill-fated Denny McLain trade before the Senators last year here, had just raised his record to 4-0 with a win over the Orioles. Coleman would win 19 games for Detroit that year and make the All Star team. He’d won 20 games the year before. Watergate was dominating the news in those days. It would have been nice to have more sports diversion than the comings and goings of low round Redskins draft picks.
Yes the Tuesday night trifecta of dramatic wins for the Wizards, Caps and Nats was great, but really it’s great in itself to just have all three teams.
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