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The latest Sports Illustrated has a very good article from Jenny Vrentas on new Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan. It’s titled “The Rex Effect.” Though he was born in Oklahoma and coached in the biggest market in the country, New York, Vrentas makes the case that Ryan may be the perfect coach for blue collar Buffalo. She writes:
“Maybe it’s because he drives a pickup and drinks beer, or because he wore a throwback Thurman Thomas jersey at the combine, or because he orders a plate of wings, even though his lap band (he’s had weight reduction surgery) won’t let him eat more than one or two during a sitting. Whatever the reason, Ryan has already won over the fans and the franchise’s legends. ‘Mm-hmm. He fits Buffalo,’ Thurman Thomas says, letting out a satisfied chuckle. ‘If this had been his first head coaching job, he’d still be here.’”
If you think about it, who better to coach the Bills than a bombastic big guy who’s ready and willing to throw down a few beers and plate of wings? If Buffalo native Tim Russert were still alive he’d be the first to throw his arm around Rex and say, “I’m all in buddy on you and your prediction to deliver a Super Bowl. What’s not to like?”
Anyway, the story got me thinking about how iconic coaches fit the NFL cities they coached in. For example, nothing says Chicago Bears more than Mike Ditka. He made the Hall of Fame playing for the Bears and coached the team to its only Super Bowl championship. But Ditka was a Pittsburgh guy – a shot and beer and a punch in the mouth. But, that tough guy attitude made him a perfect fit during his run in Chicago from 1982 to 92.
Don Shula was born and raised in Ohio and got his coaching start in Baltimore. But in your mind’s eye you see him in those beach ball colors coaching in the sunshine of Miami. And though he took the Dolphins job at the age of 40, he stayed on the job so long he began to look like the rest of the Florida retirees in a white belt and white shoes looking for the early bird special.
Then there were the guys that seemed born to coach where they coached. Bud Grant went to college in Minnesota and coached the Vikings for 18 years – mostly outdoors in sub zero temperatures wearing only a sweatshirt. If Grant and Shula ever switched places, Grant might melt and Shula might freeze. But then there’s Vince Lombardi, who was so tough that no temperature bothered him. His image screams frozen tundra and Green Bay, but in fact, Lombardi was from the Bronx. The first time he lived outside of the state of New York was when he took the Packers job.
How about the Texas guys? Tom Landry, who was born in Mission, Texas, played at the University of Texas and coached the Cowboys from 1960 to 1988. That stoic Landry face defined the Cowboys in those years. Put a cowboy hat on him and he could be a gunfighter from the old west. Bum Phillips in fact, did wear a cowboy hat when he coached the Oilers, though not inside the Astrodome because his mama told him never to wear a hat indoors. Phillips lasted only six years in Houston, but will forever be the coach you think of when you think about the Oilers.
As for New York, nobody handled the Big Apple spotlight like the big Jersey guy, Bill Parcells. He won two Super Bowls with the Giants and took the Jets to the AFC title game. Parcells had the swagger and the attitude that fit the teams he coached. Though he did well in his last run in Dallas, it was tough to get used to Parcells standing in Landry’s shoes, or for that matter, Jimmy Johnson. How bout them Cowboys?
I saved Joe Gibbs for last. Born in North Carolina, he played and coached in California and other places. He was a perfect fit for Washington because he won all the time, especially in his first go-round. But did his makeup and personality fit the city? Perhaps it did, because like a great politician, nobody worked the people like Joe Jackson Gibbs. Before every big home game, Gibbs would tell us all how important we were – that we were the greatest fans and his team needed us on Sunday. Heck we bought it. Didn’t we? Wouldn’t it be great if all of our political leaders in this town could get us thinking like Coach Joe?
Yep, sometimes a coach comes along and is the perfect fit for that team and town. Who knows, Rex Ryan might be that guy in Buffalo.
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On the surface, it’s a great idea. Major League Baseball wants you to vote online for the top four players in the history of each franchise, with the votes to be announced at the All Star Game this summer in Cincinnati. They’re calling it the “MLB Franchise Four Campaign.” They give you eight choices for the “most impactful players per franchise.” Voting can be done at MLB.com/FranchiseFour.
For some teams, it’s very simple. Check the Yankees. You chose four from the list of Babe Ruth, Lou Gherig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. Just give me the first four on the list and I’m good. But cases can be made for the other four.
Closer to home, the Oriole candidates are Cal Ripken, Eddie Murray, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer, Boog Powell, Dave McNally and Paul Blair. The first five are Hall of Famers, so there’s some deciding to do when you get to number four. But like the Yankees, all those on the list, played all or most of their career in the city that the team resides in. The Yankees have always played in New York and while the Orioles were once the St. Louis Browns, there’s nobody significant who carries over.
Not so here in Washington where the Nationals have only been residents for a decade after moving from Montreal. Yes we’re offered Ryan Zimmerman, but the other seven choices are all Montreal Expos – and you can argue some of the seven aren’t even thought of as Expos. It’s an outrage!
Here’s the other seven: Rusty Staub, Gary Carter, Steve Rogers, Tim Raines, Andre Dawson, Vladimir Guerrero and Dennis Martinez. Staub and Carter played many years with the Mets, Dawson won an MVP with the Cubs and Martinez was as much an Oriole as he was an Expo.
Oh, and it gets worse.
Frank Howard, the greatest home run hitter in the history of D.C. baseball, is listed as a Texas Ranger, where he played only a year. Heck, for those of my generation, “Hondo” is the most beloved D.C. player of all time. And even more of a travesty, Walter Johnson is listed as a Minnesota Twin. What!? Johnson pitched for the Washington Senators from 1907 to 1927. He won 417 games, 110 by shutout. In 1913, Johnson went 36-7, 11 by shutout with a 1.14 ERA. That may be the greatest pitched season in history and Johnson may be the great pitcher ever. He spent his entire career in Washington, never pitched a game in Minnesota and may not have even visited the state – ever! He died long before the original Senators moved to Minneapolis.
There are other cases like this. Roy Campanella and Jackie Robinson are listed as Los Angeles Dodgers, even though each played his whole career in Brooklyn. Same deal with the San Francisco Giants, whose list includes Christy Mathewson and Mel Ott, even though both played only in New York. And how about the A’s? They made stops in Philadelphia and Kansas City before landing in Oakland. Their choices include Jimmy Fox, Lefty Grove and Al Simmons – all Philadelphia players. Reggie Jackson is also on the A’s list, even though many remember him best as a Yankee.
I know it would make baseball fans in Montreal angry, but I would tweak the list to make it city specific. If you want to do one for Montreal, even though they no longer have a team, fine. But please, don’t ask me to accept Rusty Staub or Dennis Martinez as a Washington baseball player. And for God sakes, don’t make Frank Howard a Texas Ranger. It’s bad enough the lone star state stole our team in 1971, don’t steal the expansion Senators biggest star.
Here would be my four most impactful players in D.C. baseball history:
Walter Johnson – not just the greatest baseball player in D.C. sports history, he’s the greatest athlete.
Frank Howard – There’s a statue of him in front of Nationals Park. Is that D.C. enough for you?
Ryan Zimmerman – An obvious choice. He’s been a part of the team since year one and is considered the face of the franchise.
For the last one, I need to hedge. Here are my two choices:
Ian Desmond – Now in his sixth season as the Nats starting shortstop, he’s won the Silver Slugger award the last three years as the best hitter at his position. He’s hit 20 or more homers each of those years and is a solid fielder. He’s also the only link to Montreal that the Nats still have. The Expos drafted him before their last season in Montreal in 2004.
Dick Bosman – He was a starting pitcher on the expansion Senators from 1966 until they left after the ’71 season. He went 49-49 with a 3.26 ERA here. Not eye-popping numbers. But realize he played on really bad teams. The one good year the expansion Senators had, 1969 when they finished 10 games over .500, Bosman went 14-5 with a 2.19 ERA.
If pushed, I guess I would go with Desmond because – HE ACTUALLY IS A WASHINGTON NATIONAL.
Yeah, I can hardly wait until July when all the fans in Minnesota celebrate Walter Johnson as one of the greatest Twins of all time. Oy.
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The date was March 30, 1985. I was a young radio reporter for United Press International, covering my first Final Four, which was taking place at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky.
I had just watched Georgetown dismantle St. Johns 77-59 to advance to the National Championship game. It was their fourth meeting of that season. St. Johns had actually won on Georgetown’s home court, the Capital Centre, back in January. But Georgetown had easily won the next three, including the famous sweater game where Hoyas coach John Thompson opened his jacket just before tipoff to reveal a replica of the ugly sweater that St. Johns coach Lou Carnesecca had been wearing for luck much of the season. Georgetown, ranked number two at the time, beat top-ranked St. Johns 85-69. Their Big East Tournament rematch had a similar result – 92-80.
Carnesecca, 60-years-old on that March 1985 night, knew what he had just seen as he met with the media. “Louie”, as he was called by just about everybody, was asked to compare that Georgetown team to some of the others he’d seen in his 20-year head coaching career. Without question he said, the Hoyas were as good as what he described as, “The Indiana team with the five pros.” The message – this team is going to win it all.
Even then, it has been nine years since the team of Scott May, Kent Benson, Quinn Buckner, Tom Abernathy and Bobby Wilkerson had led Indiana to the last perfect season, 32-0 in 1976. But Carnesecca was ready to place that Georgetown team right alongside what has been considered the greatest team in college basketball history.
And why not? Georgetown had five pros of their own in Billy Martin, David Wingate, Reggie Williams, Michael Jackson, and of course, Patrick Ewing, one of the greatest players of all time. Yes, Georgetown had lost two games, including one to Carnesecca’s team, but old Louie knew greatness when he saw it. In fact, his team was pretty darn good with four future pros in Mark Jackson, Walter Berry, Bill Wennington and Chris Mullin, who’d been the Big East player of the year. But by Final Four time, they were no match for a team that was poised to win its second-straight National Championship.
Except they didn’t.
The title game in 1985 was supposed to be a laugher. Georgetown had already beaten Villanova twice during the regular season and most expected the Wildcats run as an 8th seed would come to an end. I remember reading Rudy Martzke’s media column in USA Today the morning of the championship game. He had talked to CBS announcers Brent Musburger and Billy Packer. Both said that plenty of fill material had been prepared in case the game got out of hand. After all, it would probably take a perfect game for Villanova to beat Georgetown.
And that’s what happened. Villanova pitched a perfect game. Without a shot clock, the Wildcats were able to control the game. They took only 28 shots and made 22 for an incredible percentage of 78. Villanova won 66-64 for what many regard as the greatest upset in the history of the NCAA Tournament. Anything can happen and the night of April 1, 1985, it did.
Thirty years later, we turn our attention to another team chasing history. Two wins by Kentucky this weekend in Indianapolis will make the Wildcats 40-0 and the first team to go undefeated in 39 years. They’re favored to beat Wisconsin and if they get to the final, they’d be favored to beat either Duke or Michigan State.
We’ve learned from Georgetown that you can’t count on it until it happens, but don’t you think it’s about time? As Scott May told the Washington Post, “We kind of feel records are made to be broken. I mean Jesus, we’ve held the record for 39 years.”
Besides a few cupcakes riding on my office pool, I’m rooting for Kentucky to take their place alongside the 76 Indiana team. But as Louie Carnesecca, who’s now 90 can tell you, don’t count on it until it happens.
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His name is Daxter, not Dexter, as in former Redskins defensive end Dexter Manley, who we’ll get to shortly. Daxter Miles Jr. is a freshman guard for West Virginia’s basketball team, who has made a name for himself doing what Dexter Manley did back in the 1980’s. But the results for Daxter were much different than for Dexter.
Prior to their Sweet 16 matchup with unbeaten Kentucky, Miles predicted that his team would make the Wildcats 36-1. Uhh…it didn’t quite work out that way. Kentucky doubled up the Mountaineers 78-39 with Miles missing all three shots he took and going scoreless. If Kentucky didn’t score at all in the second half, they still would have won by five. After the game, Kentucky’s Devin Booker posted an Instagram photo of himself being guarded by Miles with the words, “#36 and won.”
And Miles isn’t the only bonehead of this NCAA Tournament. In fact, he wasn’t the first. Prior to their first round game against Georgetown, Eastern Washington coach Jim Hayford told CBS Radio’s Jim Rome, “If you’re still in a pool, you can fill it in, you want to put the Eagles (Eastern Washington) in.”
And just before Rome said goodbye to his bold guest, Hayford added, “We’re going to win. Talk again Jim.”
As you know, Georgetown cruised to a relatively easy 84-74 win. But the best was the postgame reaction from soft-spoken Hoyas coach John Thompson III, who said, “So he guaranteed victory. Maybe it’s just me, but when I think of that, I think of Joe Willie Namath. I think of Muhammad Ali. I think of Larry Bird in the three-point shooting contest. The kids brought it to me and said, ‘Their coach is guaranteeing victory.’ I kind of looked down at him. He doesn’t fit the bill of guys who usually guarantee victory.”
Ooo, what a shot from the Princeton grad. In other words, “You sir, are no Namath, Ali or Bird.”
Of course, few are. The sports landscape is littered with Namath and Ali wanna-be’s, who failed miserably. A few examples:
Matt Hasselbeck – In a January 2004 Wild Card playoff game at Green Bay, the Seahawks quarterback had to eat words he spewed after his team won the coin toss for the start of overtime. Hasselbeck said, “We want the ball and we’re going to score.” A short time later, the Packers’ Al Harris picked off a Hasselbeck pass and returned it 52 yards for a 33-27 Green Bay Victory.
Anthony Smith – Preparing to face the unbeaten New England Patriots as they were on their way to an 18-0 start in 2007, the Steelers defensive back let his mouth write a check he couldn’t cash. Smith said, “We’re going to win. Yeah I can guarantee a win.” The Patriots won 34-13 to get to 13-0.
Carlos Zambrano – Ninety-nine years after the Chicago Cubs won their last World Series, the pitcher figured a good way to break the drought was with a bold prediction. In 2007 Zambrano said, “I believe this year I will win the Cy Young and I will enjoy that. And besides that we will win the World Series. I guarantee you that.” The Cubs did win 85 games and made the playoffs, but were swept in the divisional series by Arizona. Zambrano won 18 games, but he didn’t win the Cy Young. He finished fifth.
As for Dexter, Dexter Manley, his bold predictions drove Redskins coach Joe Gibbs crazy, but he did sort of deliver. Prior to the NFC Championship game against San Francisco in 1984, Dexter said he planned to, “Ring Joe Montana’s clock.” Montana did throw three touchdown passes, but the Redskins won 24-21 to return to the Super Bowl.
Better yet, was the exchange that took place between Dexter and Bears coach Mike Ditka before their January 1988 playoff meeting in Chicago. It started with Ditka saying, “Dexter Manley has the IQ of a grapefruit,” after being told that Dexter thought he was a bum.
Dexter denied calling Ditka a bum, but said, “I’ve got something for him; I’ve got a case of grapefruit for him. Mike Ditka is a broad, man, he’s a broad.”
The Redskins won the game 21-17, helped by Darrell Green’s 53-yard punt return for a touchdown. A much better ending for Dexter than it was for Daxter.
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There is no debating that Greivas Vasquez is the greatest Maryland basketball player ever to wear number 21. Included in his accomplishments playing for the Terps from 2006-2010, is a triple double, 35 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in an upset of North Carolina in 2009. He won the Bob Cousy award as the best point guard in the country as a senior in 2010 and has gone on to a solid NBA career playing for Memphis, New Orleans, Sacramento and Toronto. Deservedly so, Vasquez’ number 21 hangs in the rafters of the Xfinity Center, where he performed so brilliantly over his career at Maryland.
While Vasquez made 21 famous in College Park, if you look at some of the others who have worn that number for Maryland, it takes on an almost magical quality. And the performance of the current Terrapin 21 can only add to the number’s legend.
Varun Ram played only 13 seconds in Maryland’s 65-62 NCAA Tournament first round win over Valparaiso, but it may have been the most important 13 seconds of the season. Playing without fouled-out starters Jake Layman and Demonte Dodd, and leading by 3, Maryland coach Mart Turgeon sent in the 5-foot-9 Ram to try and prevent Valpo from scoring a game-tying three pointer. Ram did his job, forcing Keith Carter into the corner and slapping the ball away from the Crusaders guard as the buzzer sounded, sending Maryland to a second round matchup with West Virginia. Realize Ram had played only 55 minutes all season and hadn’t made a shot from the field all year.
Eleven March’s ago, another Terrapin 21 accomplished a similar feat. Mike Grinnon had come to Maryland in 2001, expecting to learn from seniors like Juan Dixon, Lonny Baxter and Byron Mouton. He figured playing time would come when they graduated. He figured wrong. Maryland’s National Championship in Grinnon’s freshman year brought in a strong recruiting class. Grinnon continued to ride the pine as a sophomore and junior. But he never got down, hoping his time would come.
In the 2004 ACC Championship game, it did. As the 6th seed, Maryland had made its way to the final to face perennial-winner Duke. Down 10 late in the second half, the Terps managed to send the game into overtime. But in OT, they started to run out of players. Nik Canner-Medley and Chris McCray had fouled out and DJ Strawberry had sprained his ankle. With nowhere else to turn, Coach Gary Williams sent in Grinnon, who’d played all of three minutes all season in ACC games. With 50 seconds to go, leading 85-82, Grinnon found himself at the free throw line. If he would have missed, he wouldn’t have been blamed. It wasn’t like anybody else on that team could shoot free throws – Maryland ranked 318th nationally in that department. But Grinnon knocked them both down and Maryland went on to win 95-87 for its third and last ACC Championship. It turned out to be his one shinning moment as a college player. He averaged only 11 minutes a game as a senior the following year. But Mike Grinnon is the only player in Maryland history to be a part of a National Championship and ACC Championship team.
There is one other number 21 worth mentioning. Billy Hahn played at Maryland from 1971 to 1975.
Hahn was considered a key recruit for Coach Lefty Driesell as he built his program in the early 70’s. Consider this ACC preview written by John Kilgo in 1972, before Hahn’s first year of varsity eligibility (prior to 1972, freshman were not eligible to play on the varsity):
“Maryland is regarded as the team to beat in this league this coming winter. Coach Lefty Driesell recruited only two men. Both are guards. Howard White, a point guard, is a rising senior. Billy Hahn is a sophmore and firebrand. Lefty needs freshman help like he needs a bad press.”
As it turned out, those two guards that Lefty recruited were John Lucas and Mo Howard. They not only became excellent college guards, both went on to play in the NBA, with Lucas taken number one overall in 1976. Hahn sat behind both as a sophomore and a junior and went further down the bench as a senior behind another freshman, Brad Davis. He too went on to the NBA.
A Google search doesn’t seem to bring up any Grinnon or Ram-like heroics from Billy Hahn. He got some minutes here and there and was part of teams that went to the Elite 8 in ’73 and ’75. However, he too, would emerge from the shadows as a hero – this time as a Maryland coach.
In 1995, Coach Gary Williams came down with pneumonia and was ordered to stay home for the annual game at Duke. As Williams’ top assistant, it would be up to Hahn to coach the team. Cameron Indoor Stadium is one of the toughest places in the country to play. And though it wasn’t one of Duke’s best teams, they played well against the 6th-ranked Terps that day. But sweating through his suit almost as much as his boss would have, Hahn coached the team to a hard-fought 94-92 win. And it was a key victory as Maryland finished as co-ACC regular season champions with North Carolina.
It seems if you’re talking Maryland basketball, 21 isn’t just a good blackjack number.
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Though he’s yet to play a game for the Redskins, newly-signed nose tackle Terrance Knighton may have already retired the trophy for the best nickname in D.C. sports history. At 6-foot-3, 331 pounds, his nickname “Pot Roast” seems a perfect fit. How does one pick up the nickname Pot Roast? As he explained:
"It was on a flight coming back from Seattle my rookie year in Jacksonville,'' Knighton said. "It was a six-hour flight. Guys were tired. The plane was dark and the lady was walking down the aisle, saying, "Pot Roast? Pot Roast?'
"And I'm like, 'Right here.' My teammate behind me said, 'You say that like that's your name?'
"He said, 'I'm going to call you Pot Roast from now on.' I said, 'Yeah, whatever.'
"So it stuck to me.'''
Knighton paused before adding, "It was either that or Shrimp Alfredo.'''
For the sake of comparison, let’s see how Pot Roast stacks up to other great nicknames through the years on our pro teams.
“The Dancing Bear” – Ron McDole, defensive end 1971-78. McDole was a less than muscular, 6-foot-4, 265 pounds, but was quick on his feet and able to get around slower offensive linemen.
“Stink” – Mark Schlereth, guard 1989-94. Schlereth grew up in Alaska where natives consider the heads cut off fish, a treat. They call the heads, “stinkheads”. After revealing this information to teammates, the nickname stuck. His radio show with on ESPN with George Sedano is called “Stink and Sedano.”
“Whiskey” or “Furnace Face” – Billy Kilmer, quarterback 1971-78. Kilmer answered to either one and after a night with the first one, he looked like the latter. Kilmer didn’t have much of an arm, but was a heck of a leader and took the Redskins to their first Super Bowl in 1973.
“Riggo” or “The Diesel” – John Riggins, running back 1976-85. Either one works, though “Riggo” seems to have endured long after his playing days ended. The way he ran, looked like a diesel truck rolling down the road.
“The Squire” – Jack Kent Cooke, owner 1974-97. Tony Kornheiser came up with that one during his column days at the Washington Post. Cooke liked to dress in tweeds and lived on a big country estate in Middleburg. It seemed to fit.
“The Big E” – Elvin Hayes, forward 1972-81. Nothing too creative here, just the first letter of his first name. However, fans who saw him play a the Capital Centre will never forget public address announcer Marv Brooks yelling “EEEEEE” when Hayes scored big baskets.
“Hot Plate” – John Williams, forward 1986-91. Williams came into the NBA at a svelte 235 pounds, perfectly fine for his height of 6-foot-8. But during his fourth year, Williams suffered a knee injury which ended his season after 18 games. While he was out, it was apparent that Williams spent more time eating than rehabbing. With John “Hot Rod” Williams also in the league at the time, “Hot Plate” seemed the perfect way to distinguish the two John Williams. Hot Plate’s career was over at the age of 28. He had literally eaten himself out of the league.
“Earl the Pearl” – Earl Monroe, guard 1967-71. Monroe never played in Washington, only Baltimore, but his retired jersey hangs in the Verizon Center and he’s one of the greatest to ever play the game.
“Mad Dog” – Fred Carter, guard 1969-72. Another Bullet who only played in Baltimore, but you should know that before Sirius-XM personality Chris Russo had that nickname, Carter not only had it, but lived it on the court every night.
“Hondo” – Frank Howard, outfielder 1965-71. At 6-foot-7, 255 pounds, the name fit his size. He was the greatest player in the 11-year history of the expansion Senators and was one of the most feared home run hitters in the game.
“Super Jew” – Mike Epstein, first baseman 1967-71. Epstein is in fact Jewish and in those less-politically correct times, a nickname like that was considered okay. He’s a member of the Washington, DC Jewish sports hall of fame.
“Big Train” – Walter Johnson, pitcher 1907-27. At 6-foot-1, Johnson was considered big by early 20th century standards. He won over 400 games with a blazing fastball and may be the best athlete in the history of the DC area.
“The Chief” – Chad Cordero, relief pitcher 2005-08. Some have considered this politically incorrect, since Cordero is not a Native American. The reference was really to his command of closing out games for the Nats in their early days. Arm trouble shortened his career.
“Ovie” or “The Great 8” – Alexander Oveckin, winger 2005-present. Both are related to his last name and jersey number. He has established himself as the greatest player in franchise history.
“Olie the Goalie” – Olaf Kolzig, goalie (of course) 1989-08. In hockey just about everybody gets a nickname. This one was low hanging fruit.
“Bugsy” – Bryan Watson, defenseman 1976-79. Watson was short on talent, but long on toughness. He was the enforcer, racking up over 22 hundred penalty minutes in his career. That gangster aura and first name with a “B” made it a natural fit.
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