Sports Outside the Beltway

Cowboys Sign Mike Vanderjagt, Idiot, Liquored Up Kicker

Fresh of the signing of Terrell Owens, the Cowboys are reportedly close to signing another very controversial free agent, former Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt.

After 17 seasons of counting on inexperienced and inexpensive place-kickers, the Cowboys made it clear this off-season they intended on changing their ways. And if they are indeed willing to pay for an experienced kicker, might as well go after the most accurate kicker in NFL history. That’s what the Cowboys were doing on Wednesday, courting Indianapolis unrestricted free-agent kicker Mike Vanderjagt at Valley Ranch.

While no deal had been officially struck by early Wednesday evening, the two sides appeared to be closing in on an agreement that could be signed as early as Thursday.

Any chances of Vanderjagt returning to Indianapolis ended Tuesday when the Colts signed New England unrestricted free-agent kicker Adam Vinatieri to a deal that reportedly includes a $3.5 million signing bonus and averages $2.5 million over the first three years of the contract.

And with Vinatieri off the market, Vanderjagt and former Minnesota kicker Paul Edinger are the top veteran kickers still available, assuming the Cowboys aren’t interested in re-signing Billy Cundiff, recently signed by Tampa Bay and then released this week. The Bucs re-signed their kicker from last year, Matt Bryant, who the Cowboys were highly interested in signing at the start of free agency.

I would have preferred Vinatieri, of course, but Vanderjagt would be a huge upgrade at the position for the Cowboys. The fact that neither of them are good at kicking off is rather odd, however. One would think a punter could handle kickoff duties, though, even if he had to learn in training camp.

And, frankly, the options are pretty thin:

Heading into the off-season, the Cowboys had interest in both Bryant and Green Bay’s Ryan Longwell, who signed a five-year, $10 million deal with Minnesota, which handed him a $3 million signing bonus. The Cowboys also were contemplating signing Seattle restricted free agent Josh Brown to an offer sheet, but since the Seahawks decided not to match the transition offer sheet guard Steve Hutchinson signed with Minnesota, they have enough cap space to match any legitimate offer the Cowboys might make for the three-year veteran kicker.

The Cowboys also have been keeping a close eye on the Olindo Mare situation down in Miami. Reports suggest the Dolphins might release their veteran kicker, who is scheduled to earn a $1.4 million base salary. Mare not only has one of the league’s strongest legs, but would immediately give the Cowboys a boost on his kickoffs, recording 16 touchbacks last season alone. But with the veteran kickers disappearing from the free agent market, the Dolphins must be asking themselves just who would kick for them if they let Mare go.


Update: It’s official. Both ESPN’s Len Pasquereli and’s Nick Eatman confirm that a deal has been reached. According to the former, “Financial details were not yet available, but it is believed the contract averages about $2 million annually.”


Tyrone Carter’s Brother Skips Jail for the Super Bowl

Tank Carter, brother of Steeler Tyrone Carter, skips jail for the Super Bowl.

While I cannot agree that this was a good thing, I have to admit, part of me understands. If my brother were ever in anything like this, I’d skip jail too. The crime was minor, so I guess they didn’t try to find him. I mean, it took them over a month to figure out he was gone, and where he was? Either they weren’t trying too hard to find him, or Broward County is unbelievably incompetent.

He was to report to a Broward County prison on Jan. 6, but decided against it when his brother told him the Steelers had a good chance of going to the Super Bowl.

Tank had to be happy Tyrone was right. Had they lost the next weekend in the NFL playoffs, and Tank Carter got five years, I can imagine him saying, “I skipped jail for THIS?”

Glad he doesn’t regret the fact that he’s staying in jail ten times longer than he would have originally stayed. Tank had better hope the Steelers don’t go on a Super Bowl run here, because there will be no more partying with Snoop Dog at the Super Bowl for Carter for the next five years.

Cross posted at The Unusual Suspects.


T.O. Not Only Disgrace

Mickey Spagnola reminds us that Terrell Owens dancing on the midfield star was not the only disgraceful action that took place when the 49ers visited Texas Stadium on September 24, 2000.

For this was the day the Dallas Cowboys fans, in their own stadium, lustily booed Troy Aikman. Not a catcall here and there. Not an isolated incident. But the majority of the 64,000 people present that afternoon booing – and I mean booing – Troy Aikman every time he stepped on the field, from the very first possession before he had even taken a snap from center to the very last.


You want to talk about disgrace, do you? How about the Cowboys fans that day booing a quarterback who had led the franchise to three Super Bowl victories in four years? Booing the quarterback who helped resurrect a downtrodden franchise into the Team of the 90′s? Booing the quarterback who would land in the team’s esteemed Ring of Honor and then become a first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famer?


Aikman, though, class to the bitter end. He would soft-shoe the entire ugly scene, saying that came with the territory. In fact, he said he had mentally prepared for such reactions before the game. Hey, he knew the Cowboys had won the last game under Cunningham’s guidance and had nearly won the previous game.


Yeah, yeah, what [Owens] did that day, rubbing it in with his all-about-me celebration, was rather self-absorbing and classless. Probably even childish, especially the second time when the all of one-yard touchdown grab gave San Francisco a 41-17 lead with just 4:05 remaining in an already-decided game. And he paid for his actions, 49ers head coach Steve Mariucci suspending him one game, which cost T. O. $24,294, then admonishing him by saying, “It disturbs me when the integrity of the game is compromised.”


Guys, this is football, not a civil war. This is big, big bidness, not some petty Hatfields and McCoys struggle. If the guy who owns that midfield star can forgive and forget, then what’s your problem?

Quite right. I remember wanting to punch Deion Sanders for some of his antics against the Cowboys in a game when he was in a Falcons uniform. Somehow, those things were much more fun when he put on a Dallas uniform a couple years later. The same will be true for T.O. A couple of long touchdown runs will soothe whatever pain still remains from that longago incident.

There are plenty of reasons not to want T.O. playing for the Cowboys. The “incident” is pretty low on the list.


Maddox to Miami?

Former Steelers QB Tommy Maddox visiting Miami Dolphins.

Quarterback Tommy Maddox, who was cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers, will visit the Dolphins today, one day after it became clear two more options will also be available.

On Monday, the Philadelphia Eagles released Mike McMahon and the Detroit Lions said they also planned to part ways with Joey Harrington.

McMahon, 27, was released three days after the Eagles signed Jeff Garcia as their new backup. However, Maddox could be considered an early favorite because of his relationship with Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, who coached the quarterback during a three-year stint in Pittsburgh.

While Mularkey was offensive coordinator of the Steelers in 2002, Maddox helped the Steelers make the playoffs in his most successful season. He later lost his starting job to Ben Roethlisberger in the 2004 season. Maddox was scheduled to earn $900,000 this season and $1.3 million in 2007 before he was released by the Steelers.

Interesting. I had assumed that Maddox had played his last game in the NFL as a Steeler, and that no one would sign him at this stage. However, out of all the teams that could have interest, Miami makes sense. The connection between Mike Mularky and Tommy Maddox makes this more advantageous for the Dolphins than it would be normally. Despite his bad performance as a backup this year, Maddox could have some advantages. He has NFL experience, knows Mularky’s system, and still has the ability to throw the ball. However, he is not that moble, and his recent accuracy has left much to be desired.

One could do worse signing a backup, I suppose. After all, that’s why they aren’t the starters.


Cowboys Cut Future Hall of Famer Guard Larry Allen

In a sad but expected move, the Dallas Cowboys have cut perenniel Pro Bowl guard Larry Allen for salary cap reasons.

Photo After joining the team in 1994, Larry Allen's 12-year run with the Cowboys has come to an end. Just three days after signing one of the most decorative free agents in club history, the Cowboys have parted ways with one of their most celebrated players. After months – actually years – of speculation, the Cowboys officially released Pro Bowl guard Larry Allen early Tuesday evening. The move not only saves the Cowboys a total of about $3.55 million on the salary cup, but frees them of a $2 million roster bonus due to Allen on April 1. His remaining prorated signing bonus, though, will count $4 million against this year’s salary cap.

Even though the Cowboys signed Terrell Owens to the three-year, $25 million deal on Saturday, they still had roughly $10 million to $12 million in cap space. They still have about that much since Allen’s cap hit and savings are about a push. “This decision is a tough one for me personally,” said Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones. “Larry has been the best in pro football for a long time. His ability and performance set a standard for excellence at his position in the NFL for many years, and we are grateful for his contributions to the Dallas Cowboys.”

The writing has been on the wall for a while, and not just because of Allen’s $7.55 million charge against the salary cap in 2006. But when the Cowboys signed free-agent guard Kyle Kosier on March 4, coupled with the signing of right tackle Jason Fabini on Saturday, Allen’s glorious run with the Cowboys appeared to be ending.

Allen, who recently played in his 10th Pro Bowl of his 12-year career, is easily the most distinguished offensive lineman in Cowboys history. No other offensive player has been to more Pro Bowls with the Cowboys than Allen, who has matched Mel Renfro for second place in club history with 10 appearances, trailing only Bob Lilly (11). But unless the Cowboys decide to re-sign Allen to a more palatable contract, Allen has played his final game with in a Cowboys uniform, ending a stellar career that began in 1994.

“We have come to this crossroad today with concern for managing our resources with respect to the immediate and long term financial structure of our team. Just as importantly, we give great consideration and respect to Larry’s future and his ability to explore his professional options. We have also made it clear that the door is open for one of those options to include a return to the Cowboys. “On behalf of all Dallas Cowboys fans, I salute a sure-fire Pro Football Hall of Famer, Larry Allen.”

As a second-round draft pick that year, it didn’t take Allen long before he worked himself into the starting rotation as a rookie, injuries causing Allen to take over at right tackle by the end of the season. But Allen found his niche at left guard by the very next season, the first of seven consecutive All-Pro seasons. While Allen had clearly distinguished himself as the game’s best guard, he showed his versatility at the end of the 1997 season, moving to left tackle after an injury to Mark Tuinei. Allen actually started all 16 games at left tackle in 1998, and didn’t miss a beat, earning All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors once again.

But injuries and conditioning started catching up to Allen here in the last few years. A severe ankle injury in 2002 that needed surgery to repair torn ligaments and remove bone spurs, not only forced him to injured reserve for the final eight games of the season, but ended his impressive Pro Bowl streak. While Allen has returned to the annual all-star game the past three years, it hasn’t always been a smooth ride.

Allen occasionally clashed with head coach Bill Parcells, who took over in 2003, and has pushed the Pro Bowl guard to get in better shape. At the beginning of training camp last summer in Oxnard, Calif., Allen failed Parcells’ conditioning test, forcing him to miss nearly the first week of practice while concentrating on his running. Allen, though, rarely, if ever passed the team’s conditioning test, which entailed a series of runs in a specific time frame. Once he returned to the field, Allen had no problems displaying his enormous strength and inside blocking ability. However, over the last few years, Allen has struggled with lateral movement and hasn’t been as consistent pulling to make blockers or blocking downfield.

With Allen gone, Flozell Adams and Greg Ellis are now the longest tenured players on the Cowboys roster, both joining the team in 1998. Allen was the last player still on the Cowboys roster who had played on a Super Bowl-winning team in the 90′s.

This isn’t quite like letting Emmitt Smith go two years ago but it is nonetheless one of the bitter aspects of the business side of the game. Truth be told, even Cowboys fans would admit that Allen made the Pro Bowl mostly on reputation the last several years. And he certainly does not merit superstar money anymore, especially in a salary cap world. If the Cowboys can sign him back to a reasonable deal, though, I would sure like to see him finish his career in silver and blue.


Vinatieri Signed by Colts

Len Pasquarelli reports that Pats kicking legend Adam Vinatieri has agreed to a deal with the Indianapolis Colts.

In a move fraught with irony on any number of fronts, the most accurate field goal kicker in NFL history is about to be replaced by one of the most clutch placement specialists in the game. Unrestricted free agent Adam Vinatieri, who provided the winning field goals in two of the New England Patriots’ three Super Bowl victories, has reached a contract agreement in principle with the Indianapolis Colts, has learned.

Complete terms of the contract were not immediately available, but league sources told that the multiyear deal includes a signing bonus of $3.5 million and that it averages $2.5 million over the first three years of the contract. There remains some detail work still to be done on the contract, but sources said that it could be completed by late Tuesday night. Vinatieri is scheduled to fly to Indianapolis for a Wednesday news conference.

Vinatieri played the 2005 season for the Patriots under the one-year qualifying offer for a kicker, in his case $2.6 million-plus. The Pats opted not designate Vinatieri as a franchise player for a second consecutive season, because it would have cost them more than $3 million. That decision could end up costing New England far more, since Vinatieri will be difficult to replace, both on and off the field.

Vinatieri, whose performance under fire had come to be symbolic of the Patriots’ excellence under coach Bill Belichick, and whose departure will be a significant blow to New England, will replace longtime Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt. Though most recently remembered for his last-second miss against the Pittsburgh Steelers in a divisional-round playoff defeat two months ago, a 46-yard attempt that would have sent that game into overtime, Vanderjagt is the most accurate field goal kicker in league history. But Vinatieri has become famous, and nearly iconic in New England, for converting such clutch kicks over the course of his 10-year career. And at age 33, he might become even better, given that he will be kicking much of the time in a domed stadium now, after a career often spent in blustery conditions.

Notable, of course, in Vinatieri’s move to Indianapolis is that the Colts and Patriots have been rivals for the last several seasons.

I find it quite bizarre that the Pats let him go, although understand not wanting to pay that kind of money for a kicker. A further irony is that this will likely start a bidding war for Vanderjagt, the only truly premier kicker left on the market. Several teams, including my Cowboys, desperately need an upgrade at the position. I was hoping they would sign Viniatieri, even if it cost $3 million a year. After the T.O. signing, though, they likely could not justify that under the cap.


Steroids for the Brain?

Michael Mandel asks a provocative question apropos the continuing controversy about Barry Bonds being on the Juice,

[W]ould we be quite so horrified, I wonder, if we were talking about “smart pills” or memory pills instead of steroids? Suppose that a pharmaceutical company was selling a pill that would improve your memory by 30% or your IQ by 30%, with the same sort of side effects as steroids. Would you be willing to take them for 3 or 5 critical years in your career? What if you knew that everyone else was taking them? What if you knew that the Chinese or the French were taking them? And would you be willing to give your kids these pills in, say, the junior year of high school, to increase the odds of getting a good score on the SAT?

A fair question. If, indeed, they came “with the same sort of side effects as steroids” I would not. Would I have in my teens and early 20s under that sort of pressure? Maybe.

Hat tip: Virginia Postrel

crosspost from OTB


Soriano Refuses Position Change, May be Disqualified

The sequence set in motion when the Nats traded their best player for a guy who played a position that they already had covered is finally coming to a head.

Photo:<br />
Newly acquired Washington Nationals' Alfonso Soriano listens to a question during a press conference, in a Thursday, Feb. 23, 2006 photo, at the baseball team's spring training facility in Viera, Fla. Alfonso Soriano refused to play the outfield for the Washington Nationals in what was supposed to be his spring training debut Monday night, and general manager Jim Bowden said his biggest offseason acquisition will go on the disqualified list if he doesn't agree to switch positions this week.(AP Photo) Alfonso Soriano refused to play the outfield for the Washington Nationals in what was supposed to be his spring training debut Monday night, and general manager Jim Bowden said his biggest offseason acquisition will go on the disqualified list if he doesn’t agree to switch positions this week .”The player refused to take the field, which we believe is a violation of his contract,” Bowden said.

Soriano, a four-time All-Star second baseman, was listed as batting leadoff and playing left field on a lineup sheet posted in the Nationals’ clubhouse before Monday night’s 11-5 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. But when the Nationals took the field in the top of the first, Soriano wasn’t out there. With play just about ready to start, left field was empty. Confused players and fans looked toward Washington’s dugout. The only person to emerge, however, was manager Frank Robinson. He approached plate umpire Mike Estabrook and made a defensive switch, moving Ryan Church from center field to left and putting Brandon Watson in center to replace Soriano at the top of the lineup. “I was sitting out there ready to warm up, but nobody was out there, and the next thing I see Watty running out there, so I kind of figured what happened,” Church said.

The Nationals already have an All-Star second baseman in Jose Vidro, so they told Soriano they want him to move to the outfield, and he indicated he doesn’t want to do that. But Monday provided his most concrete — and visible — objection.

“I just hope they can fix the situation,” Washington outfielder Jose Guillen said. “That’s up to the people upstairs and Soriano. I think everybody’s a grown-up man here. I just hope for the best for the team and those guys, and that they can fix the situation. But that’s pretty much not my business.”

When Soriano first reported to camp last month, the question of whether he would accept the switch was left open until his return from the World Baseball Classic. Soriano played for the Dominican Republic, which was eliminated in the tournament semifinals Saturday. He joined the Nationals on Monday and worked out with teammates in the afternoon, but he wouldn’t speak to reporters. He wasn’t in the clubhouse after Monday night’s game.

“It’s a difficult situation for the organization and for him personally,” said pitcher Mike Stanton, Soriano’s teammate on the New York Yankees from 1999-02. “I don’t really think anything good can come out of this.”

The Nationals acquired Soriano from Texas in a December trade that sent outfielders Brad Wilkerson and Terrmel Sledge and pitcher Armando Galarraga to the Rangers. After the deal, Washington made it clear that Vidro would keep his spot at second; Soriano made it clear that he wasn’t happy.

While one expects athletes to be “team players,” my sympathies lie with Soriano in this case. He signed a deal with the Rangers to play second base. Subsequently, the Nationals traded for him with the intention of moving him, which Soriano immediately told them he was not willing to do. The problem is not a stubborn ballplayer but a stupid GM.


Condi Rice to Pass on NFL Commissioner For Now

Condoleezza Rice has repeatedly stated that being commissioner of the National Football League is her dream job. There will be a vacancy come July. Unfortunately, she’s a little busy at the moment.

Condoleezza Rice, a bona fide football fan, is not applying for the newly opened post of NFL commissioner – not now, anyhow, her spokesman said carefully on Monday. “She thinks football is the greatest sport on earth, but even if she were approached for the job – which she has not been – she would have to decline,” Sean McCormack said. “She still has many things she wants to accomplish as secretary of state,” he said. Rice, who is avid particularly in support of the Cleveland Browns, is enjoying being secretary of state “at the moment,” McCormack said.

The wiggle-room in his response after NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue announced he would retire resonated off frequent only half-joking statements by Rice that as a lifelong football fan she aspires to run the league one day.

Of course, if she doesn’t take the job now (not that it’s being offered) she might have to wait a long time for another shot at it. Taglibue has occupied the office since 1989, a tenure of seventeen years. He predecessor, Pete Rozelle, held the job from 1960-89, a whopping 29 years. He followed Bert Bell, who only served thirteen years because he died in office.

Update: The LAT editorial board endorses her for the job, perhaps with tongue in cheek, noting that Bart Giamatti left the presidency of Yale to become commissioner of baseball and pointing out that the job would come with a huge pay hike. More seriously, they observe,

For a league long concerned with promoting minorities within its coaching and managerial ranks, it would be a stroke of genius to bring in an African American woman to run the show. And a former secretary of State would be ideal. It takes a great deal of diplomacy to manage the 32 super-rich egomaniacs who own NFL teams, especially when the secret of the parity-obsessed league’s success is getting these owners to act like committed socialists. With its revenue-sharing philosophy, the NFL’s motto might as well be the old Marxist formulation: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

At Dean’s World, Shay is unimpressed, wondering “what football experience qualifes her to be NFL commissioner?” A fair question, although the commissioner’s job is not about football so much as about business. Tagliabue’s legacy had virtually nothing to do with sports, per se, but turning an already popular sport into a major multi-media conglomerate.

Crosspost from OTB


Paul Tagliabue’s Legacy

Pro Football Hall of Fame sportswriter Rick Gosselin believes the time is right for Paul Tagliabue to retire, as he has nothing else left to accomplish.

Pete Rozelle was arguably the greatest commissioner in the history of American professional sports.

His successor may have been even better.

Rozelle broadened the popularity of the National Football League from a Midwest and Northern base in the 1960s into a national passion by the 1980s. But Rozelle walked away in 1989 at the age of 63, having been beaten down by two labor stoppages in the 1980s.

Paul Tagliabue didn’t just take over for Rozelle. He took charge, masterminding the transition from a sport to multi-billion dollar industry in the 1990s.

And business has never been better.

That may be the reason Tagliabue, at the age of 65, has decided the time is right to walk away from the highest-profile executive position in sports. He announced Monday he would retire as NFL commissioner in July.

Frankly, there was nothing left for Tagliabue to accomplish. His league has labor peace, full stadiums, rich television contracts, and its championship game has become a national sporting holiday.

Tagliabue’s plan was a simple one – peace and prosperity.

When he negotiated a peace with the NFL Players Association in 1992, giving the union its much-coveted free agency, there was an explosion of prosperity.

“Turning around the relationship and building a strong relationship with the NFL Players Association was the thing I’m most proud of,” Tagliabue said. “Everyone involved in the NFL in the 1980s saw that as a growing negative. To turn that relationship around and make the players into partners … was a very positive thing.”

That collective bargaining agreement has been extended three times, most recently this month. That ensures labor peace through 2011. The television networks are paying a premium price for that stability – and let’s face it, TV drives the train in the NFL.

When Tagliabue was hired in 1989, the NFL was in the midst of a $1.4 billion television contract with four networks. In 2005, the NFL negotiated a $23.9 billion contract with five networks. So the owners are prospering.

So are the players. They agreed to a $34.6 million salary cap in 1994. In 2006, each team will have a $102 million salary cap, almost tripling in 13 years.

So the game has never been healthier on the field. Or in the stands. For the third year in a row, the NFL set an attendance record with 17 million paid admissions. League-wide, the NFL plays to 90 percent stadium capacity.

Quite impressive, indeed.

AP’s Dave Goldberg contends,”Tagliabue’s legacy is money.”

Paul Tagliabue loves football. But his legacy as NFL commissioner is money. Lots of it.

Franchise values that have multiplied tenfold since he took over in November 1989. Player salaries that will soon be at that level with a new labor contract that adds up $900 million over the next six years.

In other words, he took over a league Pete Rozelle had made an institution and turned millionaires into billionaires.

“Pete brought us into the modern times with the television and other things. Paul has really taken us and made us a business entity,” Pittsburgh owner Dan Rooney said Monday, a few hours after Tagliabue called him to tell him he is stepping down in July.

Tagliabue wasn’t the most media-genic commissioner (see Rozelle or David Stern for that). But he did what is usually considered impossible: The 6-foot-5 former Georgetown basketball player succeeded a giant, then succeeded on his own, a corporate lawyer who used political skill honed as the league’s Washington lobbyist to reorganize a business that even as late as 1989 had some “mom-and-pop” elements.

The owners loved him because he made them money. The players made more money. So did everyone involved with the game, such as Fox, which became the nation’s fourth major network when it got the NFL contract for NFC games for the 1994 season. That was Tagliabue’s doing, too – he recognized that bringing in a competitor to CBS, NBC and ABC would up the ante.

The Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Phil Sheridan says that, while Tags was great, he benefitted from mediocre peers.

It almost goes without saying that Paul Tagliabue has been the best commissioner in professional sports for the last decade or so.

What is worth saying, now that Tags is stepping down, is just how distressingly easy an accomplishment that was. There is a David Stern cult, but it’s hard to buy the argument that the NBA is better or more interesting now than it was a decade ago. Michael Jordan retired, and Stern instantly stopped looking like a marketing genius. The NHL’s Gary Bettman just presided over the biggest debacle in sports management since the 1994 baseball strike. As for baseball commissioner Bud Selig, well, we can continue this discussion as soon as we all stop laughing.

Tagliabue was the best of a very mediocre group, which was dramatically evident about this time last year. One day, members of Congress humiliated poor old Selig for his total lack of action on the issue of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. The next day, those same members of Congress treated Tagliabue as if he were Superman. They stopped just short of asking for his autograph.

Why? Because Tagliabue and NFL Players Association chief Gene Upshaw had recognized that steroids were a growing problem and made a good-faith effort to address that problem.

No one who is paying attention believes the NFL has eradicated performance-enhancing substances. As long as there is no testing for human growth hormone, the safe assumption is that a percentage of players are cheating. The percentage is probably about the same as it is or was in baseball.

The difference is that baseball willfully ignored the problem, even as Popeye-armed sluggers were scrawling their graffiti all over the record book. By trying, by continually adding to the list of banned substances and testing, the NFL looked like some paragon of integrity and virtue.


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