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They are recalled as one of Hollywood’s most famous couples. The marriage of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton produced great intrigue and great art. They met on the set of “Cleopatra” and went on to co-star in memorable movies, including “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”. But the marriage lasted only 10 years, 1964 to 74. However, they were divorced for only about a year before they decided to give it another go-round. And that lasted less than a year. If it didn’t work the first time, you wonder why they would give it another shot.
That would be my question as we head into what looks like a forced remarriage between Redskins coach Jay Gruden and quarterback Robert Griffin III. In taking the job as head coach less than a year ago, Gruden essentially agreed to a football marriage with Griffin. After the flameout last year with the Shanahans, Gruden seemed to be the perfect mate for the newly divorced RGIII. Gruden has an easygoing way about him and a good reputation for working with quarterbacks. He’d turned Andy Dalton into a three-time playoff performer. Why wouldn’t this work?
Well it hasn’t. If you look at the great winners of the past, you see a great coach-quarterback marriage. From Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr with the Packers in the 60’s, to Bill Walsh and Joe Montana in the 80’s to Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in the 21st century – you’re talking about 11 championships from just that trio of pairings alone. All six of those guys are either in the Hall of Fame, or going there. And it doesn’t always take Hall of Famers to make it work. Joe Gibbs won his three Super Bowls with Joe Theismann, Doug Williams and Mark Rypien. None of those quarterbacks will get a sniff of Canton.
With all of those coach-quarterback marriages, there may have been some bumps in the road, but what’s gone on between Gruden and Griffin borders on the war of the Roses. Gruden has openly ripped the former Heisman winner, even questioning whether he’s grasped the basics of playing the quarterback position. Griffin has been doing his best to hold his tongue, but this has been a devastating season for him. It’s been bad off the field and worse off it. In just five starts two relief appearances he’s been sacked 28 times. In the Super Bowl season of 1991, Rypien was sacked a total of seven times in 16 games. Griffin was sacked seven times last Sunday. When Mike Shanahan deactivated Griffin for the last three games of the season last year, it was painted as a precaution against injury so that Griffin would be healthy for the offseason. This season Gruden outright benched him in what amounted to a separation in this coach-quarterback marriage. Divorce is usually the next step.
But the Redskins have too much invested in each of them for that to happen. Gruden was smart enough to get himself a five-year contract and the three first round draft picks the Skins dealt to St. Louis for the rights to RGIII makes him too valuable to give up on.
So we move into the next phase. With Colt McCoy reinjuring his neck last Sunday against the Giants, Griffin returns as the starter for Saturday’s home game against Philadelphia, with Gruden saying, “So moving forward, this is Robert’s team right now. Hopefully we will have a good game plan for him to give him a chance to succeed and to win. And then from there, we’ll just take it one game at a time and make our judgements and our conclusions after that.”
For now Gruden and Griffin are back together and the organization is rooting for a long-term union. Owner Dan Snyder recently told Sonny Jurgensen that Griffin is only 24 years old and deserves another chance to win the job. So we’ll sit back and watch. Hopefully this reconciliation lasts longer than Liz and Dick’s.
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They are Washington sports media icons. Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon are not natives, but have spent most of their lives in D.C., working together for more than 20 years at the Washington Post and for the last 13 years – co-hosting the popular “Pardon the Interruption” show on ESPN. The following conversation took place on their Monday show:
Michael – Rock bottom?
Tony – They appear hopeless.
That word – “hopeless” has been tossed around more often than I can remember in regards to the Redskins this week. The Skins have been 3-10 several times before, but never has it felt quite as, well…as hopeless as it does right now. Has any other season felt as hopeless as this one does?
Having watched almost every game for the last 50 years, I’d have to say no. But there are some seasons that have come close since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970. Here now is a look back at hopeless- looking seasons since the merger:
1970 – Record-6-10, coach – Bill Austin
This was a year that began with the tragic death of Coach Vince Lombardi two weeks before the season opener. Austin took over on an interim basis, hoping to carry over the momentum of Lombardi’s 7-5-2 season the year before. Quarterback Sonny Jurgensen was coming off a career year and running back Larry Brown was an emerging star. They managed to get off to a 4-3 start, but then endured a five-game losing streak, which included a 34-0 loss at Dallas. Even though the Skins finished with a pair of wins and Brown became the first Redskin to rush for more than a thousand yards in a season, there was a feeling that the window Lombardi had opened for winning was now closed. That feeling didn’t last long. Two weeks after the season ended, George Allen was hired and the next two decades produced mostly winners, including five teams that played in Super Bowls.
1980 – Record-6-10, coach – Jack Pardee
The year began with a hangover that got worse. The hangover was from the disappointment of blowing a 34-21 lead in the fourth quarter of the 1979 finale at Dallas. The 35-31 comeback victory put the Cowboys in the playoffs and knocked the Redskins out. Shortly after training camp began, John Riggins retired in a salary dispute. The season never got off the ground. Included in the 3-8 start were losses of 23-0 to St. Louis, 39-14 to Denver and 24-0 to Philadelphia. They won their last three, including a 40-17 win over San Diego. But it was too late to save Pardee’s job. His replacement really didn’t excite too many people. After all, Joe Gibbs had been a career assistant. And things really looked hopeless when Gibbs started the 1981 season at 0-5. Fortunately owner Jack Kent Cooke was patient. Gibbs went on to win three Super Bowls and is the greatest coach in the history of the franchise.
1993 – Record-4-12, coach – Richie Petitbon
Gibbs’ retirement in March of ’93 was a stunner, but Petitbon was the obvious choice as a replacement. He was as good at coaching the defense as Gibbs was at coaching the offense. “The Bone” promised, “business as usual,” referring to all the winning that had gone on in the previous decade. His start was great – a 35-16 blowout of Dallas in the opener. That was the beginning and the end. The injuries began piling up on the aging roster and they proceeded to drop their next six. Four days after the 4-12 season ended, Petitbon was fired. With the salary cap coming in, the roster would have to be overhauled. Everyone knew rebuilding lay ahead. But they seemed to have the right guy to take over. After coaching the offense on the two previous Super Bowl winners at Dallas, Norv Turner was hired as Petitbon’s replacement. It actually turned out to be the start of a miserable two decade run. A hopeless feeling was in fact, warranted.
1998 – Record-6-10, coach – Norv Turner
After going through obligatory rebuilding years of 3-13 and 6-10 in his first two years, Turner got painfully close to having playoff teams in 1996 and 97. However, records of 9-7 and 8-7-1 weren’t quite enough to do it. Finally 1998 seemed to be the year. Quarterback bust Heath Shuler was dumped and general manager Charley Casserly loaded up on the defensive line with Dan “Big Daddy” Wilkinson and NFC defensive player of the year Dana Stubblefield. The hope soon died. The Redskins started off 0-7, including a 41-7 loss in Minnesota that Turner called, “totally inept.” Many called for Turner’s firing, but he managed to win six of his last nine and was brought back for 1999. Some of us had a hopeless feeling seeing the under-achieving Turner return for a sixth year, but did deliver a division title. The next year (2000) new owner Dan Snyder loaded up on free agents and finished a disappointing 8-8, firing Turner along the way.
2003 – Record-5-11, coach - Steve Spurrier
Again the Redskins loaded up on free agents, mostly from the Jets. It seemed to work – for a while. After beating the Patriots 20-17, the “Old Ball Coach” had a 3-1 team. They went on to lose six of their next seven. Spurrier would later admit he’d thrown in the towel mentally halfway through the season and knew he would resign at the end of the year. That’s exactly what Spurrier did from a golf course days after the season ended. Even though Spurrier had proved the NFL wasn’t for him, his leaving did lead to a hopeless feeling. Names of retread coaches like Ray Rhodes were thrown around. It was nothing to get excited about. And then, the unthinkable happened. Joe Gibbs returned. Anybody that had a hopeless feeling just wasn’t paying attention. Even though Gibbs didn’t recapture the magic of his first run, he did produce two playoff teams, something no other Snyder-employed coach has done.
2009 – Record-4-12, coach – Jim Zorn
Gibbs’ second retirement after the 2007 season, left Snyder in a bad spot. He convinced himself that Zorn would be a good choice. He wasn’t. Amazingly, Zorn got the Skins off to a 6-2 start in 2008, but he finished the year 8-8. The 2009 season was a complete circus. It included a loss in Detroit to break the Lions 19 game losing streak and a 14-6 loss at home to lowly Kansas City. After the game, Zorn was stripped of his play-calling duties, which went to former bingo caller Sherman Lewis. Though the end of the season was a complete joke, with the famed “Swinging gate” call in a 45-12 loss to the Giants and a 17-0 loss to the Cowboys, the hopeless feeling wasn’t like the one that exists today. It was pretty certain that Mike Shanahan was on his way. Shanahan would fix everything. He did. Briefly.
2013 – Record-3-13, coach – Mike Shanahan
All that Shanahan had fixed, blew up. The circus atmosphere he’d been hired to fix, was right back. The season ended with rumors and back-stabbing and the ouster of Shanahan with a year left on his contract. Ironically, things didn’t seem hopeless. Shanahan and his offensive coordinator son Kyle were pointed to as the villains in the downfall of Robert Griffin III. The feeling was if the Shanahans were kicked out, all would be good again with RGIII. Be careful what you wish for.
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Not yet through the first year of a five-year contract, Redskins Coach Jay Gruden is unlikely to be fired, despite a 3-9 record through a dozen games and a losing season guaranteed. However, given that Dan Snyder fired Marty Schottenheimer after one 8-8 season and the overall impatience he’s shown in his 15 years of owning the Redskins, a coaching change can’t be ruled out.
And when we talk about a Redskins coaching change, as we seem to do so damn often, we always talk about the available big names. Biggest name available? One with a Super Bowl ring and only 51-years-old? That’s right – Jon Gruden.
Now before you say, “Oh come on, even Snyder wouldn’t try to replace Jay Gruden with Jon Gruden. And even if he did, Jon wouldn’t take the job,” realize this – a brother replacing a fired brother as head coach has happened. And it happened in this town with excellent results.
When Bryan Murray took over as head coach of the Capitals in 1981, the franchise had been lousy. There were rumblings that the team might even be sold and moved, prompting the “Save the Caps” campaign. But thanks to a deal with Montreal for Rod Langway and strong leadership from Murray, the Caps became playoff regulars. Unfortunately, in a pattern that has characterized the organization for most of it’s 40 years, the team made early playoff exits.
Finally in January of 1990, after watching the team lose eight straight games, general manager David Poile had seen enough and fired Murray 46 games into the season. Nothing unusual about a hockey coach getting canned. It happens all the time. The surprise was what followed.
Poile decided to promote the coach of the Caps American Hockey League affiliate Baltimore Skipjacks, who just happened to be Bryan Murray’s younger brother, Terry Murray.
Family is family and business is business. Said Poile at the time, “I’m sure he was hoping for a better time or better circumstances for when he was going to get the job, but he said to me, ‘This is what I’ve been preparing my hockey career for and yes, I’ll accept the job.’ “
It turned out to be the right move for everybody. Terry Murray led the Caps to the Eastern Conference Finals, further than they’d ever been, before being swept by Boston. He remained the Caps coach until the 1993-94 season when he was replaced by Jim Schoenfeld.
Meantime Bryan Murray became the head coach in Detroit at the start of the 1990-91 season and later coached the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2003. He did the same as coach of the Ottawa Senators in 2007. In between there was a stint with the Florida Panthers, where Bryan Murray moved from coaching to the front office and decided to replace himself with, who else?, Terry Murray.
Later Terry Murray coached the Philadelphia Flyers, reaching the Stanley Cup Finals once. He continues to coach in the minors these days.
Bryan Murray also continues to work in the Senators front office, although he revealed last month that he has stage four colon cancer, which he says has no cure.
A quarter of a century after the Murray for Murray change was made, could a Gruden for Gruden swap occur? Don’t count on it. But when you’ve got an owner who’s hired six coaches, firing three of them plus the one he inherited, never say never to anything.
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We have reached the 40th anniversary of the Clint Longley game – one of the most memorable in Redskins history and perhaps the wildest Thanksgiving game in NFL history.
I’ve told and written about the game so many times over the years that I’m sick of it already. What’s more interesting four decades later is that nobody seems to be able to find the quarterback who became known as “The Mad Bomber.”
On November 28, 1974 the Redskins went to Texas Stadium for the annual back end of the Turkey Day doubleheader. The rivalry was at its peak with the Skins having knocked off the Cowboys in the NFC Championship game two years earlier. The season before, Ken Houston famously stopped Walt Garrison at the one -yard line to preserve a 14-7 Monday night Redskins victory. Eleven days earlier, the Redskins had beaten the Cowboys in Washington. And a win on this day would make the Redskins 9-3 and a virtual lock for the playoffs and drop the Cowboys to 6-6 and likely out.
Earlier in the season, Dallas had traded quarterback Craig Morton to the Giants after he made it clear he wanted to go to a place where he could play. He’d had enough of playing behind Roger Staubach. That left Longley, a little-known rookie out of Abilene Christian as the only backup quarterback on the Cowboys roster.
A few days before the game, Redskins defensive tackle Diron Talbert, a Texan who loved stirring things up on Dallas week, uttered words he would later have to eat:
“If Staubach runs, you like to get a good shot at him and knock him out of the game. You try to get a scrambling quarterback to scramble into the arms of somebody who’s going to hurt him. If you knock him out, you’ve got that rookie facing you. That’s one of our goals. If we do that, it’s great. He’s all they have. They have no experienced backup.”
Well, if you haven’t already heard the story a million times, you can probably predict the rest of it goes like this:
Sure enough with the Redskins leading 16-3 in the third quarter, Staubach was knocked cold by Redskins linebacker Dave Robinson. In comes Longley, who promptly threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Billy Joe DuPree to make it 16-10. The following drive, he led the Cowboys to another score with Garrison taking it in from the one to make it 17-16.
There was momentary panic, but the Skins regained the lead in the fourth quarter when Duane Thomas scored on a 19-yard run. The Redskins had a six-point lead with a good defense facing a rookie quarterback seeing his first NFL action. What could go wrong?
It came down to the final minute. The Cowboys had the ball at midfield, trailing 23-17. The Skins brought in their extra defensive back, Ken Stone. He knew the one thing he couldn’t do was let receiver Drew Pearson get behind him. Stone let Pearson get behind him. The Mad Bomber reared back and fired a 50-yard touchdown bomb to Pearson, leaving Stone and everybody else to watch the carnage. Final – Cowboys 24 – Redskins 23.
Though I felt like it, I didn’t smash the 19-inch Zenith in the basement of our house at 8809 Walnut Hill Road. But I did sulk through the turkey and stuffing. The worst Thanksgiving ever.
So you’d think all these years later, the now 62-year-old Longley would be around to tell tales of his one shining moment – in a sort of Rudy Ruettiger kind of way. Nope. Nobody seems to be able to find the Mad Bomber these days – or for that matter the last 30 years or so.
Despite his Thanksgiving heroics, the Cowboys went on to miss the playoffs that year at 8-6. The Redskins got in at 10-4, but were knocked out in the first round by Minnesota.
Longley would return to Dallas in 1975, playing sparingly as Staubach’s backup as the Cowboys went to the Super Bowl and lost to Pittsburgh. In 1976, after the fold up of the World Football League, the Cowboys added Danny White and seemed to be grooming him to be Staubach’s successor. That’s when things started to get nuts for the Mad Bomber.
During training camp, Staubach overheard Longley making a derogatory remark about Pearson, who had dropped one of his passes in practice. Staubach said, “If you keep stabbing people in the back, somebody is going to knock those Bugs Bunny teeth of yours in.”
Longley, who may have been long on arm, but was short on smarts replied to the Naval officer and Vietnam veteran, “Are you going to be the one?”
Staubach said, “Yeah I’d love to.”
They met on a nearby baseball field and as Staubach was turning Longley into a bloody pulp, assistant coach Dan Reeves came in and broke it up.
A short time later, with his bags already packed, Longley did what he figured he needed to do to get out of town. As Staubach was putting on his shoulder pads, Longley pushed into a weight bench. The former Heisman winner needed stitches to close a gash over his eye. All Longley needed was a ride, which Dallas was happy to give him.
The Cowboys were able to deal him to San Diego for a couple of high draft picks, even though the Chargers had a young star at quarterback in future Hall of Famer Dan Fouts. Dallas would use those picks a year later to trade up with Seattle for the rights to Tony Dorsett. Longley would spend the year at Fouts’ backup and then was released.
He landed in Canada for a couple of years. When I was broadcasting games for the semi-pro San Antonio Charros in the early 80’s, I heard he was in the same league, but never saw him play. After that, nothing. Ten years after he’d seemingly appeared out of nowhere, Clint Longley was nowhere to be found.
A search of the internet shows various articles that have written about him over the years – usually around this time of year – but nobody seems to have found him. One article even mentions a call to his father, who said he rarely heard from his son and refused to give out his number.
Matt Moseley of the Dallas Morning News took a stab at it 10 years ago. He said he’d heard Longley had dabbled in oil, real estate, taxidermy and selling cars in his post-football years. There was even a report that the Mad Bomber had opened a bar in Abilene called Western Swing. He’d built a boxing ring in the middle of it where he would sometimes wrestle black bears.
I do sometimes wonder what he’d say about ruining Thanksgiving 40 years ago, but maybe it’s best we never hear from Clint Longley again and forget that we as Redskin fans ever heard of him. It makes Thanksgiving a lot more pleasant.
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It was a bad team that came to the Verizon Center Saturday night to face the Wizards. The Orlando Magic are not going anywhere this year. Yet, like bad teams have done in Washington in recent years, the Magic were threatening to take over the sleep-walking Wizards in the third quarter. But thanks to the bench, it didn’t happen.
Basketball, more than any other sport, is dependent on just one or two players to be the difference between being a good team and a bad team. However, a good bench can make a huge difference. And in this game, a varied trio grabbed the game by the throat and wouldn’t let the Wizards fumble it away. Otto Porter, the third pick of the 2013 draft, who played so seldom last year that some were ready to write him off as a bust, not-yet-30-year-old Kris Humphries, who better known for his nanosecond marriage to Kim Kardashian and 35-year-old Rasual Butler, who came into the league in 2002 and is on his seventh team, combined for 75 and a half big minutes, 39 points and 13 rebounds in the 98-93 win. All three were on the floor in crunch time.
With Bradley Beal and Martel Webster hurt and Glen Rice Jr. seemingly in Coach Randy Wittman’s doghouse, you can’t underestimate the value of this kind of contribution.
Watching the game with my daughter from section 102, thanks to my friend Chuck Harab, who was out of town, I was reminded of how a lesson in bench value was learned the hard way by this franchise 40 seasons ago.
The Washington Bullets went into the 1975 Finals against the Golden State Warriors as favorites. Wes Unseld, Elvin Hayes and Phil Chenier were in their primes. Mike Riordan was a scrappy small forward and Kevin Porter was a quick point guard who could make the offense go. They tied for the league lead in wins at 60 with Boston and had knocked out the Celtics in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals. Golden State won only 48 games and had to survive a brutal seven-game series with Chicago in the Western Conference Finals.
Those Bullets not only lost to the Warriors, they were swept in four games. And the difference was the bench.
Yes Rick Barry was the best player on the floor and led the Warriors, averaging 29.5 points a game in the series. Barry played almost every second – 172 minutes. But the Warriors had only two other players spend more than 107 minutes on the floor, rookie Jamal Wilkes and center Clifford Ray, who only concentrated on the defensive end, averaging 10 rebounds a game. Coach Al Attles used six other players – Phil Smith, Derrick Dickey, Jeff Mullins, Charles Johnson, Butch Beard and George Johnson between 60 and 70 minutes.
The Bullets, on the other hand, as good as the above - mentioned starting five was, only Nick Weatherspoon saw significant minutes off the bench. Coach Casey Jones was basically playing six against nine over the course of the game. A check of the box scores shows the Bullets leading at halftime in three of the four games, only to lose all four by a total of 16 points. They ran out of gas in each one.
Old timers may point to Jimmy Jones not being available. He had been the Bullets third guard most of the season and had hurt his knee in the win over the Celtics in the Eastern Finals. He certainly would have helped, but it’s hard to say if he would have made that much of a difference in the Finals.
It’s interesting to note that the next time the Bullets made the Finals – 1978, they were a deeper team than their opponent, the Seattle Supersonics. In addition to Hayes and Unseld teaming with Bobby Dandrige, Kevin Grevey and Tom Henderson - making for a stronger all around group than in 75, they had plenty of bench help. And ironically, a big part of that bench was Charles Johnson “CJ”, who had crushed them off the bench for the Warriors three years earlier. CJ, plus Mitch Kupchak, Larry Wright and rookie Greg Ballard made a huge difference for Coach Dick Motta. Seattle had only seven playing major minutes – Gus Williams, Fred Brown, Dennis Johnson, Jack Sikma, John Johnson, Paul Silas and Marvin Williams. The Bullets won in seven.
A year later, they matched up again in the Finals and Kupchak was hurt. It made a difference. Seattle won in five.
Now a good bench isn’t enough to overcome teams with players like LeBron James and Derrick Rose. As I said, in basketball one or two great players can make all the difference, but a bench you can count on is a big part of the battle.
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With the news coming out the Redskins bye weekend that DeSean Jackson spoke to the team before the Minnesota game, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Art Monk breaking his legendary silence in 1990.
The circumstances couldn’t be more different. Jackson has only played half a season in Washington after being booted out of Philadelphia for not being enough of a team guy. At least that’s the impression Eagles Coach Chip Kelly gave after releasing his leading receiver last spring. Jackson, who coach Jay Gruden says sits in meetings with his “hood on”, while not being a team problem, hasn’t given much indication of being a team leader either. But as he revealed on the Fox NFL pregame show Sunday, he took it upon himself to tell the team that they had to rally around quarterback Robert Griffin III. While Griffin played well against the Vikings, they didn’t win. So, Jackson’s version of the “Win one for the Gipper” speech didn’t exactly go as planned. Still, the fact that he actually gave a speech is a bit of a head-turner.
The Monk team speech came in his 11th year with the Redskins. He’d already become the team’s all time leading receiver and was on his way to what would become a Hall of Fame career. Monk let his work ethic do the talking. Teammate Ron Middleton once observed, “I bet I can count on both hands the number of words I’ve heard him say in the three years that I’ve been here.”
But on December 1, 1990, Middleton and his Redskins teammates heard Monk say plenty as he shocked everybody by simply speaking. This was a Redskins team that had been to the Super Bowl in the previous seven years, winning two. They had missed the playoffs for two straight years and were in danger of missing it for the third straight year. The record was 6-5, including losses in two of the last three games. The first loss was the famed “Body Bag Bowl” defeat in Philadelphia where the Eagles knocked out quarterbacks Jeff Rutledge and Stan Humphries, forcing running back Brian Mitchell to finish the game at QB.
That December night as the Skins prepared themselves for the next day’s game against Miami, Monk decided it was time to speak up. He talked about how he was rededicating himself to the season and hoped his teammates would do the same. It wasn’t so much what was said, but who said it. As Middleton said, “The guy doesn’t talk much, but when he has something to say, it’s profound.”
Monk a year later recalled, “It was a time where we either did it or we were going to be home for Christmas. I thought it was important for us to realize that.”
How much the speech helped is hard to say, but it certainly didn’t hurt. The Redskins went on to clobber the Dolphins 42-20 with Monk catching two touchdown passes. They would go on to win three of the last four to finish the season 10-6. The record was good enough to get into the playoffs and set up a Wild Card Game matchup at Veterans Stadium – the same Vet where they left parts of two quarterbacks and their spirit in the Body Bag Bowl six weeks earlier.
With Monk catching another touchdown passes, the Redskins beat the Eagles 20-6. Though the season ended with a loss in San Francisco the following week, there was a new swagger to the team. That swagger continued into the following season. The Redskins rolled to a 14-2 regular season record and went on to beat Buffalo in the Super Bowl.
Some insist to this day that the Monk speech propelled them there. Will the Jackson speech have the same desired effect? We’ll soon find out.
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