Yesterday, I looked at the top offensive players of the 1970s, and compared them to the actual All-Decade team as selected by the voters of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Today, we're going to look at the defensive players and special teams stars from the 1970s. For a year-too-early look at the eventual '00s All-Decade defense, click here.
First Team Second Team DE: Jack Youngblood L.C. Greenwood DE: Carl Eller Harvey Martin DT: Joe Greene Alan Page DT: Bob Lilly Merlin Olsen OLB: Jack Ham Robert Brazile OLB: Ted Hendricks Bobby Bell MLB: Dick Butkus Jack Lambert CB: Willie Brown Louis Wright CB: Jimmy Johnson Roger Wehrli S: Ken Houston Larry Wilson S: Cliff Harris Dick Anderson
Let's get started with the defensive line.
AV PB G GS SEA awards AP1 AP2 PLAYER 104.6 7 130 116 8 0 5 2 Jack Youngblood 104.3 4 141 126 9 0 3 1 Carl Eller 89.8 6 129 114 9 0 2 0 L.C. Greenwood 82.5 6 115 43 8 0 2 2 Claude Humphrey 81.4 1 144 133 9 0 0 1 Fred Dryer 78.4 0 144 144 10 0 0 0 Jim Marshall 74.6 7 137 135 10 0 0 2 Elvin Bethea 71.0 4 96 78 6 0 1 1 Bill Stanfill 68.6 1 143 128 9 0 0 1 Tommy Hart 68.1 3 140 84 10 0 0 0 Coy Bacon 67.6 0 128 107 9 0 0 0 Ron McDole 64.6 2 114 98 8 0 1 1 Lyle Alzado 64.6 2 119 39 8 0 0 0 Dwight White 63.8 0 127 113 8 0 0 0 Vern Den Herder 59.7 1 140 16 10 0 0 1 Jack Gregory 58.5 2 139 103 9 0 0 0 Cedrick Hardman 56.9 4 101 14 5 1.5 1 2 Harvey Martin
Among defensive ends, only Martin and Lee Roy Selmon (as a 3-4 DE, no less) won AP Defensive Player of the Year awards during the decade. Martin, along with teammate Randy White, was also co-MVP of Super Bowl XII, giving him 1.5 major awards during the decade. But it's Eller and Youngblood who stand out as the top DEs of the decade, with over 100 points of AV each. AV loves Eller because he played on some great defenses, while Youngblood has seven combined AP nominations and made seven Pro Bowls during the '70s.
Who should our two second-teamers be? Steelers great L.C. Greenwood seems like a strong choice, with six Pro Bowls and two first-team AP honors. A year before taking George Kunz with the 2nd pick in the '69 draft, Atlanta selected Claude Humphrey with the 3rd pick in the '68 draft. Along with Tommy Nobis, the 1st pick in the '66 draft, the trio helped make the expansion Falcons respectable. Humphrey has four combined all-pro nominations in the decade and made six Pro Bowls, making him a solid choice as our last defensive end.
Harvey Martin earned three AP nominations in five seasons, and had some excellent seasons at the end of the decade. But as good as Martin was, Humphrey was good for even longer. Even in Martin's best season, Humphrey was arguably a more valuable defensive end in 1977 (so says AV -- more on the '77 Falcons, later). The only other end to consider is Fred Dryer, Youngblood's teammate in Los Angeles. But with only one Pro Bowl and one second-team AP nod, Humphrey has a better resume.
AV PB G GS SEA awards AP1 AP2 PLAYER 128.8 7 144 144 10 2 5 2 Alan Page 115.7 9 138 136 10 2 4 2 Joe Greene 82.6 5 141 0 10 0 1 2 Curley Culp 76.5 6 98 98 7 0 1 1 Merlin Olsen 74.4 1 140 139 10 0 0 0 Diron Talbert 68.9 4 101 100 8 0 1 1 Larry Brooks 64.7 4 131 36 9 0 1 0 Jerry Sherk 61.9 0 118 13 9 0 0 0 Jethro Pugh 59.2 1 98 84 7 0 0 1 Otis Sistrunk 57.6 4 70 0 5 0 1 1 Bob Lilly 55.2 3 88 74 5 1 1 2 Wally Chambers 54.5 0 126 83 7 0 0 0 Mike McCoy 51.3 0 113 101 7 0 0 0 Jim Osborne 50.7 0 120 12 7 0 0 0 Mike Lewis 48.8 1 98 13 7 0 0 0 Robert E. Brown 48.1 0 120 91 7 0 0 0 Wilbur Young 48.0 0 101 16 8 0 0 0 John Mendenhall 47.9 0 102 102 7 0 0 0 Ray Hamilton 47.3 2 64 0 5 0 1 1 Mike Reid
While I admit that AV has an unhealthy crush on Alan Page, it's hard to think of a bigger snub in All-decade history than Alan Page not being named a first team tackle of the 1970s. He was ages 25-through-34 during the decade, which helped him acquire more AV than any other player at any position in the 1970s. He played in every game of every season, and in 1971 was named the Defensive Player of the Year and the MVP of the NFL. Only one other defensive player in history has won the NFL MVP. How the HOF voters chose Lilly -- who made just four Pro Bowls, one all-pro team, and played for only five seasons -- over Page, is a mystery. Just as clearly, Mean Joe Greene should be the other defensive tackle. Greene and Page were the dominant tackles of the '70s, and in the discussion for greatest defensive players of all time. On a defense stacked with Hall of Fame talent, Greene still managed to stand out as one of the most dominant players in history. In '72 and '74 he was named the AP Defensive Player of the Year, and he forms an elite group with Ray Lewis, Mike Singletary, Bruce Smith, Reggie White and Lawrence Taylor (three) as the only players to win that award multiple times.
The 1970s brought the 3-4 defense to the NFL, with three coaches installing it for the first time in 1974. Bum Phillips, like his son Wade, loved the 3-4 scheme, and was the Oilers' defensive coordinator that season. Chuck Fairbanks brought the scheme from Oklahoma (where it originated) to New England, and tweaked it with help from defensive coordinator Hank Bullough. Buffalo was the third team that season to run the 3-4, and did so under Head Coach Lou Saban, whose distant relative would also rely on the formation one day. But the 3-4 defense was most successful in Houston, and Curley Culp was a big reason why. As Phillips once said:
Coaching is pretty simple really. If you don't got something, find something you do got. Really we didn't have but one [defensive lineman] - [Hall of Famer] Elvin [Bethea] - until we got Curley [Culp] in the middle of that season. Then we had two. What we did have was four real good linebackers so all I done was find a way to get our best players on the field.
Culp was the first dominant nose tackle in the 3-4, and his five Pro Bowls and three combined All Pro nominations make him a terrific choice for our second team. Wally Chambers won a rookie of the year award and received three combined AP honors, but Rams great Merlin Olsen made three more Pro Bowls, played for a couple more seasons, and has a big edge in AV.
Here comes our first difficult position:
AV PB G GS SEA awards AP1 AP2 PLAYER 106.9 7 126 126 9 0 6 1 Jack Ham 97.0 6 127 118 8 1 2 3 Isiah Robertson 91.1 5 119 118 8 0 3 1 Chris Hanburger 87.9 4 144 51 9 0 2 2 Ted Hendricks 73.9 4 118 117 8 0 0 1 Phil Villapiano 69.7 6 98 14 7 0 0 1 Andy Russell 68.0 0 130 97 7 0 0 0 Wally Hilgenberg 66.9 3 112 112 8 0 0 0 Fred Carr 60.2 1 126 121 9 0 0 0 Paul Naumoff 60.1 0 127 11 9 0 0 0 Greg Brezina 59.2 3 91 86 6 0 1 1 Tom Jackson 55.3 4 74 74 5 1 2 2 Robert Brazile 53.8 0 140 0 7 0 0 0 D.D. Lewis 53.2 4 69 53 5 0 2 1 Dave Wilcox
You can't discuss the top outside linebackers of the '70s without discussing Jack Ham. Six first-team All Pro nominations, seven Pro Bowls, nine seasons and four Super Bowl rings. Ham's as obvious a choice as any player at any position for our All-decade team.
The other spot, though, could be up for healthy debate. The HOF selectors chose Ted Hendricks for its first team and Bobby Bell and "Dr. Doom" Robert Brazile for its second team. Bell doesn't make my final cut, though, as he played for seven seasons and only earned one second team All-Pro award; he had an AV of just forty-eight. Robertson, Hanburger, Hendricks and Brazile stand out as obvious choices, with four or more combined All-Pro nods.
Brazile was a pass rushing specialist, a 3-4 outside linebacker who played behind Curley Culp in Houston. If we had sack data from that era, Brazile would surely look even more impressive. Just as Culp paved the way for the big space eaters of today, Brazile was the LT of his day back when Lawrence Taylor was still in high school (and Brazile was solid as a run defender, as well). Choosing just three of these four great LBs is a tough task, and that's putting aside 49ers great Dave Wilcox and another Steeler, Andy Russell. Both of those players had great careers, but had a lot of success in the '60s and just miss out on making this team.
Like Brazile, Hendricks was a terrific 3-4 outside linebacker who could both rush the passer and drop into coverage effectively. In the first half of the decade he was a 4-3 outside linebacker, and was named a first-team All-Pro with both the Colts and Packers. The majority of his success with the Raiders came in the '80s, which is when he made his four Pro Bowls in Oakland.
Isiah Robertson certainly benefited from playing behind the great Rams defensive lines of the '70s, which often featured three or four Pro Bowl linemen. But he made six Pro Bowls on his own, and his 97 points of AV and five combined AP nods top all outside linebackers except Ham. Parceling out the credit among his fantastic teammates (and not just on the line) and him is difficult, but those Rams had a phenomenal defense for a very long time, seven times ranking in the top five in points allowed in the '70s.
Chris Hanburger is arguably the best linebacker not in the HOF, and his 9 Pro Bowls (four in the '60s) and four first team All Pro nominations (one in the '60s) give him a strong case for induction. Only Maxie Baughan, Walt Sweeney, Jim Tyrer and Tim Brown have made nine Pro Bowls and are eligible but not yet in the HOF (there are no eligible players who made 10 Pro Bowls and are not in Canton).
In the absence of other data, I don't think we can get very far. Brazile was the great pass rusher, Hendricks the HOFer (but in large part due to his work in the '80s), Hansburger has the first team All Pros while Robertson has the AV and the combined All Pros. When things are this close, I like to use whatever tiebreakers I can get. Hendricks' success on three different teams in the decade is particularly impressive, especially compared to a player like Robertson who achieved his success in very favorable lineups. And while Dr. Doom was a talented and underappreciated player, his five seasons in the decade make him the odd man out.
AV PB G GS SEA awards AP1 AP2 PLAYER 86.1 4 129 75 9 0 2 3 Bill Bergey 75.3 6 111 25 8 0 2 1 Willie Lanier 71.9 5 85 81 6 2 2 1 Jack Lambert 66.0 4 115 105 8 0 0 0 Jeff Siemon 62.1 4 88 76 5 1 2 1 Randy Gradishar 61.7 1 129 94 6 0 0 0 Jack Reynolds 61.5 2 98 14 7 0 0 1 Lee Roy Jordan 57.1 3 109 32 7 0 0 0 Mike Curtis 54.7 0 120 99 8 0 0 0 Harold McLinton 52.1 2 79 68 5 0 0 1 Nick Buoniconti 48.8 1 106 0 7 0 0 0 Jim Carter 47.8 2 86 0 6 0 0 0 Tommy Nobis 47.2 3 51 0 4 0 2 0 Dick Butkus
The 1970s were dominated by five middle linebackers -- Bergey, Lanier, Lambert, Gradishar and Butkus were each named the top inside linebacker in the NFL by the Associated Press in two different seasons. Lambert and Gradishar both won defensive player of the year awards, with Lambert also picking up a rookie of the year honor. Lambert and Gradishar didn't overlap with Butkus at all, with the latter playing from '65 to '73 while Lambert and Gradishar entered the league in 1974. Lanier and Bergey were both born in '45, putting them in their prime years for the decade, although Lanier peaked (and retired) early.
We can eliminate Butkus pretty easily -- with only four seasons, he doesn't have much to vault him over the other four. Siemon was part of those great Vikings defenses, but he doesn't have much individual recognition beyond his Pro Bowls to compete with the other guys.
- Certainly the least famous of the quartet, Bill Bergey made the Pro Bowl as a rookie for the Bengals in '69 but did not earn any individual honors until Paul Brown traded him to Philadelphia before the 1974 season. With the Eagles, his career would take flight: he was a first-team All-Pro in '74 and '75, and a second-teamer in '76, '77 and '78. Unofficially, he had a 233-tackle season (equivalent to a 266-tackle season in a 16-game schedule). Even if that number is slightly inflated, it would be quite a feat -- the highest number on PFR is Hardy Nickerson's 214 total tackles in 1993. With five All-Pro selections and an AV of 86 easily leading all inside linebackers, you'd think Bergey was a lock for this team. But he's got to compete with two HOF linebackers and a third who is constantly listed among the best players not in the Hall.
- Willie Lanier dominated the early part of the decade -- he's the only reason Dick Butkus didn't get named first-team All-Pro in five straight seasons. While he won his ring in '69, Lanier may have been at his best in '73 when he earned 20 points of AV. Lanier played for eight seasons in the '70s, with all of them coming during his prime years. He was traded to the Colts before the start of the '78 season, but retired before ever playing a game with Baltimore.
- On a team loaded with Hall of Famers, Jack Lambert still managed to stand out. For many, it is his image that is synonymous with the '70s Steelers. Lambert actually ranks as the 4th best Steelers' defender ever according to AV (Rod Woodson, Joe Greene, Jack Ham) but middle linebackers are always remembered fondly as the heart of a defense. What's harder to remember is that Lambert was just as much a product of the '80s as he was the '70s. He made four of his nine Pro Bowls and four of his six first-team All-Pro teams beginning in 1980. A worthy pick for any team, Lambert was the starting middle linebacker on all four Steelers champions, and recorded an incredible 21 points of AV (and a DPOY award) on the famous '76 Steelers.
- Nothing irks Broncos fans more than hearing that Randy Gradishar isn't yet a HOFer. Woody Hayes said Gradishar was the best linebacker he ever coached, and Ohio State hands out the Randy Gradishar award to its top linebacker every season. After working his way into the lineup as a rookie, Gradishar averaged 15.25 unofficial tackles per game for the next nine seasons. Some argue that the Broncos inflated their tackle numbers, and that certainly seems plausible. Believing the unofficial numbers meanss that for nine seasons, Gradishar was on a 244 tackle-per-sixteen-game pace. In '78, the year he won the DPOY award, Gradishar was credited with 286 tackles, while helping the Orange Crush have another dominant season.
As you can see, all four have terrific resumes and arguments for selection. Lambert and Gradishar played fewer seasons but have the DPOY awards as trump cards. Gradishar and Bergey have the big tackle numbers, while Lambert and Lanier are in Canton. The margins here are razor thin -- perhaps the most competitive position on either the '00s or '70s all-decade teams. I'll go with Bergey on the basis of his five All-Pro selections, and Lambert thanks to his DPOY award, being part of an all-time great defense ('76), and his standing as captain of the Steelers.
AV PB G GS SEA awards AP1 AP2 PLAYER 91.5 4 143 132 10 1 1 2 Mel Blount 89.7 7 132 132 10 0 1 0 Lemar Parrish 89.2 7 140 40 10 0 3 1 Roger Wehrli 77.5 4 112 86 7 0 2 1 Willie Brown 71.6 4 96 94 7 0 3 0 Jimmy Johnson 69.4 0 138 0 10 0 0 2 Ken Riley 67.4 4 98 20 7 0 0 2 Mel Renfro 66.1 4 99 36 8 0 0 1 Lem Barney 64.0 4 128 14 9 0 1 1 Emmitt Thomas 63.6 1 123 99 7 0 0 0 Bobby Bryant 61.9 3 96 96 6 1 1 0 Willie Buchanon 61.7 1 102 88 6 0 1 0 Rolland Lawrence 61.6 2 115 83 6 0 1 0 Ken Ellis 60.0 3 71 71 5 0 2 0 Louis Wright 55.4 0 125 111 9 0 0 0 Curtis Johnson 53.0 4 60 59 4 1 0 4 Mike Haynes 52.5 0 84 84 6 0 0 1 Mike Bass 50.5 1 129 106 9 0 0 0 Clarence R. Scott 50.2 0 133 84 6 0 0 0 Charlie West 49.9 0 98 98 7 0 0 0 Pat Fischer 49.0 2 66 54 4 0 1 1 Monte Jackson 48.4 3 69 0 5 0 2 0 Robert James
If you're good enough to have a rule named after you, you're good enough to make my All-decade team. Mel Blount was the only cornerback to win a DPOY award (Buchanon and Haynes both received rookie of the year awards) in the decade, as his 11 interceptions in 1975 helped seal the award. Blount played in more games and accumulated more AV than any other corner in the decade. Even ignoring his role on four Super Bowl champions, 10 seasons as a strong starter, three All-Pro teams, and a DPOY would likely have been enough to make the roster. While his one first-team All-Pro is a little light, he did get selected as a first teamer in two other seasons by other sources.
Roger Wehrli is a HOF corner whose career with the Cardinals lined up perfectly for him to make this team -- the first of his seven Pro Bowls came in 1970, the last in '79. With four All-Pro selections to his name, he's got a better case than the Bengals' Lemar Parrish, although both lap the field with seven Pro Bowl nominations.
Parrish made seven Pro Bowls, but I think at least one of them (1974, maybe 1970) was for his work as a return man. Regardless, he was a terrific athlete and playmaker -- he scored twelve times in the decade, five as a return man and seven more as a defender. In 1979, at the age of 32 and with the Redskins, he earned his only first-team All-Pro selection. Considering his seven Pro Bowls, that's a good sign that he was able to maintain an elite level of play for a very long time.
There's very little separating Willie Brown and Jimmy Johnson. Both played for seven seasons in the seventies, made four Pro Bowls and earned three All-Pro selections. They both began playing in the early sixties, and never should have been around long enough to make an All-decade roster of the '70s. Brown was undrafted out of Grambling State, and played for four seasons with the Broncos before playing the last twelve seasons of his career with the Raiders. Johnson went to UCLA and was a first round selection of the 49ers in 1961; he played all sixteen seasons of his career with San Francisco. Both are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Despite the disparity in their draft status, Johnson didn't make his first Pro Bowl until his 9th season; Brown had already made seven Pro Bowls by then. Starting in '70, both were elite cornerbacks, but had little in the tank after 1975. There's not much to use to separate the two; I'll take Brown because of his higher single-season AV (a 21 in 1973) and because of his place in NFL history: as stated by Sean Lahman in the Pro Football Historical Abstract, Brown was the first cornerback to perfect (and arguably, invent) the bump and run coverage.
I can't leave the discussion of corners in the 1970s without a brief comment on Rolland Lawrence, the owner of the highest single-season AV score since 1950. The 1977 Falcons defense, nicknamed the "Gritz Blitz", allowed fewer points per game than any defense since the 1944 New York Giants. Allowing just 9.2 points per game, you can see why we'd want to give lots of AV points to the Falcons defensive players. The problem? Only one player -- Lawrence -- was named a first-team All-Pro. Only one other player, DE Claude Humphrey (who made our second-team All-decade roster), even made the Pro Bowl. The unusual combination of exceptional team performance with just one individual star is how Lawrence became the top single season player in AV history (Alan Page on the '70 Vikings tied with him; both have 26 points of AV each).
AV PB G GS SEA awards AP1 AP2 PLAYER 96.4 10 141 99 10 0 2 2 Ken Houston 89.9 5 126 123 9 1 2 2 Jake Scott 87.0 5 144 118 9 0 1 1 Paul Krause 84.1 6 141 28 9 0 3 0 Cliff Harris 71.7 0 130 130 9 0 0 1 Dave Elmendorf 71.1 2 133 133 9 0 1 0 Bill Thompson 63.9 3 120 106 9 0 0 1 Jack Tatum 63.2 3 93 66 5 1 2 1 Dick Anderson 58.7 2 104 3 7 0 0 1 Mike Wagner 57.5 2 118 85 7 0 0 1 Glen Edwards 56.0 3 128 30 7 0 0 2 Charlie Waters 54.8 1 108 25 7 0 1 0 Rick Volk 54.8 0 116 94 8 0 0 0 George Atkinson 54.1 1 127 97 8 0 0 0 Tim Foley 53.4 0 122 42 9 0 0 0 Ray Brown 52.9 3 100 1 6 0 2 1 Bill Bradley 52.9 1 128 50 8 0 1 0 Tony Greene 49.9 3 71 0 6 0 1 0 Tommy Casanova
That 10 isn't a typo -- Ken Houston was the only player in the '70s to make the Pro Bowl in every season. Along with leading all safeties with four All-Pro selections, Houston set an NFL record with four interceptions returned for touchdowns in 1971. Houston excelled both as a pass defender and as a tackler in the running game; he stood out with the Oilers and then the Redskins as one of the elite players of his day.
Jake Scott comes up next according to AV, thanks to his four All-Pro selections (tied with Houston for the most) and nine seasons as a starter. That one award he has? It came when he picked off two passes to clinch the Super Bowl for the '72 Dolphins.
Paul Krause is a HOFer who holds the records for most interceptions in a career (81). But as a February 1942 baby, his prime didn't coincide well with our arbitrary cut-offs. Krause made 8 Pro Bowls and 3 first-team All-Pros in his career, but they were split pretty evenly among the '60s and '70s. Krause was a star for those '70s Vikings defenses, but wasn't good enough for long enough to beat out Scott.
Dick Anderson teamed up with Scott on those great Dolphins defenses, and he won the DPOY award in 1973. His three All-Pro honors match up with Cliff Harris, but Harris played for nine seasons and made six Pro Bowls.
There were two elite kick returners in the decade -- Jason's podcast hero and Cardinals' great Terry Metcalf (561 yards over average) and Ron Smith (546), who split time between Chicago, San Diego and Oakland during the decade. Perhaps more exciting are the punt returners: Rick Upchurch (834 yards over average) and Billy Johnson (788 yards over average) were the top punt returners of their day, with Johnson making two Pro Bowls and one first-team All-Pro and Upchurch making three Pro Bowls and selected for two first-team All-Pro squads.
Punter? Once again, I don't even pretend to know how to grade punters. I know Jason has some things to say about Ray Guy in a future post, but with six Pro Bowls and three first-team All-Pro honors in the decade, he's the easy choice as the All-decade punter. Jerrel Wilson and John James each were Pro Bowlers three times in the '70s, but James was named to two second-team All-Pro squads.
One placekicker stood out among the rest, and that was Garo Yepremian. He added 93 points over your average kicker, led the league three times in raw kicking percentage, made two Pro Bowls and was named a first-team All-Pro two times. Yepremian's signature performance in the decade was a famous folly, but if nothing else, it helped make a celebrity out of him. Mark Moseley, who would be famous for winning the 1982 MVP award, ranked second in the decade with 62 points added over average.
While the first string is a no brainer, we could have a very healthy debate about our second string coach. Once again, I'm only ranking coaching records, not coaches. With four Super Bowl champions in the decade, Chuck Noll comes in at +89 in my coaching scoring system, easily the most in the decade and slightly ahead of Bill Belichick (so far) in the '00s. John Madden (+58.0) had a terrific record in the '70s, and won a Super Bowl. Don Shula (+64.9) had a perfect season and won two Super Bowls, and was generally coaching a good team for most of the decade. Bud Grant (+57.2) went to three Super Bowls in the '70s, but Tom Landry (+76) appeared in five Super Bowls in the '70s, won two of them, and reached double digit wins in nine of ten seasons.
Let's close with a recap -- a modern look on the All-decade team of the 1970s:
QB: Roger Staubach Fran Tarkenton RB: O.J. Simpson Lydell Mitchell RB: Walter Payton Chuck Foreman WR: Harold Jackson Gene A. Washington WR: Cliff Branch Lynn Swann TE: Dave Casper Riley Odoms OT: Ron Yary Art Shell OT: George Kunz Rayfield Wright OG: Larry Little Tom Mack OG: Gene Upshaw Joe DeLamielleure C: Jim Langer Forrest Blue DE: Jack Youngblood L.C. Greenwood DE: Carl Eller Claude Humphrey DT: Alan Page Curley Culp DT: Joe Greene Merlin Olsen OLB: Jack Ham Isiah Robertson OLB: Ted Hendricks Chris Hanburger ILB: Bill Bergey Jack Lambert CB: Mel Blount Lemar Parrish CB: Roger Wehrli Willie Brown S: Ken Houston Paul Krause S: Jake Scott Cliff Harris PK: Garo Yepremian Mark Moseley P: Ray Guy John James KR: Terry Metcalf Ron Smith PR: Rick Upchurch Billy Johnson HC: Chuck Noll Tom Landry
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