Sturm/Machota: Introducing the most ambitious Dallas Cowboys all-time roster project ever

Iamtdg

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By Bob Sturm and Jon Machota 5h ago

Managing editor Or Moyal pitched an idea to us for this holiday week, something to occupy Cowboys fans’ attention before we shift our focus to the 2020 team. The premise is for the two of us to draft against each other, attempting to create the best all-time Cowboys team possible. The franchise’s rich history certainly presents some amazing choices, and that is the point. Could we both put together 53-man NFL rosters while paying attention to each position, drawing from the greatest players and coaches in team history, in hopes of designing one roster superior to the other? It sounded like fun, so we both jumped on the change of pace and the general idea. Here is Part One of the project. Check back all week as we expand on today’s introduction!

Bob: This project would really be fascinating with any franchise, but I assume the greater the franchise, the easier the process would be. I can’t imagine trying to find 100 Atlanta Falcons to split up, but with Dallas, we know it is much easier — at least at first. Imagine a franchise where we debate about whether Danny White, Dak Prescott or Don Meredith are even in the top five at their position! That seems so ridiculous — and it isn’t just at QB, of course. It is everywhere on this roster. Yes, the Cowboys have 60 seasons of rich history, but the Chicago Bears and the Detroit Lions (sorry, Jon) can’t come close to his. I am curious how we both decide to tackle this, since I assume we will both be able to build powerhouses stacked with quality as well as depth. Any initial thoughts on how you are thinking you might build?

Jon: At the beginning of the month, I decided to go through the history of the Cowboys and put together an all-time 53-man roster. So I completely agree with you, Bob, on just how incredibly loaded this franchise has been over the last 60 years. But I found that some positions were a little more top-heavy than others. To me, that included defensive tackle, linebacker and cornerback. With the goal being to build the best Cowboys football team across all eras, I wanted to focus on those three position groups. I was fine with either Roger Staubach or Troy Aikman. I was fine with either Emmitt Smith or Tony Dorsett. I was fine taking either Larry Allen or Rayfield Wright. I was OK with you drafting one of those players, but I was going to make sure I got the other if possible. My main strategy leaned towards building the defense, particularly in the front seven. I knew I could find offense a little later. What about you? What was your strategy going in?

Bob: We probably felt the same way on that general premise; there is no wrong answer on many spots. There were a few where the top talent was taken quickly, but in some cases, that seemed to match up with the less important positions on the field, so it is a bit of a contortion exercise.

Now, let’s discuss the general methodology we agreed upon: We wanted to attempt to normalize for era. That simply means that while I do believe that the 1966 Cowboys would lose to the 2019 Cowboys by 28, we aren’t going to attempt to figure out how the advances of the human species have impacted the discussion. Elite players in 1965 and elite players in 2015 are equal for this exercise. Great is great across all eras. I know it is also a projection, but for the purposes of this exercise, we won’t try to say that Michael Gallup is clearly better than Bob Hayes. Agreed? What else did we discuss?

Jon: Agreed. One of my favorite things about this project was how it started as only being starting lineups, then it included a few bench players and then we finally decided to draft an entire 53-man roster and three coaches. The coaching staff was particularly interesting because it was set up as a head coach, defensive coordinator and offensive coordinator. The head coach obviously had to be one of the Cowboys’ former head coaches, but the two coordinators could be a former assistant or head coach, whatever their area of expertise. We did a random drawing, which Bob won, to decide the first pick. I would then get back-to-back picks at the end of the first round and to start the second round. The rest of the draft was structured like a typical fantasy football snake draft, if you had only two participants in the league. Am I leaving anything out?

Bob: One last thing: We decided the way to rate each player was on his peak NFL season. This, of course, paints guys like Sean Lee or Herschel Walker in the most favorable light despite not having great longevity with injuries, but this is our hypothetical, so we might as well go all the way. So we are rating our players free from trying to penalize for era and also not docking anyone for a short prime. With that in mind, I think perhaps in this first place, Jon, we can take people through the top 10 picks of the draft. In the days to come, each of us can walk through our rosters and what we perceive our strengths and weaknesses to be when game day comes around. Why don’t you briefly analyze my decision at No. 1 overall and we can take it from there.

TOP 10
1.1 (Bob) Larry Allen, Guard
JON: I was interested to see who you had in mind here. I thought you might pick Bob Lilly, Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman or Emmitt Smith. But I can’t criticize your decision. You start off with the best offensive lineman in franchise history, and that’s saying something. And it got me to thinking about how, although it’s only one pick, this could determine the direction of each team. Somewhat similar to Jason Garrett and Co. drafting Tyron Smith No. 9 overall over J.J. Watt in 2011. An offensive-minded coach decides to build his offensive line. A defensive-minded coach might have taken Watt and built around the D-line.


Photo of Larry Allen: Sporting News via Getty Images
1.2 (Jon) Bob Lilly, DT
BOB: To be fair, I didn’t love taking Larry Allen first overall because I believe the premium spots in a draft go higher, but I think we have to adjust for a normal draft allowing you one pick every 32 selections. Here, I get another pick at No. 3, so I took the rarest player I could find in Larry Allen. Now, I sort of thought you would go with someone who would touch the ball, but you come back with Mr. Cowboy himself, Bob Lilly. This is who I was taking third if you did go elsewhere, so I have no disagreement here. Lilly is probably a marginally better player than Randy White, so I liked your decision. He is a legend and a difference-maker.

1.3 (Bob) Deion Sanders, CB
JON: After taking Lilly, all I was thinking about was Randy White and the possibility of getting those two together. When you took Sanders, I was happy for a second because I knew I’d get White, but then I realized you had one of the top two corners, a position I considered thin after the top two. This pick makes a lot of sense. He’s one of the most dominant defenders to ever play the game. This also told me that you might not be focusing on offense alone early on, instead going for overall balance.

1.4 (Jon) Randy White, DT
BOB: Well, since this is not us against the rest of the league, but rather against each other, this pick would go on to affect my future thought process. I entered the draft thinking I would modernize things and get one of the two best arms and throw the ball 40 times a game. When you took DT and DT with your first two picks, adding two Hall of Fame tackles who lived in the backfield, I altered my general view toward needing a great offensive line. Manster and Lilly together? Geez. I have to worry about that, I think. I was counting on my worthy adversary going elsewhere – not doubling up!


Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images
1.5 (Bob) Emmitt Smith, RB
JON: I figured this pick was coming soon. It’s tough to beat the NFL’s all-time leading rusher. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he was picked first overall. Now I find myself dealing with Smith running behind a line that already includes Larry Allen. This made me think I probably need to pull the trigger on Tony Dorsett pretty soon. I mean, Bob wouldn’t draft both of them back to back, right?

1.6 (Jon) Lee Roy Jordan, LB
BOB: This one shocked the heck out of me, Jon. I honestly did not have Jordan in my top 15. I respect his career, but I do think that given his position and his general standing in the pantheon of league legends, this felt like a bit of a reach. That said, I am not the jury here, and you may know more about his impact to your side than I do. But this pick, with so many Pro Football Hall of Famers available, shocked me a bit. You got your guy, though!

1.7 (Bob) Mel Renfro, CB
JON: I probably should have picked Renfro with my previous pick. After getting White and Lilly, I was set on adding Jordan and Chuck Howley because I knew there was a significant drop-off at the position after those top two linebackers. Had there been other options I thought were on their level, I certainly would not have taken Jordan as soon as I did. Knowing now that you didn’t think as highly of them, I’m thinking about how crazy my defense could have been with Jordan, Howley and Renfro!

1.8 (Jon) Chuck Howley, LB
BOB: Wow, Jon really went DT, DT, LB, LB. He just wants to turn the screws on my offense. Will it work if I roll out 11 personnel and try to stretch him right off the field? I guess we are about to find out. I think Howley is the best LB in Cowboys history and certainly can help in coverage, as well as keeping up with someone like Emmitt. He was the rare Cowboy to be a 1st Team All-Pro five times in a row! That list must be very short. Nothing wrong with this pick, but you might need some offense eventually.

1.9 (Bob) Michael Irvin, WR
JON: I figured if I kept drafting defense, Bob was going to continue loading up on offense. And he did. Another great pick; the best wide receiver in Cowboys history. But that wasn’t going to change my plan. I was committed at this point. I knew there would still be elite offensive players available in the next round.

1.10 (Jon) Darren Woodson, S
BOB: You are staying on brand. I assume Woodson is probably in the mix for best safety available, but at this point, I am thinking that you have no corners and I am going to be passing the ball against a defense that can stop the run. I love Woody, so this is more of a conceptual disagreement, but as they say, styles make fights and we will have two very different, contrasting styles.

JON: At this point, I feel great about my defense. I’m fine with not addressing the offense yet because I know there’s still plenty of talent out there. My corners aren’t going to be as good as Bob’s, but I know there are still playmakers available on the back end. And I feel great about how much better my defensive tackles and linebackers are than whatever he will be able to land with the players remaining.

BOB: I think it is hilarious that we have totally avoided quarterbacks to this point — because there is no shortage whatsoever and no clear advantage for taking one before the next. I love my first five selections, but the roster is 53 deep where we will probably be able to find an advantage over our opponent. Jon, I wish you luck. I think you are going to need it!

NEXT: Jon reveals his full 53-man roster and game-plan thoughts tomorrow!
 

Simpleton

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Ah yes, the pointless horse shit article of June in the dead period before TC are extra nonsensical this year with COVID, no other sports, etc.
 

pd

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We decided the way to rate each player was on his peak NFL season.
QB - Tony Romo (2014) or Staubach (1971)
RB - DeMarco Murray (2014), Ezekiel Elliott (2016), Dorsett (1981) or Emmitt Smith (pick one)
WR - Michael Irvin (1995) or Bob Hayes (1966)
 
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mschmidt64

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Interesting that literally no one took a QB.

I like Bob’s draft better, frankly. Yes it’s CB heavy, but he got the better/more unique players in my opinion.
 

Genghis Khan

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Interesting that literally no one took a QB.

I like Bob’s draft better, frankly. Yes it’s CB heavy, but he got the better/more unique players in my opinion.
I especially love the Deion pick. Not only is he the GOAT, it's a big drop off after him.

Although on the other hand, with White and Lilly, if Machota gets some combination of Martin, Ware, Too Tall, or Haley he can certainly get by with maybe Walls and say Kevin Smith at CB. But that's assuming he can get them.
 

Genghis Khan

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QB - Tony Romo (2014) or Staubach (1971)
RB - DeMarco Murray (2014), Ezekiel Elliott (2016), Dorsett (1981) or Emmitt Smith (pick one)
WR - Michael Irvin (1995) or Bob Hayes (1966)
Roger
Emmitt
Irvin

Really can't go wrong with any of them though.
 

Chocolate Lab

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Interesting that literally no one took a QB.

I like Bob’s draft better, frankly. Yes it’s CB heavy, but he got the better/more unique players in my opinion.
I'm usually the cb defender and now I'm on the other side. :lol But Lilly and White next to each other? Damnation.

Not as sure about the lbs. Is Jordan worthy of going that high? It's always hard when you haven't seen these players, though that's true for me of Lilly also. I do wonder who some of the next true (not Ware) lbs will be. The Jimmy guys? Kenny Norton? Dat? Hittin' Machine? Actually, maybe it's Sean Lee if we're talking about their peak.
 

bbgun

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um, where are the Triplets? or did the other writer "draft" them?
 

Iamtdg

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Ultimate all-time Dallas Cowboys rosters: Bob Sturm breaks down his draft
By Bob Sturm 56m ago

Managing editor Or Moyal pitched an idea to us for this holiday week, something to occupy Cowboys fans’ attention before we shift our focus to the 2020 team. The premise is for Bob Sturm and Jon Machota to draft against each other, attempting to create the best all-time Cowboys team possible. The franchise’s rich history certainly presents some amazing choices, and that is the point. Could we both put together 53-man NFL rosters while paying attention to each position, drawing from the greatest players and coaches in team history, in hopes of designing one roster superior to the other? It sounded like fun, so we both jumped on the change of pace and the general idea. Here is Part Three: Bob’s team.

Here is how Jon ended his piece yesterday: “In conclusion, I believe I have walked away with the better team. I have the better coaching staff, the most Pro Football Hall of Famers, the most Ring of Honor members, the most All-Pro selections, the most Pro Bowl selections and the highest single-season approximate value for both my starting lineup and entire roster. It’s obviously difficult to compare so many players from so many different eras, but every metric I can find shows my team with the advantage.”

I appreciate Jon’s efforts to quantify his team. I don’t remotely blame him for the strategy he employed.

But how many NFL dream teams have been better than a team that fits together in beautiful harmony? How many have the sum of their parts not come close to exceeding the whole?

What I did instead was attempt to re-assemble a team that has already proven that they were an NFL dynasty. This team, the 1992-1995 Dallas Cowboys, were possibly one pass interference penalty from being the only four-peat champion in the history of the sport. Imagine. (It is true that the New England Patriots of 2001-2004 also won three Super Bowls in four years, but that team missed the playoffs altogether in that fourth year.)

I believed that team had several important components. Jimmy Johnson, for sure, and even after he left, his legacy – the team he built – was still good enough to survive the aftermath for two solid seasons. Norv Turner brought out the very best in Troy Aikman and the best in the offense before he was promoted in Washington. The Triplets — Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin — were the most amazing trio within the most amazing dynasty in modern football. Nate Newton was amongst the very best on the interior while Moose Johnston will provide what he offered when we need a fullback. Two other singular parts who were members of that dynasty: Hall of Famers Deion Sanders and Larry Allen, both unreal talents. Finally, I added tons of that defensive team speed — Ken Norton, Robert Jones, Brock Marion, James Washington, Kevin Smith — as well as the athletic studs up front in Leon Lett, Tony Tolbert and Jim Jeffcoat.

I grabbed every single one of those players to build my team.

We can speculate on how Jon’s singular parts might fit together and how Bob Lilly and Ezekiel Elliott would have enjoyed their moments together, or we can know how Jimmy, Troy, Emmitt and Michael would have galvanized this roster into something special in a matter of weeks.

We can add up Jon’s Pro Bowls or we can know my team was a beast of epic proportions because it already happened. Is my tactic unfair? Probably, but I am not trying to be fair. I am trying to dominate Jon’s hypothetical team in our hypothetical stadium as I go for the one and only hypothetical trophy. Jimmy would be proud of me for not caring about individual pieces, but rather assembling special players who became more special by combining together into a superpower.

Now, I am not insane. There are places where the Cowboys before and after this dynasty could offer upgrades, and I took advantage. Imagine grabbing Romo-Dez-Witten to supplement that ’90s dynasty. How about Tyron-Frederick-Martin? DeMarcuses Ware and Lawrence? So, guess what: I did. I also thought about how great the Herschel Walker trade was to that dynasty, and then put together a dynasty where I kept Herschel as a backup to Emmitt. Holy cow, this team is a machine.

Let me take you through my 53-man squad and my three coaches as part of the 112-pick draft Jon and I had a few days back. Each player or coach will have their draft slot next to their name:

HEAD COACH: Jimmy Johnson

I assume I don’t have to explain this one. Is he Landry? No. But I might actually prefer him in a one-season exercise.

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Norv Turner

He literally inducted Troy into Canton. I think they will work well together. What is my scheme? Literally any scheme I want. But we will throw the ball plenty, using play-action and spread you out and destroy you in a number of ways. I think we can tailor this thing to our opponent’s weaknesses and that will change from week to week, but I also think Jon is in big trouble when this juggernaut is across the field.

QUARTERBACKS (3): Troy Aikman (31st overall), Tony Romo (33rd), Don Meredith (100th)

Yes, neither of us were going to pick a quarterback until the other one did. Ultimately I blinked because while I think Aikman is slightly better than Roger, I also see that this is probably a wildly debatable point; therefore, the only incentive is to get the third-best QB (Romo) as a package deal. I wanted Aikman and Romo and took them with consecutive picks, so I even have injury insurance for Troy. Then, as the draft was winding down, I realized I needed a third QB, and Don Meredith at No. 100 presented amazing value. I am a massive believer that in today’s offenses and with 11 personnel, Troy would be a better statistical QB than Romo – and I am going to give him a receiving group to prove it. He had singular talents and was not fully utilized because of the era, but not because of limitations. We are going to modernize that offense, and he will not have to hear fantasy football fans point to his stats that are rather pedestrian. We will fix that in a hurry with this group.

RUNNING BACKS (4): Emmitt Smith (5th), Herschel Walker (54th), Daryl Johnston (56th), DeMarco Murray (74th)

When you get Emmitt Smith, you don’t really worry about your depth for quite a while. He will get the lion’s share of the workload thanks to his versatility, durability and overall singularity. He is only the all-time leading rusher in league history. But when we start building depth, we also see that we can have peak Herschel Walker coming off the bench with a great fullback in Moose and then, somehow, I have DeMarco Murray as my depth RB, who will have to run special teams some. Again, I think we are going to be in pretty good shape here.

TIGHT ENDS (2): Jason Witten (13th), Doug Cosbie (86th)

No disrespect to Jay Novacek, but I cannot imagine what peak Jason Witten would have looked like with The Triplets. I did decide to find out, though. He is the rare tight end who was a fantastic run-blocker and pass-catcher for more than a decade and could also work the seams like almost nobody ever. His understudy will be Cosbie, who had a three-year run from 1983-1985 when he had 170 catches for over 2100 yards and an insane 12.8 yards per reception, which exceeded any single season Witten had in his entire career! Witten never had an entire season of 12 yards per reception, and here is Doug Cosbie with three in a row. Very underrated player.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6): Michael Irvin (9th), Drew Pearson (21st), Dez Bryant (23rd), Amari Cooper (72nd), Joey Galloway (84th), Rocket Ismael (102nd)

OK, let me explain this. I wanted Irvin, for sure, but then I needed a better version of Alvin Harper; Drew Pearson fits the bill. I couldn’t believe I could get them both. Then, since I am going 11 personnel all day with Aikman, I took Dez Bryant over Terrell Owens. That is probably silly but, again, I want a team that fits together, and I am not putting Owens in this locker room. Dez will be so excited to play with Michael that he will be as chill as can be; Owens would want more balls. And everyone can wear No. 88 together. My bench is Amari Cooper, Joey Galloway and Rocket? Ismael will be returning my kicks and punts, too, unless we put Dez back there (and we should). This is where we destroy Jon’s secondary. I might even go 10 personnel to get Amari out there, too. Please. He has no chance to cover my crew.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9): Larry Allen (1st), Tyron Smith (11th), Nate Newton (19th), Zack Martin (27th), Travis Frederick (37th), Mark Tuinei (35th), Flozell Adams (52nd), Leonard Davis (88th), Kevin Gogan (94th)

I think the 2014-2016 Cowboys had the best offensive line in the history of the franchise, but I am willing to concede that I could make it even better by putting Larry Allen and Nate Newton on it, too. Can you imagine? Next, I grabbed depth in Tuinei, Adams, Big Len Davis and Gogan. This is insane. Aikman will have all day and, of course, we will run at will with Emmitt Smith and Herschel Walker behind these guys. I admit two questions: Is Larry Allen moving out to tackle (where he started) because I have three ideal guards on here and one tackle? Larry was fine when he was healthy at tackle, and I know Zack Martin could do it, too. I also have Tuinei and Flozell if I really get in a pinch. The other concern would be what to do if my center goes down, as I might not have taken a second center at all. I am sure Nate can handle it, though. Not too worried, to be honest.

Now, I suppose we need to play defense, too, so let’s look at that.

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: WADE PHILLIPS

I certainly admit that Norv and Wade are not at their best as head coaches. But they are both incredible coordinators, and I am getting Wade in because we will be bringing his style of pressure. We will play a primarily 3-4 defense before switching to a four-man nickel front. Blitz and blitz with my shutdown corners, and we are playing complementary football to force my opponent to try to keep up with me and not make mistakes as we try to break the scoreboard. We will make playing us incredibly stressful, and we will do so with scheme and talent on our defense. Let’s meet the crew:

DEFENSIVE LINE (7): Too Tall Jones (17th), Jim Jeffcoat (44th), LaRoi Glover (64th), Jay Ratliff (68th), Leon Lett (46th), Tony Tolbert (76th), Marcus Spears (104th)

My base 3-4 will have Too Tall and Jeffcoat as my DE 5-techniques to start with Glover and Ratliff as my two DT’s who will rotate initially. I am looking for quickness up front to complement my pressure packages and overall team speed. We don’t want anything too heavy slowing us down, which is consistent with both how Jimmy and Wade see defense. Lett and Tolbert are great depth, with Marcus Spears as a fine backup 5-tech. Also, on nickel downs, I have Lett and Tolbert fresh, with Ratliff and Ware and Lawrence. Wow. Hope you can block, Machota, because we are bringing serious heat.

LINEBACKERS (9): DeMarcus Ware (15th), DeMarcus Lawrence (70th), Anthony Spencer (98th), Hollywood Henderson (48th), Ken Norton (50th), Robert Jones (58th), Sean Lee (78th), Bradie James (80th), DD Lewis (106th)

Look at the edges of my four-man LB crew! I will probably go with the double-DeMarcus combo with Spencer as my third. Running sideline to sideline are Hollywood Henderson and Sean Lee joining Norton and Jones from the dynasty team. We are so fast and able to cover so much ground. In the nickel, it is probably any two of those inside types, and I have Bradie James and DD Lewis for depth and special teams. We are going to be good because my corners are unreal.

CORNERBACKS (6): Deion Sanders (3rd), Mel Renfro (7th), Terence Newman (29th), Kevin Smith (66th), Orlando Scandrick (108th), Brandon Carr (110th)

I knew Jon would have to pass to keep up with me, and that is why I loaded up with the best cornerback group this franchise could offer. We have peak Deion Sanders (53 interceptions) and Mel Renfro (52 interceptions) as anchors. Then I have a third in the incredibly underrated Terence Newman (32 interceptions). A fully fit, pre-Achilles Kevin Smith is my fourth, and I kept loading up with Scandrick and Carr late to just run up the score and have dominant special teams units. We will play press-man like Wade’s group in Denver did with Sanders, Renfro and Newman, and you won’t have much chance to deal with a downfield opportunity. We are bringing speed, heat and aggression to our defense to get the ball back. We are getting that ball.

SAFETIES (5): Charlie Waters (25th), James Washington (60th), Roy Williams (62nd), Brock Marion (82nd), George Teague (112th)

Charlie Waters has 41 interceptions, which is more than any Cowboy ever who wasn’t named Deion Sanders, Mel Renfro or Everson Walls. We’ll be in great shape with those ball hawks. James Washington and Roy Williams will be solid, but I will be honest, I think there is a great chance that we will play more corners than safeties after Waters. If we need centerfield help, we have Brock Marion, too. Washington and Marion are a bit redundant, and I might not be sure what to do with Roy Williams in the modern secondary, but I have options and I bet he would be able to blitz well and play nickel LB on occasion (if we keep it simple). I also have George Teague to cover kicks and to “protect the star” in case Owens causes any trouble. We have enough corners that I doubt he will, to be honest.

SPECIALISTS (2): Kicker Dan Bailey (90th) and Punter Mat McBriar (92nd)

Not much to report here, but I do believe I have the best kicker and punter in team history, so we will be good there – but Jon, we won’t be punting very much.

The gameplan is simple: we are trying to score every play and definitely every possession, and then you better be ready on the other side because our corners and pass rush will make playing against us an awful experience.

Good luck playing us, Jon. You will need it. Jimmy Johnson and the Triplets sends their regards.

Coming up tomorrow: Mike Sando, alongside a crew of NFL executives and coaches, evaluates the two teams … while later in the day, Bob and Jon answer all your questions in a live Q&A!
 
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