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1976-1978 Cleveland Barons

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Cleveland Barons NHLNational Hockey League (1976-1978)

Born: July 14, 1976 – The California Golden Seals relocate to Cleveland, OH.
Died: June 14, 1978 – Merger with Minnesota North Stars

Arena: Richfield Coliseum

Team Colors:

Owners: 

Stanley Cup Championships: None

 

Cleveland flirted with the National Hockey League a number times over the years. The city’s minor league club, the Cleveland Barons (1929-1973), were wildly popular in the post War period. The Barons applied unsuccessfully for admission to the NHL during the 1950’s. And believe it or not, the Montreal Canadiens even considered a move to Ohio during the Great Depression.

Major League hockey finally arrived in 1972 with the formation of the World Hockey Association. The WHA sought to challenge the NHL and made an immediate splash by luring away NHL stars such as Bobby Hull, Bernie Parent and Derek Sanderson. Nick Mileti, owner of the Barons and the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, secured a WHA franchise for Cleveland, to be known as the Crusaders. The debut of the Crusaders in the fall of 1972 marked the end of the Barons era after nearly 50 years. Mileti shipped his minor league club out of town to Jacksonville, Florida in January 1973. Mileti also set about development of an 18,000-seat modern arena for his Cavs and the Crusaders franchises – the Richfield Coliseum.

The Coliseum opened in 1974 in a rural area between Cleveland and Akron. The Crusaders failed to catch fire during four seasons in Cleveland, either downtown at the old Cleveland Arena or at the gleaming new Coliseum. By the spring of 1976 the WHA club was on its last legs. New Crusaders owner Jay Moore reportedly held talks to lure the NHL’s troubled Kansas City Scouts to the Richfield Coliseum to replace his WHA club. Cleveland was on the verge of its long-awaited NHL moment. But it wouldn’t involve Moore or his flirtation with the lowly Scouts.

Jack Evans Cleveland BaronsAcross the country, San Francisco hotelier Mel Swig watched an arena deal for his California Golden Seals NHL franchise collapse. Swig’s minority partner in the Seals was George Gund, a scion of Cleveland’s Gund banking family. With hopes for a new arena in the Bay Area dead, Gund persuaded Swig to move the Seals to his native Cleveland. The NHL approved the move on July 14, 1976. The WHA’s Crusaders moved to St. Paul, Minnesota in early August.  Swig and Gund revived the old Barons moniker for their franchise, hoping to re-kindle Cleveland’s hockey glory days. By the time the ink was dry, the Barons had just six weeks to promote the arrival of the NHL in Cleveland before opening night.

Things went sideways immediately. Four of the Barons’ first eight homes games attracted fewer than 4,000 fans to the Richfield Coliseum. The Barons remained in the brutal Adams Division, where the Seals finished in last place the prior two seasons. The Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres were league powers of the era. The Toronto Maple Leafs were competitive. The Barons languished in a distant 4th place.

By January 1977, just six months into the Cleveland experiment, majority owner Mel Swig was financially exhausted. He petitioned his fellow NHL owners for a loan to keep the Barons afloat through the end of the 1976-77 season. Then he proposed his players defer 27.5% of their paychecks for five months. On January 31, 1977, Swig missed the team’s payroll. Just as it appeared the Barons would humiliate the NHL by folding in midseason, NHL Players Association chief Alan Eagleson brokered a last minute deal. The union loaned the club $600,000, matched by $350,000 from Swig and $20,000 from each of the other NHL clubs. The $1.3 million bailout allowed the Barons to finish the season.

The Barons finished the 1976-77 in last place in the Adams Division with a 25-42-13 record. Seals holdover Dennis Maruk led the team in scoring with a 28-50-78 line. In June 1977, Swig sold the Barons to George Gund and his brother Gordon for $5.3 million in cash and promissory notes. The Barons now had committed local ownership and a full offseason to promote the team for the first time. It didn’t matter.

On the ice, the 1977-78 Barons performed a near replica of the previous winter’s futility. They finished last in the Adams Division with a 22-45-13 record. Dennis Maruk led the team once again with 36 goals and 35 assists. Behind the scenes, the Barons didn’t experience the degree of acute financial peril that they had the previous winter under Swig’s ownership. But attendance remained distressingly low at the Coliseum. The Barons made their final appearance on April 9th, 1978, losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in front of 7,364 in Richfield.  Over the course of two NHL seasons the Barons never once sold out a game.

In June 1978, the NHL allowed a merger of the Barons with another financially distressed club, the Minnesota North Stars. As part of the transaction, the Gund brothers took over ownership of the North Stars and the Barons ceased to be.

The death of the Barons on June 14th, 1978 stands as the last time a franchise in one of the “Big Four” North American sports leagues (NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB) went out of business.

 

Cleveland Barons NHL Shop



Cleveland Barons NHL Logo T-Shirt

Forgotten Glory: The Story of Cleveland Barons Hockey by Gene Kiczek

 

Cleveland Barons NHL Memorabilia

 

Barons Video

1977 Cleveland Barons highlights and interview clip from WJW-TV in Cleveland.

 

In Memoriam

Original club owner Melvin Swig died of cancer on May 14, 1993 at the age of 75. New York Times obituary.

Head Coach Jack Evans died of prostate cancer on November 10, 1996 at age 68.

Barons co-owner George Gund III passed away on January 15, 2013 after a bout with stomach cancer. Gund was 75 years old.

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Written by Drew Crossley

December 14th, 2017 at 2:57 am

1992-1994 Cleveland Thunderbolts

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Cleveland ThunderboltsArena Football League (1992-1994)

Born: 1992 – The Columbus Thunderbolts relocate to Cleveland, OH
Folded: Postseason 1994

Arena: Richfield Coliseum (17,606)

Team Colors: Black, Silver & Purple

Owners:

Arena Bowl Championships: None

 

The Cleveland Thunderbolts were a bottom-dwelling Arena Football League franchise that played for three seasons at the suburban Richfield Coliseum from 1992 to 1994.  The Thunderbolts originated an expansion team in Columbus, Ohio in 1991.  After a winless (0-10) campaign playing in small agriculture fairgrounds arena in Columbus, the team was sold to Ohio insurance salesman John Kuczek in late 1991 and he moved the T-Bolts to Cleveland.

Cleveland ThunderboltsThe T-Bolts were one of the weakest entries in the Arena League in the mid-1990’s, posting an 8-26 record during their three seasons in Cleveland, including back-to-back 2-10 campaigns in 1993 and 1993.  During their brief run, the team signed two big names from the world of college football.  Quarterback Major Harris, a holdover from the 1991 Columbus team, played for the T-Bolts in 1992 and 1994.  Harris was a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist (1988 & 1989) at West Virginia.   He never played in the NFL and his Arena Football career was not ultimately that distinguished.  He was one of the league’s premier rushers as a scrambling QB, but the ground attack was not a major factor in the indoor game.

The other big name, at least locally, was head coach Earle Bruce, formerly of Ohio State University.  Bruce was hired to turn around the team in 1994, but ultimately produced an identical 2-10 last place finished as his predecessor Dave Whinham did in 1993.  Bruce resigned shortly after the 1994 season.

The Thunderbolts were run as a family business. Team owner John Kuczek was an insurance broker from Boardman, Ohio.  His son Jeff was the team’s General Manager.  Early in the T-Bolts short existence in Cleveland, John Kuczek was implicated in a federal securities fraud case in Florida.  Prior to the team’s second season in 1993, the elder Kuczek divested himself of ownership in the club and placed it in a trust for his grandchildren.  Son Jeff continued as the front office leader of the organization.  Kuczek was ultimately convicted on one count of the indictment.  The day before he was due to begin serving his sentence in February 1995, he committed suicide in a Salem, Ohio hotel room.

The Cleveland Thunderbolts did not return for the 1995 season.  Arena Football returned to Cleveland in 2008 with the arrival of the Cleveland Gladiators, a transplanted franchise from Las Vegas.  The Gladiators continue to play today under the ownership of Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert.

 

Cleveland Thunderbolts Memorabilia

 

Thunderbolts Video

One of the final Thunderbolts games – on the road against the Milwaukee Mustangs on July 22, 1994.

 

 

Downloads

1992 Cleveland Thunderbolts Season Ticket Brochure

1993 Cleveland Thunderbolts Season Ticket Brochure

 

 

Links

Arena Football League Media Guides

Arena Football League Programs

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Written by AC

May 4th, 2014 at 12:01 am

1989-2002 Cleveland Crunch

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Major Indoor Soccer League (1989-1990)
Major Soccer League (1990-1992)
National Professional Soccer League (1992-2001)
Major Indoor Soccer League (2001-2002)

Born: February 20, 1989 – MISL expansion franchise.
Re-Branded: August 2002 (Cleveland Force)

Arenas:

Team Colors:

  • 1998-99: Red & Black

Owners:

MISL Championships: None
NPSL Champions: 1994, 1996 & 1999

 

The Cleveland Crunch formed in early 1989 as an effort to revive indoor soccer in Cleveland, Ohio after a one-year hiatus.  Cleveland was one of the hottest markets in the U.S. for indoor soccer during the sport’s boom years in the early-mid 1980’s.  The Cleveland Force (1978-1988) of the Major Indoor Soccer League attracted huge crowds to the Richfield Coliseum in the Eighties, often outdrawing the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, who shared the building during the winter.  The Force even achieved indoor soccer’s elusive Holy Grail – they turned an annual operating profit on a couple of occasions.  But by the end of the decade, Force owner Bert Wolstein grew pessimistic about the outlook for the faltering MISL.  He folded his franchise in July 1988, despite the fact that the Force still drew strong crowds and were considered the league’s model franchise.

Akron stockbroker George Hoffman negotiated with Wolstein to buy and revive the Force, but ultimately failed to strike a deal.  Instead, he approach the MISL and applied for an expansion franchise for Cleveland.  The league awarded a new franchise to Hoffman and business partner Stuart Lichter in February 1989, seven months after the demise of the Force.  After one winter without indoor soccer, the MISL returned to Cleveland in the fall of 1989.  The new team would be called the Cleveland Crunch.

Hoffman and Lichter made several moves to try to connect the Crunch to the popular legacy of the Force.  Former Force GM Al Miller, who presided over the old club’s boom years from 1984 to 1987, returned in the same capacity with the Crunch.  Kai Haaskivi, a popular former Force All-Star, was hired on as player-coach for the 1989-90 MISL season.

But the indoor soccer moment in Cleveland was over.  The Crunch struggled on the floor with a last place 20-32 record under Haaskivi.  The storyline at the box office was worse.  Average attendance of 5,543 was worst in the eight-team MISL and less than half what the Force drew in their final season just two years earlier.  A lone bright spot during the Crunch’s inaugural season was the mid-season acquisition of Yugoslavian forward Zoran Karic in a trade with the San Diego Sockers.  The trade set the table for the Crunch to dominate indoor soccer during the 1990’s, as Karic paired with Crunch forward Hector Marinaro to form the most formidable offensive duo in the sport for the next ten years.

Prior to Crunch’s second season in 1990-91, the MISL re-branded itself as the “Major Soccer League”, removing the word “Indoor”.  The name change was subtle (and ignored by most fans and media), but portrayed a league with an identity crisis and a group of beleaguered owners losing faith in their core product.  The Crunch continued to struggle as the season opened.  Attendance dropped further, beneath 5,000 fans per game  (the Crunch would finish last in the league again).  Haaskivi was relieved of his coaching duties after a 9-18 start.

But under new coach Trevor Dawkins the Crunch caught fire in the season’s second half and made an improbable run to an MSL Championship Series date with the San Diego Sockers.  The Sockers took the series in six games for their fourth straight league championship.  Dawkins was named Coach of the Year for his turnaround effort while both Karic (2nd) and Marinaro (5th) finished among the top five scoring leaders in the league.

George Fernandez Cleveland CrunchThe winter of 1991-92 proved to be the 14th and final season for the MISL.  The Crunch failed to get back to the final, but attendance shot up 52% to over 7,000 per game at the Richfield Coliseum.  When the MISL folded in July 1992, Crunch owner George Hoffman accepted an invitation to join the league’s former rival, the lower-budget National Professional Soccer League, for the 1992-93 season.

The terms for entry into the the NPSL were severe – the Crunch were only allowed to keep six players from their roster and NPSL rules limited teams to only two foreign players.  That choice was easy – Marinaro (Canada) and Karic (Yugoslavia).  With the move to the new league, the Crunch also abandoned the suburban Richfield Coliseum and moved downtown to the CSU Convocation Center.

The Crunch would enjoy their greatest success in the NPSL.  Karic and Marinaro simply dominated the league.  Marinaro won every NPSL scoring title from 1993 to 2001, with the exception of 1994 – when Karic won.  Marinaro won six league MVP awards during the 1990’s and Karic added one of his own.  Goalkeeper Otto Orf, who wore #00, of course, was one of the league’s best goalkeepers. The Crunch won three league championship in the NPSL in 1994, 1996 and 1999.

The NPSL had radically different scoring rules than the MISL, including 2-point and 3-point goals.  During the MISL years, final game scores often looked like high scoring ice hockey games – 4-3, 6-5, 8-6.  Once the Crunch joined the NPSL, scoring lines looked more like American football results – 16-10, 24-17 and so on.   In 1997, the Crunch set the all-time NPSL record for single game scoring, dropping 52 points on a terrible Columbus Invaders team.   The modified scoring rules turned off some long-time indoor fans who grew up watching the MISL, but it didn’t seem to harm Crunch attendance too badly.  The team never did approach the status enjoyed by the Force in the 1980’s, but attendance (announced, anyway) stayed in the 7,000 – 8,000 range for the rest of the 1990’s.

The Crunch’s fortunes began to decline at the turn of century, as the did the outlook for the sport of indoor soccer as a whole.  After more than a decade of ownership and three championships, George Hoffman sold the Crunch in December 1999 for a reported $1.75 million.  It was the highest sale price in the 15-year history of the NPSL.  The new owners included Paul Garofolo, the former VP of Marketing for the Force during the 1980’s, and his financial backers, Richard Dietrich and Michael Gibbons.

The NPSL folded in the summer of 2001 and six teams, including the Crunch, re-organized as the “new” Major Indoor Soccer League.  Nostalgia was the rule of the day, as struggling indoor owners across the country rushed to reclaim brand identities from classic indoor teams of the 1980’s.

In 2002, Garofolo obtained the rights to the Cleveland Force name from the Wolstein family, with whom he had remained close.  The Crunch was re-branded in August 2002 as the new Cleveland Force playing in the new Major Indoor Soccer League.  Garofolo boasted to the press that the revival of the Force brand name alone would boost team revenues by one million dollars a year.  But Clevelanders didn’t seem to be nearly as nostalgic for the glory days of the Force as Garofolo himself was.  By 2003, the club was in serious budget cutting mode and in 2005, the franchise that began sixteen years earlier as the Crunch shut down for good.  Garofolo was later sentenced to six months in prison for tax fraud related to his employment with the Force.

Despite a good run in the 1990’s, the Crunch never replicated the popularity or influence of the original Cleveland Force.  But they did actually manage to outlast them, playing 13 seasons to the Force’s ten.

 

Cleveland Crunch Memorabilia

 

 

 

 Crunch Video

The Crunch beats the St. Louis Ambush in double OT to clinch the 1994 NPSL championship at the CSU Convocation Center:

Grainy action from the Crunch’s debut season in the Major Indoor Soccer League. December 1989:

 

Links

Cleveland, City of Champions (at Least in Indoor Soccer of the 90’s)“, Andrew Keh, The New York Times, June 7, 2015

Major Indoor Soccer League Media Guides

Major Indoor Soccer League Programs

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1972-1976 Cleveland Crusaders

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World Hockey Association (1972-1976)

Born: 1972 – WHA founding franchise.
Moved: August 9, 1976 (Minnesota Fighting Saints)

Arenas:

Team Colors: Purple, White & Black

Owners:

AVCO Cup Championships: None

 

The Cleveland Crusaders were one of twelve original franchises in the World Hockey Association in the winter of 1972-73.  The franchise originally intended to play in Calgary. But after hitting a dead end in Alberta, the club ended up in the hands of Nick Mileti, the owner of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers and the Cleveland Indians.  Mileti was also the former owner of Cleveland’s previous hockey team, the Cleveland Barons of the minor league American Hockey League, and he owned the downtown Cleveland Arena that the Barons and the Cavs called home.

Like the American Football League and the American Basketball Association before it, the WHA was formed with the intention of challenging the establishment league (in this case the NHL) for the best markets and the best talent.  The WHA truly got on the map when the Winnipeg Jets signed Bobby Hull away from the Chicago Blackhawks for $1 million.  The Philadelphia Blazers lured away Boston Bruins star Derek Sanderson with a deal that briefly made Turk the highest paid athlete on Earth.

The Crusaders also landed one of the biggest stars in the new WHA, signing away goaltender Gerry Cheevers from the Boston Bruins with a seven-year contract that paid $200,000 per season.  One of the top goaltenders on the planet at the time, Cheevers earned two Stanley Cups in Boston and established an NHL record 32-game unbeaten streak in net during the 1971-72 season.

The Crusaders storyline was a tough, defensive minded club that played well in the regular season and then folded in the postseason.  The Crusaders made the playoffs in all four of their WHA seasons, but never advanced beyond the second round.

The team played its first two seasons at the Cleveland Arena while owner Nick Mileti worked on development of the 18,500-seat suburban Richfield Coliseum.  The Crusaders finally moved into the Coliseum in November 1975. But the new arena required a long drive out into the farmlands between Cleveland and Akron.  Crusaders attendance ticked up only marginally from the team’s days in the big old barn downtown. Crowds averaged between 5,200 and 7,000 for all four seasons of the club’s existence.

After the team’s third season (and first in Richfield), Nick Mileti sold controlling interest in the team to one of his partners, Jay Moore.   Moore presided over a contentious fourth and final season of Crusaders hockey in the winter of 1975-76.   In January 1976, Crusaders GM Jack Vivian publicly criticized Cheevers, accusing the All-Star of not providing “major league goaltending” to the club.  Cheevers, fed up with Vivian, prepared a retirement statement, while the GM slapped a fine and an indefinite suspension on the goalie.  A week later, attorneys for both sides agreed to void Cheevers contract and he left the WHA to return to the Boston Bruins.

Two weeks later, Vivian and owner Jay Moore incensed the remaining Crusaders players by traveling to Kansas City, Missouri, allegedly to pitch the NHL’s troubled Kansas City Scouts franchise on relocating to Cleveland.  The players viewed this as a betrayal of the team and a dereliction of management’s duty to stay in Cleveland promoting the team they had.  On March 10, 1976, the Crusaders took the ice at the Richfield Coliseum wearing black armbands to protest the actions of team management.  Vivian resigned the next day, realizing he had lost control of the club.

After the Cruaders’s annual rite of spring – an early playoff exit – Jay Moore attempted to sell the Crusaders to former World Football League owner Bill Putnam, who planned to move the team to Hollywood, Florida and call them the Florida Breakers.  The deal fell through and Mileti ended up stepping back in to take the team back from Moore.  Meanwhile, the NHL was relocating to Cleveland after all.  It wasn’t the Kansas City Scouts, but rather another troubled club – the California Golden Seals.  With the NHL coming to town, Mileti realized the Crusaders’ days were numbered in Cleveland.

The WHA granted approval to move the team to St. Paul, Minnesota on August 9, 1976.  The Crusaders became the second edition of the Minnesota Fighting Saints, replacing an original WHA franchise the ran out of money and folded during the season in February 1976.   Mileti was never a big money guy in any of his sports dealings – he put deals together with loans and other people’s money.  In St. Paul, Mileti could not find local investors to buy into the club and as a result the “New Fighting Saints” ran out of funds after just a few months play in January 1977.  Minnesota’s WHA franchise folded in mid-season for the second year in a row and that was the end of the franchise that began life as the Cleveland Crusaders in 1972.

 

Cleveland Crusaders Memorabilia

 

Crusaders Video

1974 Cleveland Crusaders documentary.

 

In Memoriam

Former Crusaders center Bob Dillabough (Crusaders ’72-’73) died on March 27, 1997. We was 55 years old.

 

Links

World Hockey Association Media Guides

World Hockey Association Programs

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1978-1988 Cleveland Force

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Major Indoor Soccer League (1978-1988)

Born: 1978 – Major Indoor Soccer League founding franchise
Folded: July 22, 1988 – The Force cease operations.

Arena: The Richfield Coliseum (17,217)

Team Colors: Reflex Blue & Yellow

Owners:

MISL Championships: None

 

The Cleveland Force were a tremendously popular indoor soccer franchise during the 1980’s at the peak of the sport’s popularity.  Formed in 1978 as one of six founding franchises in the upstart Major Indoor Soccer League, the team’s success was slowing in developing.  Attendance was low in the team’s earlier years.  It wasn’t until the 1982-83 season when the team’s popularity boomed and began to far outpace the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, their co-tenants at the suburban Richfield Coliseum.  (It helped that the Cavs were in the death grip of Ted Stepien in this era, widely reviled by Clevelanders as one of the worst pro sports owners who ever walked the Earth.)

There were other MISL clubs that drew great crowds during this era, notably the Kansas City Comets and St. Louis Steamers.  But the Force are frequently cited as the only MISL franchise ever to turn an annual operating profit.  In addition to drawing large crowds, the team also had a strong sponsorship base, a booming camps program and a strong merchandise business.

While the Force were doing well, the same could not be said for the rest of the MISL.  Franchises came and went so quickly that fans and sponsors could barely keep track.  Between 1985 and 1987, the league endured the embarrassment of seeing two New York franchises go out of business at the mid-season All-Star Break.  The league engaged in bruising annual battles with the Players Association.  After long-running franchises in Chicago, Minnesota and St. Louis pulled out of the league in the summer of 1988, Force owner Bert Wolstein shut down the team in July 1988, seeing no viable way forward for the league.

The MISL, loathe to lose one of its few proven markets, quickly expanded back into Cleveland in the fall of 1989.  The Cleveland Crunch brought back a number of Force players and front office execs, most notably the Force’s popular perennial All-Star Kai Haaskivi.  But it wasn’t the same and the big crowds and corporate support of the Wolstein era didn’t return.

Although the Crunch never re-created the buzz of the Force, the new team actually lasted longer, playing 13 seasons from 1989 to 2002.  In 1999 a new group which included former Cleveland Force front office executive Paul Garofolo bought the Crunch from original owner George Hoffman for a reported $1.75 million.  In 2002, the new owners re-branded the team anew as the Cleveland Force.  (The “New” Force also played in a “New” Major Indoor Soccer League, which had no connection to the original league, which had folded in 1992.)   The retro/nostalgia angle didn’t take.  Crowds remained small and the new Force folded in 2005.

 

Cleveland Force Shop


Force Retro T-Shirt by Throwback Max

 

Cleveland Force Memorabilia

 

In Memoriam

Bert Wolstein, Cleveland Force owner.  Passed away May 17, 2004 at age 77

Forward Paul Kitson (1987-88 season) died of a heart attack on August 25, 2005 at age 49.

Ian Anderson, with the Force from 1980-1982, died November 5, 2008 at age 54.

English midfielder Roy Sinclair, who played for the Force from 1978 to 1981, died on January 12, 2013 at age 68.

 

Force Video

Cleveland Force vs. San Diego Sockers in the 1988 MISL Championship Series

 

Downloads

1987-88 Major Indoor Soccer League Rule Book & Schedule 

 

Links

Major Indoor Soccer League Media Guides

Major Indoor Soccer League Programs

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Written by AC

January 20th, 2013 at 2:24 am

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