Posts Tagged ‘Johnny Majors’

An Open Letter to the Vol Nation: A Manifesto on Past, Present, and Future

No Pass Out Checks | Gate21
[Note:  This post is exceptionally long—even for me—and I apologize for this.  I simply felt that a lot of these things needed saying, and I really haven't heard them elsewhere.  Thus, if you'll forgive my long-windedness,  I promise there is a point to this.  I just felt this that this isn't a simple issue, and thus I needed to explain.  -Lawvol]

Of all the posts I have ever written as a blogger, all the comments I have ever posted on message boards and other blogs, all the public professions I have ever made regarding the Tennessee Volunteers, this one is by far the most difficult one for me.  I’d really rather not be in the position of feeling it necessary to write this.  To fail to address the issue, however, would be to ignore the giant looming cloud over the heads of all of the Vol-faithful, regardless of their thoughts or position., I am talking about the “situation” with the Tennessee Football coaching staff.

For the record, I am a Phillip Fulmer fan.  I believe that he has done more for the Tennessee program than anyone else over the last fifteen years.  I credit him with taking Tennessee from the mish-mash of the middle tier of college football and propelling the Vols to the very pinnacle of success.  I credit him with bringing the program into the modern era.  I credit him with making many of the things to which we as Tennessee fans have become accustomed possible.  I like Coach Fulmer, or the “Great Punkin” as I routinely refer to him (with no slight or insult intended).

I guess that makes me a homer

To the best of my recollection, the only time I have ever openly criticized the Tennessee coaching staff was during the past off-season when off-field incidents involving Vol footballers were escalating alarmingly, by my mind calling into question the integrity of the program and the University of Tennessee itself.  Aside from that, I have always refrained from going after the coaches like so many seem to want to do.  I wrote a little about this after the UCLA game, stating:

… I would say that I am more appropriately a Homer for all coaches across the landscape of college football who are constantly questioned, rebuked, and derided by tens of thousands of come-lately armchair geniuses.

It is a peculiar characteristic of so many fans that they believe that simply being a follower of a team for a given length of time makes them an expert on how things should be done.  Make no mistake, as a sports blogger, I am as guilty of this offense as anyone—at least to some extent.  There are things that anyone with a brain can assess and analyze based purely upon common sense, life experience, and the fluff that resides between our ears.

* * * * *

These sorts of basic truths are fairly and frankly within the grasp of us all, and thus the rightful ability to comment on such profundities resides with each and every person who follows college football.  In much the same vein, I think it is reasonable for many (note, I did not say “all”) long-term fans of the sport to comment on what a given team does, or in most cases, did.

Beyond that, however, it seems to me that trying to profess what the best way to coach a football team—a team to which most have no access except through their televisions—is an endeavor which necessarily makes the speaker feel smart and important, while simultaneously making them look foolish and arrogant.

I have absolutely no idea about what it takes to coach a major college football team.  I’m completely clueless.  Furthermore, I have no idea what it is like to play on such a team.  Again, clueless.  I am also willing to bet that most who are attacking Phil Fulmer and the Tennessee coaching staff at present share my level of experience and insight.  So, at a minimum, I guess I am among equally-ignorant equals when it comes to assessing the coaches.

Unlike many others, however, I am not going to attack the Great Punkin, Dave Clawson, John Chavis, or any of the other coaches.  I am simply going to speak about what I do know and speak from the heart:

Though I first watched Tennessee under Coach Majors, most of my life as a Tennessee fan, student, and alum has been during the tenure of Coach Fulmer.  I think he is a man of integrity, a man of honor, a skilled and adept football coach, and a great leader and teacher for the young men he coaches.  I have such deep respect for what he has done.  In his 17-year career as Tennessee’s head coach, Fulmer is 148-47-1 (.759), he has won 10 or more games in a season nine times, he has won or tied for the SEC East title seven times, he has won 2 SEC Championships, and the 1998 National Championship.  I remember all of these “good old days” like they were yesterday.

Coach Fulmer has done a lot, a whole lot…

By the same token, things simply have not been good for the Vols for some time now.  Here are a few statistics:

  • Last SEC Championship: 1998 (No Coach in UT history had a longer drought and retained their job)
  • Last BCS Game Appearance: 1999
  • Only one Top-10 finish this decade (2001)
  • Last 50 Games 32-18 (.648) [Johnny Majors was 39-9-2 (.780 wins only / .820 wins & ties) over his final 50 games]
  • Failed to finish in the Top-25 twice this decade in any poll and finished 25th in the AP in 2000 (unranked in Coaches Poll)
  • Signed a recruiting class outside the Top-20 in two of the past three seasons
  • 5-12 versus Florida all-time
  • 14-13 in the last 27 SEC Games
  • 28-27 (.509) versus Current SEC Coaches
    • 0-4 versus Urban Meyer (Florida)
    • 1-2 versus Les Miles (LSU)
    • 3-4 versus Mark Richt (Georgia)
    • 1-3 versus Nick Saban (LSU & Alabama)
    • 5-8 versus Steve Spurrier (Florida & South Carolina)
    • 3-3 versus Tommy Tuberville (Ole Miss & Auburn)
  • Coach Fulmer has a winning record of 15-3 against Rich Brooks (Kentucky), Sylvester Croom (Mississippi State), Bobby Johnson (Vanderbilt), and Houston Nutt (Arkansas only)

Over the last decade (since 1998) the Tennessee Volunteers under Fulmer are:

  • 1-8 (.111) at home versus Top-10 Teams
  • 17-23 (.425) versus ranked teams
  • 13-21 (.382) versus Florida, Georgia, Auburn, LSU, and Alabama
Statistical Analysis Courtesy of: Tony

These numbers speak volumes…

Of course, I am enough of a realist to understand that no team—whether Tennessee, Southern Cal, or the Green Bay Packers—can have a championship year every year.  Every great team has bad years.  It just seems that it has been a long time since Tennessee has had a truly good year.  I freely acknowledge that in 2007 Tennessee had what, on paper, looks like a good year.  In 2007, the Vols went 10-4 and won the SEC East.  That said, even the most stalwart Vol fan would have to admit that Tennessee won the SEC East in a highly unorthodox manner.  Tennessee was beaten in the 2007 season opener versus California 45-31.  Two weeks later the Vols were annihilated by the Florida Gators 59-20 and were subsequently thumped by the Alabama Crimson Tide 41-17.  The only reason that the Vols made the trip to the  SEC Championship Game was that—under league rules—the tie went to Tennessee since the Vols defeated the Georgia Bulldogs in head-to-head competition.  In other words, the Orange and White backed into the Eastern Division title.

Prior to that, really since the 2001 season, the Vols have underperformed versus SEC and national rivals, and have—at best—been a mediocre team from a statistical perspective.  During that time, I cannot recount the number of times that the Vols have barely beaten teams that were wholly inferior in terms of talent.  What’s more, the Volunteers have regularly failed to meet the expectations of fans and analysts when considered against teams with similar recruiting classes and resources.  Then of course there was the 2005 season, or—as Joel at RTT describes it—“The Season of Which We do not Speak in which Tennessee recorded a 5-6 record.

It seems that Tennessee has struggled at every turn since winning the 1998 Championship…

Jump forward to this year and the UCLA game, in which Tennessee loses to a UCLA team which the Vols were projected to beat handily.  As I and others have said, there is absolutely no reason that the Vols should have lost that game.  To make bad matters worse, since defeating the Vols, the Bruins have gone on to lose two more games in which they failed to score a single touchdown for the first time in 44 years. (HT Get the Picture)  Tennessee then managed a lackluster win over a clearly out-matched UAB team before playing the Florida Gators.  As I said in my “Marching Orders” piece earlier this week, that game was one of the poorest displays I’ve ever seen from a Vols squad.

Although I cannot really recall when it all started, the Tennessee fanbase began growing restless as early as 2002.  Even then, there was a small but vocal minority of fans that felt it was time for Fulmer to go.  Those voices of criticism were largely ignored by the masses until now.  After the Florida defeat, those voices have swelled to the point that they can no longer be ignored.  Just looking at the Vol-blogosphere, there are fewer and fewer that support Fulmer and even more voices criticizing than ever before—including 3SIB’s Ghost of Neyland, SouthEastern Sports Blog, YMSWWC, Curveballs for Jesus, BasilioMoonDog, the absurd Coacho Ocho, and Gate 21’s own HSH.

So here I am…

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Big Orange Roundtable: Week 3

Check out the Roundtable Round-up with Joel’s Thoughts on our efforts (or lack there of) for this week…

This Week’s Roundtable Host: Rocky Top Talk

Onward and Upward!

This week’s Big Orange Roundtable is hosted by Joel over at Rocky Top Talk.

At present the roundtable includes: 3rd Saturday in Blogtober, Fulmer’s Belly, Gate 21, Rocky Top Talk, Loser With Socks, the World According to MoonDog (a/k/a MoonDog Sports), The Power T, Your Mother Slept With Wilt Chamberlain, and the SouthEastern Sports Blog. If you’d like to join, feel free to let us know. If you want more information on how the roundtable works, you can check out Ghost of Neyland’s wonderful introduction over at 3SIB.

Anyway, here are my thoughts for the week:

Week 3

(Questions in Sort-o-Teal-like color)

1) For some inexplicable reason, Phillip Fulmer invites Urban Meyer, Mark Richt, Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban, Les Miles, and Tommy Tuberville over to his palatial estate for a dinner party. At 2:00 a.m. the next morning, The Papa discovers that Smokey IX has been murdered. Who did it, with what, and where? Think Clue. You know, Mr. Mustard in the parlor with the candlestick?

After dinner, Fulmer gave Smokey a few hot dogs from his private stash before heading upstairs with his bride, Vicky. After making it to the bedroom, Phillip decided that he wanted to grab a quick doughnut from his other private stash. While heading back toward the kitchen, he was confronted by the ghost of Bear Bryant who warned him that Smokey was in danger.

Shocked and frightened, Fulmer rushed downstairs to find Smokey lying on the floor, a half-eaten hot dog left lying by his side. Fulmer immediately called Lieutenant Columbo to investigate (after he ate the rest of the hot dog).

Once on the scene, Columbo began interviewing the others. Mark Richt claimed to be admiring himself in the mirror in his favorite bright red thong. Tubberville said he was adding another coat of shellac to his hair before retiring for the night. Saban claimed to be counting all the money he had fleeced from Alabama donors in his room. Meyer stated that he was siting with his legs crossed offering a burnt offering before his statue of Tim Tebow.  Les Miles had been carefully placing his hat in its protective case for the night. Finally, Spurrier claimed that he had been on the phone with a local sports-talk show under the pseudonym “Homer from Sequatchie County.

At first Columbo was stumped considering that all the alibis checked out. Then the case turned. Columbo discovered that Nick Saban had accidentally left his webcam running while counting his money on the bed. It had recorded sounds in the background which, at first seemed unrecognizable, but then when played at 300 times normal speed became understandable as a human speaking.

Columbo rushed downstairs, the others right on his heels, to find Ed Orgeron hiding in the bushes pretending to be a Maple tree. Fulmer grabbed Orgeron while Tubberville tied his hands, and Saban stole his wallet. Columbo put it to him straight.

So, it looks like we caught you…

I say, I say, I say, it war an assidunt. I’s was a jest a’chomin heah to talk to dis heah fine group ah koaches whahn I come up-pon da little puppah. I’s was ah jest a talkin’ to heam and a scrahathin’ heahs eaahs whan alla-da-suddin’ heah just collapsas. I say, I say I dohn’t know whaht heppened!

All of the sudden, Vicky Fulmer screamed… “Look!

Hey now, I wasn’t taking any money from anybody. I mean I was just standing here minding my own business…

Not you, Nick, look, Smokey’s back up and walking!” Vicky pointed to a dazed and groggy Smokey staggering from side to side.

Hallelujah, Tim be praised!  The omnisicent Tebow has looked down on this animal’s plight and blessed him. He has been raised from the dead!” Meyer exclaimed as he fell to his knees.

I don’t think so sir. Exactly how long were you talking to the dog, sir?” Columbo asked

Wheall, lessee… I’s ah’suhppose it was abaht fie-to-tenh mannutes. Yehsir.” Orgeron replied.

I think I’ve solved the case.” Columbo nodded to himself. “Mr. Foghorn … Orgeron here came to see about getting a job with these here coaches, but got distracted by the cute dog, and set upon lamenting his tale to the pooch. At first, Smokey was enjoying the attention, but then things started to get fuzzy and he collapsed. You see, all of the hot-air coming from Orgeron caused Smokey to temporarily lose consciousness from lack of oxygen. He wasn’t actually dead. His body just entered a state of suspended animation to avoid any more damage to his brain from what Ogeron was saying. There was no murder here…

Well that’s a relief, I had just assumed it was some of my players, and was trying to think up a lie to tell the media.” Spurrier chimed in.

Well, how do you explain the ghost of Bear Bryant that I saw upstairs?” Fulmer asked.

That was no ghost, that was Johnny Majors. He’d polished off a bottle of bourbon and was — well, overcome by a multitude of circumstances — which led him to think he was Bear Bryant. I’ve seen it before. Likely as not, he was just looking for some eggs to throw on your car.” they all nodded to themselves knowing this to be true.

Well, I suppose that wraps up my business here. You folks have a nice evening.” Columbo said as he shut his notebook.

Thank you so much Lieutenant, is there anything we can do to repay you?” asked Vicky Fulmer.

Just one thing ma’am — tell your husband to leave a few in the racks next time he and the coaching staff hit Krispy Kreme. The beat officers would appreciate it…

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Flashback: The Great Games — The All-Time Top 10

Flashback | Gate 21

Well, as Joel pointed out, the News Sentinel’s Dave Hooker recently came out with his Top 10 games in Tennessee football history. It is an interesting list, but (like Joel) I’m not so certain I agree with all of the games on Hooker’s list.

Given the fact that I am still making my way through my “Great Games” series, it seems appropriate for me to chime in with my thoughts on this. At the risk of rendering some of my future posts in this series futile (not that they aren’t already), here is my top 10 games in Tennessee football history (with comparison to Dave Hooker’s ranking):

The Great Games |

Gate 21’s Top 10 All-Time


Tennessee Football Games

No. 10: 1989 – Tennessee vs. UCLA

The Rose Bowl | Dave Hooker Rank: Unranked

I know that some will question this one, but this game still stands out to me as one of the best. I toyed with ranking the 1985 Auburn win at No. 10, but I have to go with the Vols 1989 trip to Pasadena to take on the Bruins. This game was early in the season, and at that point UCLA was highly touted. Tennessee had been beaten in both their prior trips to the Rose Bowl to play the Bruins (1975 and 1967), and many thought they would repeat that trend as the Vols came off of their worst season in recent memory, and a close call in their season-opener versus Colorado State. The Vols, however, stepped-up to the challenge and proved that their 5 and 6 record for 1988 was only a bump in the road as they came out gunning for the No. 6-ranked Bruins. The Vols completely shutdown the UCLA offense with their own brand of SEC defense, en route to a 24 – 6 victory. That game set the stage for the rest of the season — one which included 10 more wins and only a single loss. The Vols would go on to win an SEC Championship, beat Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl that year, and end with a No 5 ranking.

Still, by my mind, it all started in California…

No. 9: 1999 Fiesta Bowl – Florida State vs. Tennessee

Sun Devil Stadium | Dave Hooker Rank: No. 1

Dave Hooker had this game as No. 1, but I cannot in good conscience give it that distinction. While the 1999 Fiesta Bowl did give Tennessee its first Consensus National Championship since 1951, the game itself was not nearly as spectacular as others that season.

First of all, both Tennessee and Florida State played very sloppily throughout the game as a result of the more than 4-week layoff leading up to the contest. Second — in fairness to Florida State — they were playing with a back-up quarterback, Marcus Outzen, who (to my knowledge) never started another game after the championship, due to the injury to Chris Weinke.

Finally, the game was exciting, but probably only if you were a Tennessee or Florida State fan. The reason for this is that the two teams were extremely closely matched at most positions. All of that said, I have such amazing memories of this game and of finally seeing another championship for the Big Orange, that I have to include it in the Top 10, regardless of its flaws.

After all, a championship is a very special thing…

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Flashback: The Great Games — Florida 1992


The next in my series of flashbacks — this time to 1992…

The Great Games |

19 September 1992

Florida Football vs. Tennessee Football

(4) Florida 14(14) Tennessee 31

Neyland Stadium

When I rolled into town for the contest between the Florida Gators and the Tennessee Volunteers in September of 1992, things were abuzz. Johnny Majors was in the hospital recovering from heart surgery. “Temporarily” at the helm was a longtime assistant coach who was — at the time — untested as a head coach. His name was Phillip Fulmer. As if that were not enough, tensions were still high after the 1991 “fax-gate” incident where disgruntled former Tennessee assistant coach Jack Sells was caught faxing the Tennessee playbook to Steve Spurrier and then Florida defensive coordinator, Ron Zook.

Needless to say there were a lot of questions swirling around as to exactly what could be expected when the Vols and Gators faced off in Neyland Stadium that Saturday afternoon. As uncertain as the situation was, Mother Nature had a few ideas of her own which would push the game farther into the realm of the unknown (and borderline absurd).

This gameday began rather inauspiciously for me — I didn’t have any tickets. After declining several offers for tickets at $150 a piece (which was an even more absurd price in 1992 than it is today), my Father and I found one “kind” soul who was willing to sell us two seats on the second row of the East side upperdeck on about the 35 yard line for $75 each.

My Dad and I thought we had really made out like bandits … until we realized about 15 minutes later while getting ready to enter the stadium that the tickets we bought were student tickets and required a student ID — which neither of us possessed. Undeterred, our plan was to wait until there was a big crowd at the gate, split up, and then try to just slide on in without the ticket-taker noticing we had student tickets.

It worked for my Dad, who handed over his ticket, and walked right on in … my situation was somewhat different.

I handed my ticket over, and then heard the dreaded words, “Student ID, please?

I could see my Dad — 10 feet away, but already in the stadium — drop his head, knowing that I was caught. Instinctively, however, I reached for my wallet and pulled it out.

Sure, one sec…” I took my time waiting for the line to get a little longer behind me. “Hmmm, it’s in here somewhere … hold on. Damn! I must have left it back at the dorm. Do you want me to go run back and get it?

He looked at me, then to the growing crowd, then to me, then to the crowd.

Just remember to bring it next time, okay.

Yessir! I promise I won’t forget it next time…

And a young boy began the path down the road to a shameful and reprehensible career as an attorney … (sigh)

In the stadium, we made our way to our seats which were great, except for the fact that Mister Two-Bits” from Florida was about 15 feet away where the upper level visitor’s section met the student section. While his constant cheerleading did quickly grow old, the … pointed comments of some of the students — (along with their friends Jack, Jim, and George) were highly entertaining.

Mr Two-Bits meets Jack, Jim & George

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Pearl’s “Absolute”


2008 SEC ChampionsIn case you haven’t noticed, with their win over the Butler Bulldogs, the Tennessee Volunteers recorded their 31st victory, further distancing themselves from the prior record of 26. This is a feat which, only a few years ago, would have seemed as laughable and unlikely as learning that Bear Bryant was secretly a transvestite with a love child by Johnny Majors. Now, the BasketVols have accomplished what seemed impossible: an SEC Championship and back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances …

… but it’s obvious that’s not the ultimate goal.

GoVolsXtra“>Bruce PearlAfter the win over Butler (I’m still on round-the-clock EKG monitoring to ensure there wasn’t any permanent coronary damage), Coach Pearl discussed his maverick decision to change up his point guard — giving J.P. Prince the starting nod — for the first time during the NCAA Tournament with the media. Among other things, Pearl said:

The deal is this: I just thought that the point guard play we were getting wasn’t going to win a national championship. So, if we make the decision and it doesn’t pay off and I’m sitting here in front of you and explaining why I made that choice and we lost the game, I could go to bed going, it’s okay. I don’t think this is going to help us advance. Watching tonight gives us a better chance to win Thursday.

It’s not a panacea, but we got five guys out there with J.P. in that position. I was able to do some different things offensively. I was able to do some things that Butler hadn’t seen. And that was fun. Actually, it was fun.

Excuse me? Did I read that correctly? Did Bruce Pearl use the phrase “National Championship” in reference to the Tennessee Vols Men’s Basketball program?

I, as much as anyone else who has followed the BasketVols … well … ever, appreciate that this team is in uncharted waters in terms of success. This season, the Vols have completely rewritten almost every record for Tennessee basketball. It’s obvious, however, that this team — and more importantly this coach — are not satisfied with simply raising the bar a few notches over the Tennessee teams of the past (ala Jerry Green and his “What do you people want? We made the tournament!” mentality). Bruce Pearl wants to rip the bar completely off the wall.

Even I have been guilty of the “We’re better” mentality of judging the BasketVols’ successes in relative terms against how they compared to the performance of teams of the past. Bruce Pearl, however, — without fanfare — has completely changed and elevated the benchmark at the University of Tennessee to one where the BasketVols are now assessing themselves in “absolute” terms. No longer is the question “Are the Vols better than the teams of Wade Houston, Kevin O’Neill, Jerry Green, Buzz Peterson, Don DeVoe, and Ray Mears?” Now, the question is simple:

Are the Vols better than EVERYONE?

That is the mark of a true winner.

Along with this change on the part of the team and the coaching staff, the Orange Nation is changing its perspective as well. Gone are the days of hoping — just hoping — that the BasketVols will be competitive, and maybe win a big game every now and then. Heck, I remember in the 1994-95 season — as Kevin O’Neill tried to pick up the pieces of the train wreck that was Wade Houston’s tenure — just hoping we would win more than 5 games. Now, Tennessee fans expect to win every game.

All of this comes from Pearl and his in-your-face style of leadership. From the very first day he came on campus Pearl knew he had a big task ahead of him. All he asked of the Tennessee faithful (and to suffer through some of the seasons between 1988 and 2005 you had to be really faithful) was to give the BasketVols a chance, come to a game and let us try and win you over. To date, no one has been disappointed. Pearl now is dead-set to push the Vols to the next level of success.

This speaks volumes on Bruce Pearl’s drive, dedication, and character.

I would welcome anyone in Orange Nation to name a single coach which has been more openly and enthusiastically embraced by the Tennessee fanbase than Bruce Pearl. The fact is, there isn’t one. I have never seen the notoriously fickle orange-clad fans so overwhelmingly support and fall in love with a coach like they have with Bruce Pearl. He is approaching the level of Peyton Manning in the minds of many people.

So let’s be honest, with that kind of support, Bruce could play his cards close to the vest — publicly talk about how good the Vols are and his desire to win that mythical “next game” and nothing more. That would be easy — keep the standard right where it is in the eyes of the fans, and win a whole lot, with the understanding that you won’t win them all. What that does is make it easy for a coach to meet the expectations of the backers, and be successful, but not raise the level of those expectations and invite the uncomfortable feeling that accompanies falling a bit short. I am willing to bet that, if Bruce Pearl could only win an average of 20 games a season and go to the tournament 6 or 7 years out of 10, he could stay at Tennessee until he is older than Joe Pa. That would be very easy, and that would be “safe” for Pearl.

Bruce Pearl is not known for playing it safe …

Rather than ride the wave and keep the expectations reasonable, Bruce Pearl is not only accepting an increase in expectations, he’s actively encouraging it. Forget just wanting to win the “next game” — Pearl has drawn the line in the sand: he wants the whole shooting match. Bruce Pearl has acknowledged what all of the Tennessee faithful have been too afraid to say:

We want the Championship!

Now, I know, that statistically speaking, the Vols probably have about a 50% chance of winning an NCAA Championship, maybe less than that. In all likelihood — purely looking at probabilities — the BasketVols will not win the title. Bruce Pearl, however, has acknowledged that it is out there, and Tennessee wants it. The only way you slay that dragon, is to know it. The only way you reach that pinnacle, is by claiming it as your own. You may fall short. You may not reach that goal. You may not make it all the way…

… but, then again, you might.

I, for one, firmly believe that if it is ever in the cards for Tennessee to claim that prize, Bruce Pearl is the one to take the team, the university and the fans there. Either way, Bruce Pearl has made it “absolutely” clear …

… Come Hell or High Water, that’s where Tennessee is heading.

– Go Figure …SIG%20-%20Lawvol%20(Small) McAlisters%20-%20Crossout

Quotes Courtesy of: UT • Image Courtesy of: GoVolsXtra

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