Matt LaFleur Faces Historic Challenge in Year Two

Matt LaFleur set a Packers franchise record last season by winning 13 games in his first season as head coach. LaFleur’s club won the NFC North and reached the NFC Championship Game before being beaten by the San Francisco 49ers.

But now, LaFleur faces the challenge of improving on that record. Since Curly Lambeau stepped down as Packers head coach in 1949, no Packers head coach who has earned a second year at the helm has seen a reduced win total in year two.

Here is a look at how Packers head coaches have fared in their second year leading the Pack and how they did long-term after that:

1951: Gene Ronzani: Finished 3-9-0 in his first season, stayed 3-9-0 in his second year

Ronzani’s team got off to a quick start, starting the season 3-2-0, by beating the Steelers and Eagles at home and the New York Yanks on the road. But then the bottom fell out and the team lost their final seven games to finish 3-9-0, the same mark Ronzani’s team had in his first season as coach.

The offense was led by passers Tobin Rote and Bobby Tomason who combined for 26 touchdowns but also threw 29 interceptions in 12 games.

Rote led the Packers in rushing as well as passing. No other Packers player gained more than 200 yards on the ground for the season with Fred Cone (190 yards) and Tony Canadeo (131 yards) leading the charge.

The defense was a big problem. The Packers allowed more than 30 points in half of their games during the season including allowing the Rams to score 42 points in the season finale in Los Angeles and giving up 52 points to the Lions on Thanksgiving Day.

Ronzani’s best season was a 6-6-0 finish in 1952. He resigned after an embarrassing Thanksgiving Day loss in Detroit in 1953.

1955: Lisle Blackbourn finished 4-8-0 in his first season, improved to 6-6-0 in his second year

The Packers became a .500 team in Blackbourn’s second year largely on the strength of a 5-1 home record. The Pack got off to a 3-1 start which included wins over the Lions and Bears, but then dropped three straight road games to Cleveland, Baltimore and Chicago to bring the club back to earth.

Fullback Howie Ferguson made the Pro Bowl after rushing for 859 yards and catching 22 passes while quarterback Tobin Rote threw for 17 touchdown passes to lead the offense.

Safety Bobby Dillon intercepted nine passes for the Packers tying his career high and was named All-Pro.

This turned out to be the best season of Blackbourn’s four-year tenure as Packers head coach. He was asked to resign as head coach after the 1957 season but refused and was fired a few weeks later.

1960: Vince Lombardi finished 7-5-0 in his first season, improved to 8-4-0 in year two

Vince Lombardi’s club followed up their 7-5-0 season in 1959 with an 8-4 campaign in year two. The Packers won the Western Conference and qualified for the NFL Championship Game only to be stopped nine yards short of a title by Chuck Bendarik and the Eagles, 17-13.

This was the season Bart Starr took over as the starting quarterback, beating out Lamar McHan for the job. Starr remained the starter for more than a decade and led the Packers to five NFL titles.

Jim Taylor had his first career 1,000-yard season, gaining 1,101 yards and scoring 11 touchdowns while backfield mate Paul Hornung scored 13 rushing touchdowns and added two more as a receiver in a 12-game season. Hornung doubled as the team’s kicker and set an NFL record with 176 points, an average of more than 14 points per game.

Max McGee and Boyd Dowler were the Packers two leading receivers while rookie Tom Moore led the league in kickoff returns.

The Packers finished the season strong, winning their final three games all of which were away from home. A 35-21 win over the Rams in the season finale clinched a berth in the championship game for Lombardi’s club.

The Packers would win the NFL title in 1961 and 1962 and then again in 1965, 1966 and 1967 before Lombardi stepped down as coach while retaining his position as general manager in 1968.

1969: Phil Bengtson finished 6-7-1 in his first season, improved to 8-6-0 in year two

Phil Bengtson had the unenviable task of succeeding the legendary Lombardi and the team struggled in his first season, recording their first losing season in a decade. Year two under Bengtson was better as the aging team got off to a 5-2-0 start before a three-game losing streak brought them back to earth in November.

Injuries to Bart Starr limited him to nine starts but the heir apparent, Don Horn, took over and won four of his five starts including a career-best 410-yard, five touchdown performance in the season finale against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Pro Bowlers that season included wide receiver Carroll Dale, guard Gale Gillingham, linebacker Dave Robinson and safety Willie Wood.

The Packers finished with a winning record despite embarrassing kicking woes. The team made just 6-of-22 field goals all season as neither Mike Mercer (5-for-17) nor Booth Lusteg (1-for-5) could get the job done. Somehow, the duo made all 35 of their extra points that season.

Bengtson lasted only one more season as Packers head coach. The team relieved him of his duties after a 6-8-0 finish in 1970. The 1969 season was his only winning year as head coach of the Pack.

1972: Dan Devine finished 4-8-2 in his first season, improved to 10-4-0 in year two

The Packers struggled in their first season under Dan Devine but the former Missouri head coach led the Packers to a 10-4 season and their only playoff berth of the ‘70s in his second year at the helm.

The Packers won because of a strong defense and the rushing attack led by thousand-yard runner John Brockington and the newly acquired MacArthur Lane who gained 821 yards on the ground himself.

Rookie kicker Chester Marcol led the NFL with 33 field goals while rookie cornerback Willie Buchanon helped solidify a secondary that allowed only seven touchdown passes all season.

The Packers clinched the NFC Central Division crown with a 23-7 win over the Vikings on a frozen field at Bloomington, Minnesota.

In the playoffs, the Redskins used a five-man defensive line to slow down the Green Bay running game and Devine refused to change the game plan and throw to defeat it. The Packers lost 16-3.

Pro Bowlers included Marcol, Brockington, defensive tackle Bob Brown and linebacker Fred Carr while cornerback Ken Ellis was named All Pro.

The Packers regressed to 5-7-2 the following year under Devine who resigned after the 1974 season finale.

1976: Bart Starr finished 4-10-0 in his first season, improved to 5-9-0 in year two

Bart Starr was inexperienced and took over a team in turmoil when he became the head coach of the Packers in 1975 and his teams struggled early on. The Pack improved by one game in year two, finishing 5-9-0. A four-game losing streak which included an injury to newly acquired quarterback Lynn Dickey, ended Green Bay’s chances of finishing with a winning season.

When Dickey was hurt, Carlos Brown took over at quarterback but could not win a game in any of his three starts. Brown later went on to become an actor, using the name Alan Autry and starring in the show “In the Heat of the Night” with Carroll O’Connor.

The highlight of the season was a three-game winning streak that evened the team’s record at 3-3-0 and included victories over the Lions, Seahawks and Eagles.

The Packers also played the eventual Super Bowl champion Raiders close, losing in Oakland 18-14 in a physical game that featured 26 penalties.

Starr had only two winning seasons in Green Bay and qualified for the playoffs during the strike-shortened 1982 season with a 5-3-1 record. He was let go after finishing 8-8-0 in 1983.

1985: Forrest Gregg finished 8-8-0 in his first season, remained 8-8-0 in year two

Forrest Gregg took over for Bart Starr in 1984 but the team remained stuck at 8-8-0. They repeated that record again in 1985.

This was the last season for Lynn Dickey as the team’s starting quarterback. The team also started veteran Jim Zorn and young Randy Wright during the season.

The Packers had three running backs who gained more than 550 yards in 1985 with Jessie Clark, Eddie Lee Ivery and Gerry Ellis each averaging more than 4.3-yards per carry while moving the ball on the ground.

The season highlight was the Snow Bowl against the Buccaneers in Green Bay. The Packers shut down the Bucs 21-0 while 19,856 fans braved a blizzard to attend the game.

Wide receiver James Lofton was the team’s only Pro Bowler after gaining 1,153 yards on 69 carries.

Gregg lasted two more seasons as Packers head coach, finishing 4-12-0 and 5-9-1 before resigning to coach at Southern Methodist.

1989: Lindy Infante finished 4-12-0 in his first season, improved to 10-6-0 in year two

The Packers struggled to adjust to Lindy Infante’s short passing attack in his first season but in 1989, Don Majkowski caught fire and the Packers finished 10-6, winning Infante some Coach of the Year honors.

The Packers most dramatic win came over the Bears in the “Instant Replay Game” when Majkowski’s last minute touchdown pass to Sterling Sharpe was ruled legal after a lengthy replay review. The Packers won the game 14-13 for their first win over the Bears in five years.

The Pack also beat the eventual Super Bowl champion 49ers in San Francisco 21-17 when Majkowski ran for two touchdowns and threw for another.

Pro Bowlers included Majkowski, Sharpe, running back Brent Fullwood and linebacker Tim Harris.

The Packers fell to 6-10-0 the following year after Majkowski held out and then got injured. Infante was fired after a 4-12-0 finish in 1991.

1993: Mike Holmgren 9-7-0 in his first season, remained 9-7-0 in the second year

The Packers showed immediate improvement in their first season under Mike Holmgren. While their record didn’t improve in year two, the team did make the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade and they were a better all-around team.

The addition of Reggie White made the biggest difference on defense. The future Hall of Famer helped change the atmosphere in Green Bay and he and quarterback Brett Favre gave the team reasons for optimism on both sides of the ball.

The Packers clinched a playoff berth with a 28-0 win over the Los Angeles Raiders at Green Bay which saw LeRoy Butler invent the Lambeau Leap.

The Packers also scored a dramatic playoff win over the Lions when Favre hit Sharpe with a 40-yard touchdown in the final minute to clinch a 28-24 victory.

Pro Bowlers included Favre, Sharpe, White and Butler while kicker Chris Jacke was named All Pro.

Holmgren never had a losing season as Packers coach. His team won the Super Bowl in 1996 after finishing 13-3-0. He remained head coach until stepping down after the 1998 season in a power struggle in the front office.

2001: Mike Sherman finished 9-7-0 in his first season, improved to 12-4-0 in year two

The Packers made a big jump in Mike Sherman’s second year, winning 12 games and qualifying for the playoffs. The Pack won their first three games and finished strong, winning six of their final seven contests.

Favre went to the Pro Bowl after throwing 32 touchdown passes while Ahman Green gained 1,387 yards rushing to pace the Packer offense. Tight end Bubba Franks also made the Pro Bowl.

Unfortunately, Favre picked a bad time to have his worst game of the season. He threw six interceptions including three that were returned for touchdowns in Green Bay’s disappointing 45-17 playoff loss to the St. Louis Rams.

Sherman’s teams made three more playoff appearances in a row before a 4-12-0 year in 2005 led to his dismissal as Packers head coach.

2007: Mike McCarthy finished 8-8-0 in his first season, improved to 13-3-0 in year two

The Packers improved from to 8-8-0 in Mike McCarthy’s first season to 13-3-0 and a berth in the NFC Championship Game in his second year.

Favre made the Pro Bowl again in his final year as the starter in Green Bay before his repeated threats to retire and Aaron Rodgers’ readiness to take over caused the Pack to move on. Other Pro Bowl Packers that year included cornerback Al Harris, defensive end Aaron Kampman and wide receiver Donald Driver.

The Pack got off to a 10-1 start that included a six-game winning streak. The Pack defeated the Vikings 34-0 and scored a dramatic overtime win over the Broncos.

The Packers season came to an end on the Frozen Tundra when Favre threw an overtime interception in the NFC Championship Game that set up the winning field goal for the Giants. It would be Favre’s last game in a Packers uniform.

McCarthy won a Super Bowl with the Packers in 2010 and led the club to a 15-1-0 season in 2011. The team made the playoffs nine times under McCarthy’s guidance including eight seasons in a row. He was fired late in the 2018 season when the team struggled and missed the postseason for the second consecutive year.

You can follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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Comments (32)

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Tarynfor12's picture

June 25, 2020 at 12:33 pm

There's a first for everything and MLF will not improve on his 13-3 first year or match it.

Now let's here from those that will say fewer wins can be an improvement, and the record won't matter, when the record is all that was screamed about in defense of the average at best play for most of the season last year.

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GilMartin's picture

June 25, 2020 at 01:47 pm

I agree it is very unlikely the Packers match or exceed last year's record. Honestly, going 10-6 or 11-5 and making a longer playoff run would be considered an improvement. The schedule is tougher and the Pack won't be able to sneak up on anybody. Thanks for the comment, Tarynfor12.

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Tarynfor12's picture

June 25, 2020 at 02:29 pm

"going 10-6 or 11-5 and making a longer playoff run would be considered an improvement."

For that to be a reality, they need to be in the SB.

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GilMartin's picture

June 25, 2020 at 03:01 pm

True. But I don't think that's out of the realm of possibility.

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Samson's picture

June 25, 2020 at 02:55 pm

Tarynish
I'll let you look it up...even though I know you avoid "real & pertinent" facts at all costs. --- What was the Pack's record when they won their last SB? (Hint: it was in the 21st century... Good luck with your research)

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fordguy's picture

June 26, 2020 at 12:56 pm

Since you can't avoid being "real & pertinent" asshole at all costs. What was the Pack's record the year after they won their last SB and lost their first game in the playoffs ? (Hint: it was in the 21st century... Good luck with your research)

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dje's picture

June 25, 2020 at 08:46 pm

You have a unique perspective if you think the Packers having fewer wins is an improvement. That does not make any sense. Records are important since they can get the Pack into the playoffs. In addition, there is a strong possibility that you are not a Packers fan based on comments you regularly make. Since you generally do not contribute much why even comment? Let’s hope for personnel improvements for the team and hope for a competitive season. GO PACK GO!

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13TimeChamps's picture

June 26, 2020 at 12:25 pm

So a 12-4 record and a Super Bowl win wouldn't be an improvement over a 13-3 season and a NFC Championship game loss?

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13TimeChamps's picture

June 26, 2020 at 12:20 pm

Fewer wins can be an improvement.

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Turophile's picture

June 25, 2020 at 12:53 pm

Anyone expecting the Packers to equal last years record, let alone exceed it, is either someone who is unaware of the unusual nature of last season statistically, or a hopeless super-optimist.

Winning more close games last year than you would expect, and being a team that stayed shockingly healthy, means that the 2019 Packers were more like a 10-6 team that got more than their share of breaks. To be honest, in2020 they could win less than 13 games and still be a stronger team than last year.

LaFleur did better than any other rookie coach last year and I wouldn't stick an unrealistic expectation on him for 2020, especially since the special circumstances of the 2020 season might muddle the performance of many teams. I'm hoping for 11 wins (assuming all games get played, which they probably won't), which would be enough to guarantee a postseason appearance again. Ten wins would still be a good solid performance in his second year.

If the Packers did pay attention to the kind of history that suggests they will do better in LaFleur's year two, then they would also be the kind of team that wouldn't have drafted Aaron Rodgers, him being a Tedford-coached QB (previous Tedford QBs hadn't done well in the NFL).

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GilMartin's picture

June 25, 2020 at 01:50 pm

I agree it is very unlikely the team's record is better or even matches last year's record: the schedule is tougher and the Pack won a lot of close games as you said. They also remained fairly injury free.

Making a longer playoff run is the key. The Packers won the Super Bowl in 2010 with a 10-6 season. The following year, they went 15-1 but lost their first playoff game. I doubt too many fans prefer the 2011 result.

This will be a strange season because of the pandemic but hopefully we see LaFleur continuing to do a good job coaching this team. Thanks for the comment.

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gkarl's picture

June 25, 2020 at 12:49 pm

Gil,

Nice coaching recap from over the years but I don't think anyone here is realistically expecting an improvement on 13-3. I'd be extremely happy with an 8-4 season if the true be know.

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GilMartin's picture

June 25, 2020 at 01:54 pm

I hope there's more than 12 games and no, I don't expect an improvement on 13-3. I just saw this strange historical statistic about second year coaches and thought it was interesting enough to comment on. The playoff results are the key (assuming the Pack makes it) to the overall success of the season this year if we are able to have a season. Thanks as always for the comment, gkarl.

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splitpea1's picture

June 25, 2020 at 03:19 pm

I'd take 12 games...that wouldn't be too bad. As long as the NFL didn't try something like MLB with the 60 game-schedule (percentage-wise that would be equal to 6 in the NFL) and a full playoff slate to follow, I think the season would still be worthwhile. Of course the entire schedule is always preferable....

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GilMartin's picture

June 25, 2020 at 03:50 pm

No doubt, splitpea1. And I do get the feeling the cancellation of the Hall of Fame Game and induction ceremony is just the first of several postponements or cancellations we will have to deal with this season. One day at a time and thanks as always for the comment.

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Jonathan Spader's picture

June 25, 2020 at 01:23 pm

Thanks for the history lesson Gil. Thus was a well laid out history of Packer improvement. I would have just left the article at that personally. MLF is the 1st Packer head coach to have a .500 or better record year 1. So improvement for his record is irrelevant.

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GilMartin's picture

June 25, 2020 at 01:56 pm

Agreed, JonathanSpader. I just thought it was a strange statistic and an interesting one so I built the article around it. Nobody expects better than a 13-3 record this season (not that I'd complain if it happened), but another playoff appearance and solid coaching would be a welcomed addition. Thanks for commenting.

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Leatherhead's picture

June 25, 2020 at 01:42 pm

Gil, not just a Packer best, but an NFL best all-time for a rookie head coach. Most successful rookie coach in NFL history.

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GilMartin's picture

June 25, 2020 at 01:57 pm

Yeah, it's a pretty impressive accomplishment. Hopefully, he can build on it, which means a return to the playoffs and hopefully, maybe, a longer playoff run. Thanks for commenting, Leatherhead, always good to hear from you.

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Samson's picture

June 25, 2020 at 03:01 pm

I still hate it when I have to agree with OS. --- It's difficult to comprehend why so many Packer fans want to downplay the 2019 season. --- The Pack accomplished much more than I expected... I enjoyed it.... The future is bright.

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GilMartin's picture

June 25, 2020 at 03:04 pm

I have no idea why people can't appreciate the 2019 for all of its accomplishments. Only one team wins the Super Bowl. On average, that means each NFL team should win a championship every 32 years. Going 13-3 with a rookie head coach and reaching the NFC Championship Game is a hell of a season. Thanks for the comment, Samson.

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Samson's picture

June 25, 2020 at 03:06 pm

Gil
Nice history lesson... I really wanted Starr & Gregg to succeed as GB HCs... It didn't happen.
And no!.... I am not the one who ran over Dan Devine's dog.

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GilMartin's picture

June 25, 2020 at 03:51 pm

LOL. Yeah, the dog story was crazy. I also wanted Starr and Gregg to be successful. Met Bart before a game once and he was the nicest and classiest guy. It would be impossible not to root for him.

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Handsback's picture

June 25, 2020 at 03:42 pm

I'm having trouble even envision a season this year. Outside of that...don't see Green Bay exceeding their win total from last year. Frankly, they could go 10-6 and win the SB.... Losing less than three games in the regular season seems unlikely.
Having said all of that...Green Bay will have a better team then last year. How far that takes them, will depend on luck, injuries and determination.

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GilMartin's picture

June 25, 2020 at 03:53 pm

I concur, Handsback. I'd take another 2010 where the Pack wins 10 games and a Super Bowl rather than 2011 where they go 15-1 but lose their first playoff game. As for the season, yeah, I fear it will be compromised but we can only take it one step at a time. Thanks for commenting.

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Samson's picture

June 25, 2020 at 07:04 pm

"I'm having trouble even envision a season this year."

Unfortunately, I have to agree... We're not even close to controlling the virus & very few people alive (if anyone) have a solid idea the direction we're headed.... The NFL is grasping for straws in order to salvage the 2020 season.. Too many questions, not enough answers (yet).

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Packers0808's picture

June 25, 2020 at 07:37 pm

HOF game already canceled, good luck with any season! Hope I am 100% wrong!

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arthurl's picture

June 25, 2020 at 07:42 pm

Definitely a lot of things went well last season. If they do play I too don’t see 13 wins, but this is a good team with some talent. On offense there’s #12, #69, Adams, Jones. Jenkins has pro bowl potential and Lindsey is very solid. That’s over 50% of excellence. On defense there’s the Smith Bro’s, Clark and both corners and safeties. This team is capable of another 13 wins and last season wasn’t a fluke.

So if they play this season I got my eye on this Dillon kid. I want to see what he brings which i think will be a lot

This is a well coached team also so credit to the GM

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wildbill's picture

June 25, 2020 at 09:09 pm

Love reading Packer history so thanks for a very well written article. We were 10-6 the last regular season in which we ended up champions so not winning as many games this year does not mean we won’t have a chance at a super bowl run if we make the playoffs. I may be a little optimistic but barring a Rodgers injury I see us making the playoffs.

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PhantomII's picture

June 25, 2020 at 09:23 pm

I just see all teams have a hangover start to the season if it starts on time, etc. I do see our offense being better at TE with Sternberger and this Dillon kid along with A.Jones getting it done on the ground and passing game. I think we have a couple WR's step up for more than half the season. Adding the hurry up offense will help #12 a lot also and get things going. I don't see a lot of additions on DL which is troubling for me. I don't completely trust Pettine when it comes to a fix for last years meltdown when it mattered most. That was pretty humbling, hopefully everyone on "D" owned their part and has doubled down on not letting that happen again. Time will tell if enough was improved and coached and executed well. A lot more practice setting the edge at OLB and gap control on the line against run and secondary doing their part. If they fix that, I could see a return to playoffs and NFC title possibility and a 12-4 record.

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mnbadger's picture

June 26, 2020 at 09:34 am

It will be a miracle for an improved record, but improved play, pace, cohesion and coaching is a necessity. Defensive backfield coach Gray will hopefully improve the entire defense. GPG

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4zone's picture

June 28, 2020 at 07:38 am

I wonder what the 2021 draft will look like with no 2020 NFL or college football seasons. If current virus spike trends don't reverse, there won't be either playing this year.

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