The Top 60 Highlight-Reel Heroes in Sports History (with Video)

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistJune 10, 2011

The Top 60 Highlight-Reel Heroes in Sports History (with Video)

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    Warning: The following slideshow will entertain you for hours.

    What is a highlight reel hero, you ask? Simply put, it is an athlete who has compiled enough ridiculous plays, moves, or moments so that a highlight reel compiled for them by the end of their career is wildly entertaining.

    A highlight reel hero isn't necessarily an amazing player, though many of them happen to be both.

    Rather, a highlight reel hero is the type of player who regularly makes you say things like, "Oh no he didn't?" or "How did he do that?" or simply, "Whooooo baby, that was sweet!"

    So that is what I took into consideration when I made this list—which highlight reels made me audibly react, stand out of my chair, or giggle (yeah, I said giggle) in excitement after a play?

    I don't doubt there are athletes out there you will feel I snubbed—tell me who I missed in the comments. But for now, enjoy the show.

    Actual Warning: Some audio NSFW.

60. Raghib "Rocket" Ismail

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    Disclaimer: This particular athlete excelled in a college sport, and thus wasn't considered for inclusion in the top 57, who all excelled at the professional level. This particular college athlete stood above the rest in college sports, however, and thus was included.

    Dude—his nickname was "Rocket."

    I think that speaks for itself.

59. Reggie Bush

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    Disclaimer: This particular athlete excelled in a college sport, and thus wasn't considered for inclusion in the top 57, who all excelled at the professional level. This particular college athlete stood above the rest in college sports, however, and thus was included.

    I don't know if I've ever enjoyed watching a college football player more than Reggie Bush. I'll never forget one of the first times I saw him play during his sophomore year in 2004, in a game against UCLA.

    When he did this, and later this, I was instantly a fan.

    It's truly a shame he wasn't able to translate that into a more successful professional career, and also that he was forced to give back his Heisman. He was truly a special player at USC.

58. Herschel Walker

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    Disclaimer: This particular athlete excelled in a college sport, and thus wasn't considered for inclusion in the top 57, who all excelled at the professional level. This particular college athlete stood above the rest in college sports, however, and thus was included.

    Another case of an incredible college back that never lived up to expectations at the professional level.

    We'll see if he keeps doing his MMA thing—yeah, he's pretty good at that, too.

57. Shaun White

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    Disclaimer: Extreme sports by their very nature are awesome for highlight reel material. However, most of the athletes featured in the top 55 of this list produce highlight-worthy material in contrast to the others in their sport. This particular extreme athlete stood above the rest in their field, however, though they were automatically placed below the top 55.

    Is there anything that Shaun White isn't good at?

    The dude kills it in snowboarding and skateboarding.

    And he did this on a snowboard, which is just ... I don't even know what it is, so I'll settle for awesome.

56. Tony Hawk

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    Disclaimer: Extreme sports by their very nature are awesome for highlight reel material. However, most of the athletes featured in the top 55 of this list produce highlight-worthy material in contrast to the others in their sport. This particular extreme athlete stood above the rest in their field, however, though they were automatically placed below the top 55.

    Dude, Tony Hawk did a 900 in the halfpipe. On a skateboard.

    That's just silly.

    Truthfully, I don't know if he is still considered the greatest skateboarder ever, but he was the Michael Jordan of the X-Games for my generation, so he makes the list.

55. Torii Hunter / Jim Edmonds

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    I know, I know, I'm cheating here a bit. But I couldn't differentiate between these two as defensive center fielders, and they were the last on my list I didn't put a disclaimer for.

    You can see some of Edmonds handiwork here, and Hunter's most famous catch can be found here

    There aren't any good compilations of Hunter that I found, but you can find individual videos of his highlights here if you are so inclined.

54. Tiger Woods

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    Embedded is the greatest Woods' shots from 2000-05.

    And here is his best shots from 2005-09.

    The fact that a golfer is even included on this list should tell you just how ridiculous Tiger was at his peak.

    We'll see if he ever returns to that point.

53. Darryl Dawkins

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    The man they called "Chocolate Thunder" was the NBA's original power-dunker, making rims and backboards everywhere tremble in his presence.

52. Dominik Hasek

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    "The Dominator" wasn't just a clever play off of his last name—it perfectly summed up his career as a goalie.

    But it was his unorthodox style, and penchant for the spectacular save, that landed him on this list.

51. Ed Reed

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    Inexplicably, this otherwise solid highlight reel doesn't include the longest interception for a touchdown in NFL history.

    When you combine his big-hitting abilities with his eight career defensive touchdowns, you have yourself a nice highlight reel.

50. Charles Barkley

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    Truthfully, until watching this, I'm not sure I would have considered "Sir Charles" for this list.

    But the man they also call Chuck had mad hops as a youngster, so he makes the list as one of the great "power-dunkers" in NBA history.

49. Mickey Mantle

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    NEW YORK - MAY 02:  The plaque of Mickey Mantle is seen in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium prior to the game between the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox on May 2, 2010 in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Yankees defeated the White Sox 12
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    I can't say much about Mantle's highlight reel, since I didn't see the man play and there is only so much footage out there that I could show you.

    So instead, I'll let Bob Costas say if for me.

48. Roger Federer

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    If you can fathom this, the shot you've seen to your left isn't even the best he's ever hit.

    Some may say this one is better.

    And many have said that this is the best shot in the history of tennis, period.

    Oh, and here's a pretty sweet highlight video that I couldn't embed.


47. Barry Bonds

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    Go here for a tribute to Barry Bonds from the Pirates, that a fan recorded off of a video on the jumbotron, likely using a phone.

    You suck, MLB, for being so stringent on video copyrights.

    (You hear me, MLB? YOU SUCK!)

    Anyway, a real Bonds tribute would include a lot of sweet home runs, some fantastic plays in the outfield, and a whole lot of stolen bases.

    Oh, and a forehead that magically turned into an aircraft carrier by the end of his career.


46. Omar Vizquel

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    Omar Vizquel is one of the most fantastic defensive players I have ever seen, and it's almost shocking that he isn't the top shortstop to appear on this list.

    Somebody at the MLB really needs to compile a highlight reel of some of his most spectacular defensive plays—Omar's got a whole lot of glove.

45. Shaq

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    Sometimes I think we forget just how spry and athletic Shaq was in his younger days.

    Let me refresh your memory.

44. Anderson Silva

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    Warning: "The Spider" may cause you to shiver, whimper, and have nightmares.

    Or it will make you grunt in approval like a caveman.

    Either way, there is no questioning that Silva is a devastating human being when he is placed in the Octagon.

43. Derrick Rose

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    So the highlights embedded are from this regular season.

    But don't worry, I have his first two seasons covered here.

    And because we only have a shot span of years to gather highlights for Rose (and because I totally rock), I also included highlights from this year's playoffs here.

    If Rose keeps this up, he will end his career as one of the greatest finishers at the rim in NBA history.

42. Ozzie Smith

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    SAN DIEGO - 1985:  Ozzie Smith #1 of the St. Louis Cardinals stumbles after dodging a sliding San Diego Padres base runner during a game in 1985 at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    You can check out some of Ozzie's awesome defensive plays here.

    Why Ozzie over Vizquel? Because the "Wizard of Oz" came first, I think he was a bit more spectacular, and because he has one of the greatest highlights in the history of sports.

41. Dante Hall

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    You can Dante Hall the "X-Factor" or "The Human Joystick" if you like, but know this:

    If kickers didn't put the kickoff out of the endzone, there was a good chance you were simply calling him "six."

40. Jackie Robinson

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    In my opinion, the single most exciting play in all of baseball is when a base runner on third attempts to steal home.

    That is partly because of how rare it is—especially in today's game—but there is also the amazing combination of guts, guile and blazing speed it requires to actually pull off the trick.

    And Jackie Robinson (some game footage can be found from that link) pulled off the feat an incredible 19 times.

    Read that again—Jackie Robinson stole home 19 times!

    Need I say more?

39. Blake Griffin

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    I was really skeptical about putting a first-year player on this list. I fought it, to be honest with you.

    And then I watched this video, and there is no denying that he belongs here.

    If I were the Clippers, I would just cut the pretensions and start referring to him as "The Selling Point."

    Because that's exactly what he is.

38. LeBron James

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    It was Kobe who wanted to be Michael Jordan, not LeBron.

    I still think LeBron would rather be Magic Johnson, even if we want him to be Jordan.

    He won't be LeBron until he becomes a little bit of both.

    And the scary thing is, he can do just that if he wants to.

37. Devin Hester

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    The greatest kick/punt returner of all time, and one of the most explosive players in NFL history.

    So what if the whole receiver thing didn't really pan out—we'll always have his highlight reel.

36. Deion Sanders

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    Had Deion Sanders been just a return man, he could have done what Devin Hester did as a kick returner.

    But Hester couldn't touch what Deion did as a corner, and in his career Deion returned nine interceptions for touchdowns.

    And keep this in mind—not only was Deion the best corner of his generation (and arguably the greatest ever), but he scored 22 career touchdowns (nine interception returns, one fumble return, three receiving, three kick return, six punt return).

    You could make an argument Deion is too low on this list, though the competition is thick.

35. Shawn Kemp

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    Before there was Blake Griffin, there was Shawn Kemp.

    That sentence could have also read, "Before there was 'fat Shawn Kemp,' there was 'Awesome Shawn Kemp.'"

    But that would have been mean.

    If you want more Kemp highlights after wetting your whistle on the video to the left, here are his top 10 dunks.

34. Adrian Peterson

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    ALL DAY!

    One of the most explosive runners of his generation, Adrian Peterson is the rare blend of size, speed, vision and elusiveness that only comes around every so often.

33. DeSean Jackson

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    This video should give you a pretty good idea of just how explosive the young wideout is, though it doesn't have his most famous highlight.

    The combination of Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson might be the most exciting and explosive quarterback/wideout combination in NFL history.

    Not the best, mind you, but probably the most exciting.

32. Ken Griffey Jr.

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    Because of the MLB's stringent video restrictions, it's hard to find one definitive video that sums up the many highlights and ticker-tape blasts that Griffey compiled during his career.

    So I found a couple that, when combined, should very nicely sum up Griffey's penchant for the spectacular.

31. Dwyane Wade

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    If you gave Allen Iverson a few inches and took away a step, I think you would end up with Dwyane Wade.

    Wade is one of the best finishers around the rim in the past ten years, and he does it with style.

30. Marshall Faulk

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    NFL films voted Marshall Faulk as the third most elusive runner in NFL history, behind ... well, you'll see who he finished behind later in this slideshow.

    Faulk might be the best duel-threat running back in NFL history, as he was also a world-class receiver out of the backfield.

    That only adds to his already sick highlight reel.

29. Muhammad Ali

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    "Dance like a butterfly, sting like a bee."

    Ali should have added, "Few will ever look better on a highlight reel than me."

28. Pele

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    When you score 1281 goals in a 22-year career, you will amass quite the highlight reel.

    For your additional viewing pleasure, here are his top 20 goals.

27. Jim Brown

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    Here's some fun trivia for you: Jim Brown has the second-most touchdown runs of 50+ yards in NFL history, with 12.

    And not only could he run past you, he could also run through you, or simply juke your socks off.

    Jim Brown is the best pure runner in NFL history, as he could break tackles in every conceivable manner.

26. Roberto Carlos

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    In my opinion, they should have called the movie "Bend it like Carlos."

    You'll see what I mean.

25. Wayne Gretzky

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    Gretzky might be higher on this list for some, though his goals weren't as exciting to me as they were perfect, and almost looked to easy.

    In my opinion, Gretzky was great for three reasons: He was smarter, more patient, and more precise than anyone else on the ice.

    Smart enough to dissect everything about a moment on the ice incredibly quickly, patient enough to wait to make his move until opponents made their move, and precise enough to take advantage of the smallest weaknesses in a skater or goalie's defense.

    So they may not look as enthralling as others, but that's simply because Gretzky was that good.

24. Chris Johnson

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    Some fun trivia: Remember how Jim Brown had 12 career touchdown runs of 50+ yards?

    After three years, Chris Johnson already has 8.

    Oh, and he also has the most touchdown runs of 85+ yards, with three.

    And he did that in one year, his remarkable 2009 season, in which he rushed for over 2006 yards, and finished with 2,509 yards from scrimmage, also an NFL record.

    Sold yet?

23. Alex Ovechkin

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    Simply put, Alex Ovechkin has scored goals that leave my jaw firmly planted on the floor.

    He is a highlight machine.

22. Randy Moss

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    If you took Larry Fitzgerald's hands and ability to adjust to the ball in mid-air, added DeSean Jackson's explosiveness, and topped it off with the antics of Terrell Owens, you have Randy Moss.

    In my opinion, he is the most exciting wide receiver, as he is equally able to excite with a spectacular circus catch or a huge run once the ball in his hands.

    I mean, he scored 23 receiving touchdowns with the Patriots in 2007, an NFL record.

21. Magic Johnson

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    I don't think there has ever been a more exciting player to watch orchestrate the fast break.

    Well, maybe one, but we'll get to that...

    The highlight reel to the left is excellent, though they left out his most famous highlight in my opinion.

20. Mario Lemieux

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    If you like, you can watch part two of the embedded video here, as well as part three here.

    To me, Lemieux was the smoothest, most physically-gifted hockey player I've ever seen. He made scoring a goal with defenders draped on his back look like an art form.

19. Randall Cunningham

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    One of the greatest, most silky-smooth athletes to ever play the quarterback position, Randall Cunningham did something every game to get you out of your chair in excitement.

    He used to also drive my dad bonkers with the way he would carry the football in one hand, but to me, that only added to the excitement of his runs.

    Amazingly, Cunningham is only the second-most explosive quarterback in Eagles history ...

18. Allen Iverson

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    Iverson may not have been the powerful or high-flying dunker that some of the other basketball players on this list were, but he was nonetheless one of the most exciting finishers the game has ever seen.

    His crossover was epic. He ran the floor 100 mph. He had much more impressive hops as a youngster than many remember. He often got knocked around and ended up on the floor after making a circus layup.

    In almost every game he played, Iverson did something that made you get out of your seat.

    His entire career was a highlight reel.

17. Diego Maradona

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    He is credited with scoring the greatest goal in World Cup history (aptly nicknamed the "Goal of the Century"), which is in the video but I'll link it here as well, because that's the kind of guy I am.

    Yet amazingly, he is neither the greatest nor most exciting player in Argentina's history ...

16. Lionel Messi

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    ... an honor which belongs to Lionel Messi.

    To put things in perspective, the video embedded was made three years ago, and Messi willl be 24 on June 24th.


    Here are his top 50 goals, if you feel like being amazed for the next 10 minutes, that is.

    He may be the best ever.

15. Dominique Wilkins

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    I mean, they called him "The Human Highlight Film."

    See why?

14. Roy Jones Jr.

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    Sure, he got all of his moves from Ali.

    But he knocked people out with goofy, trick punches—how cool is that?

13. Kobe Bryant

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    The best player of his generation was also one of the most exciting finishers around the rim in NBA history.

    What doesn't Kobe do well?

    By the way, I would have accepted "be a good teammate early in his career" as an answer to the above question.

12. Cristiano Ronaldo

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    It's as though the ball is magnetically attracted to his feet or something.

    Seriously, his ball skills are just silly.

11. Willie Mays

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    Another case where I can only show you so much footage—and have only seen so much myself—but from everything I've read over the years, there was nothing Willy Mays couldn't do on a baseball field.

    And there wasn't anything he did on a baseball field that he didn't do with a style and flair that made him the most exciting player in the history of the game.

10. Mike Tyson

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    Nobody has a more brutal and devastating knockout reel than Mike Tyson does.

    Enough said.

9. Bo Jackson

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    Oh, and he was pretty good at baseball too.

    When you have highlights like Bo did in two sports, you have quite the highlight reel to go on.

    One of the best athletes ever.

8. "Pistol" Pete Maravich

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    When Pat Riley calls you the "original" when describing the Showtime style of play, well, you go high on this list.

7. Michael Vick

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    The problem with Michael Vick, of course, is that he was more of a highlight reel and less of a quarterback before his arrest.

    But last year with the Eagles, you saw how scary he was when he was a quarterback first who was always a threat to make a highlight reel play.

    Honestly, last year alone would have gotten him on this list.

    Simply one of the most exciting players to ever step on a football field.

6. Julius Erving

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    No one was as silky-smooth on a basketball court as Dr. J.

    He flew ever so gracefully.

    And who could forget my favorite dunk of all time?

5. Gale Sayers

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    Before there was Reggie Bush or Chris Johnson, there was Gale Sayers.

    I once heard Sayers talking about his vision while he ran, and he mentioned (and I'm paraphrasing here) that he rarely looked at the defender in front of him, but rather looked beyond him to the defenders down the field.

    Because he already knew he could elude the guy in front of him, he was planning his next two to three moves, like a chess player.

    If a chess player moved like a gazelle, that is.

4. Michael Jordan

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    This video does a pretty good job of summing up Michael Jordan's highlight reel, so I won't write much here.

    But I will say this—while there are players who have perhaps as many "take your breath away" highlights as Jordan, none have as many iconic highlights as he does. Many of them I can recall off of the top of my head.

    The dunk from the free throw line in the dunk contest. The double-clutch layup against the Lakers. The dunk on Ewing. The game-winner against the Cavs. The shot over Russell.

    I could go on and on, but I don't need to.

    You already know.

3. Vince Carter

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    How appropriate is "Vinsanity" as a nickname for Carter?

    I am fairly certain I will catch flak for putting Carter higher on this list than Jordan or Dr. J, but in my opinion, Vince Carter is the greatest "above the rim" player in NBA history.

    He has a collection of acrobatic, spinning, "ARE YOU KIDDING ME?" highlights that I didn't think any other basketball player could match.

    Again, he wasn't a better player than many below him on this list, but none compiled a more exciting highlight reel in my opinion.

2. Ronaldinho

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    Just watch.

1. Barry Sanders

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    He was voted the Most Elusive Running Back in NFL History by NFL Films.


    He also had not only the greatest season in college football history, but arguably the greatest season in football history (pro or college) when he won the Heisman Trophy in 1988 at Oklahoma State.

    His numbers that year? 2,628 rushing yards, 3,249 total yards, 39 touchdowns (37 rushing, one kick return, one punt return), and a 7.6 yards per carry average.


    But it's not even the numbers that matter—watch a Barry Sanders highlight reel, and you'll start to see that nobody has as many plays that simply make you giggle like a schoolgirl because his moves are so ridiculous.

    Part of why his highlight reel is so impressive is due to the fact that his offensive line was so poor—Barry had to do a lot on his own.

    And he most certainly did.

    Big ups go out to the Bleacher Report Staff, who helped me compile this list.

    Be sure to hit me up on Twitter (@TRappaRT) along with the entire B/R Swagger team (@BR_Swagger)


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