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Here, he recounts his extraordinary life to date-being raised in semirural Virginia alongside his twin brother, Ronde, by a strong single mother who made every ...
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Here, he recounts his extraordinary life to date-being raised in semirural Virginia alongside his twin brother, Ronde, by a strong single mother who made every sacrifice for her boys; getting drafted in 1997 by the Giants, where he became a standout running back after overcoming injuries and flaws in his game; his stellar 2005 season, when he finished the year with 2,390 yards from scrimmage; and the controversies that marred the Giants' 2006 seasons, including the surprise announcement of his retirement at the age of thirty-one.
Tiki gives you a firsthand look into the world of the NFL, but this book is also an inspirational look at his evolution from ordinary player to elite-and at the amazing people along the way who helped him achieve his goals.
Tiki is a riveting, inspiring read for all who want to know what really goes on behind the scenes, and for anyone looking for the strength to step up and follow his or her dreams.
Every run from scrimmage tells a story. Every run has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
I've been running with a football for more than a decade and a half now, since the early 1990s, when I played alongside my twin brother Ronde with the Cave Spring High School Knights football team in Roanoke, Virginia. We were teammates at the University of Virginia, too. For the whole of my professional sports career, I was a running back for the New York Giants in the National Football Conference (NFC) of the National Football League.
Running with a football is a specialized skill. Not everyone can do it. So I want to give you an idea of what it feels like.
Beginning, middle, and end. Pick a run, any run. I'll show you the beginning, middle, and end.
Well, maybe not any run. Some would make extremely short stories, one-word smack-down poems. Let's pick a running play that is more of a full-length novel, one that also happens to be one of the best TD runs that I have ever made.
I'll break it down, stride for stride.
December 17, 2005. Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Our opponents were the Kansas City Chiefs, with their explosive running back Larry Johnson, then just coming into his own in his third season in the league.
The day had high clouds and was cool, with the temperature hovering around forty degrees. A wind out of the west had kicked up earlier, sweeping across the synthetic FieldTurf at the stadium, but by kickoff it had died to a whisper. Perfect football weather.
This was my season. I was playing for pride ("Play proud" is the two-word blessing my mother Geraldine sends Ronde and me on every single one of our game days), I was playing to win (the Giants came into the battle with the Chiefs with nine wins and four losses, in the hunt for the play-offs), and I was playing for my dear departed friends and mentors, Wellington Mara and Bob Tisch, owners of the Giants, both of whom had passed away in the previous six weeks.
I took all those reasons with me to the line when we broke huddle near the end of the first half, a little under three minutes left in the second quarter. The Chiefs were ahead by a field goal, 0-3. We were injury-depleted and had a lot of guys playing nicked. I remember feeling a powerful sense of determination, a calm kind of euphoria. We were behind. I could not, would not, allow the score to stay that way.
Our offense, behind quarterback Eli Manning, had the ball on Kansas City's forty-one yard line. The always steady Eli, who has never uttered a single curse word in the huddle in the three years I've played with him, called "Forty/Fifty Slide East on Red." That meant Eli would hand off to me and I would follow a pulling guard around the right side.
That's not the real name of the play, which is more of an I-could-tell-you-but-then-I'd-have-to-kill-you secret, since the Giants don't change their nomenclature all that often and I wouldn't want our calls to get too public.
As he always did, Eli also called two additional plays, in case the Chiefs altered their defensive set or he saw something that would require him to "check off" or audibly change the called play once he scoped the opponents at the line of scrimmage. One of the checks was a quick (a short pass) and the other was a pitch to me for an off-tackle run on the left side.
I didn't much like the idea of the second check. An off-tackle run to the left would lead me straight at Kendrell Bell, linebacker on the Chiefs' right-side post, a photon-fast Pro Bowl perennial, college shot-putter, and former Pittsburgh Steeler who gobbled up running backs for breakfast. Part of the reason I've been successful at my job is that I know enough to avoid punishing tacklers like Kendrell Bell at all costs.
Whatever happened, whether I ran right or left, Jim Finn would be helping me — "Finny," my fullback, a bulldozer-blade of a blocker who would blast away any tackler in my path.
As we broke huddle, the noise from the 78,000-plus fans swelled in intensity, increasing from sixty decibels, say, the sound of heavy traffic, to more like one hundred, just below a kickoff roar. I inhaled and caught the familiar smell of game day, a sweet mix of autumn air, liniment, and sweat.
Time spiraled down, collapsing as it always does as the center approaches the ball. My heart rate climbed. A team physician could have told you that it increased from its normal sixty beats per minute upward past eighty.
I lined up in I-formation six yards behind Eli, who stood surveying the defense with his 305-pound center, the bodyguard-samurai-bullet-stopper Shaun O'Hara. My respiration rose and then steadied, as if in tune with the mounting screams from the stands.
Shaun screamed louder than the fans, yelling, "Ninety-nine," identifying the key K.C. defender, and Eli echoed him, also shouting, "Ninety-nine."
Shaun went into his crouch; Eli cocked his head slightly to the left so I could hear him and then checked the play to the off-tackle left. "One Taco West, Twenty-Thirty Veer."
I would be heading straight at Kendrell Bell.
Eli began his cadence. In the huddle he had said "on four," meaning the snap would come on the fourth number in the series. "Seven, fifteen, forty" — Shaun would hike the ball on the next count — "two."
The time between the snap and the whistle in professional football has got to be the most compressed, heightened reality this side of military combat. It is a zone beyond thought. I didn't think, Well, right now Eli will swivel 180 degrees and pitch the ball back to me and I will follow Finny off my left foot.
It's not that way at all. I don't think. I act. Everything — breathing, body movement, mental processes — becomes automatic.
Eli got Shaun's snap, turned right, and made a single yard-long stride away from the line, so that he was back to the forty-five yard line by the time of his second half step. He pitched the ball to me, two yards behind him. The football sailed within a foot of Finny, who was already booming forward toward the line.
I took my first stride off my left foot, crossing my right leg toward the left side, thereby alerting Bell and his Chief cohorts, who were watching me and Eli like hawks, keying off our movements. I cocked both arms out to receive the ball.
A pitched football from Eli Manning is not a shrinking-violet kind of thing. It's definite. Hard. The ball came at me perfectly. Eli didn't spiral it, but tossed it lengthwise, so that it presented its fattest part to me. I broke off the blocks to meet it. In the midst of my second stride of the run, my right hand pushed the ball up into the basket of my left arm, snug against my bicep.
The moment I take possession of the ball, I become prey. The eleven predators on the Chiefs defense, weighing in at more than a ton (2,741 pounds to be exact, according to their official listed weights), are every ounce bent on my total obliteration.
People talk about quick feet, balance, and speed as ideal ingredients for a running back, but for me the most vital element might be sniper-quality vision. I am not aware of doing it, but I've seen telephoto shots of myself during a run, and my eyes are open so wide they appear unnatural.
I'm taking everything in. I resemble nothing so much as an antelope feeling the hot breath of the lion. The difference being that instead of running away from the predators, I have to run directly at them, an antelope heading straight for the pride.
Right away I saw a problem. The first predator, Chiefs defensive end Jared Allen, had penetrated four yards into our backfield. Giants veteran Bob Whitfield, our offensive tackle on the left side, adjusted quickly. Instead of firing off the line, he stood Allen up and pushed him outside. On my third stride I had a decision to make. I had to figure out a way to get around Allen and not lose my fullback.
I didn't linger over it. I made a stutter-cut to the right, choosing the inside, then veered back left (strides four and five) and came within an inch of Whitfield's firmly planted left cleat as I blew past him and Allen toward the line.
Finny had been there before me. There was daylight. Well, what the sportscasters call "daylight" anyway, but for me it's always getting eclipsed, closing down, about to go dark. I felt like I was running directly into white Chiefs jerseys. With a couple yards still to go to the line of scrimmage, I was cut off on my right by Kansas City defensive end Eric Hicks, rampaging in from the other side.
On my left, sure enough, Kendrell Bell. Number 99. I hunched, protecting the ball, preparing to get hit, and picked up speed. I knew from elementary physics that the best way to bust a tackle is not to shrink from it, not to act on your self-preservation instincts — Slow down! Danger! You are about to hit a wall! Slow down! — but rather to accelerate. Counterintuitive, I know. But it works.
Again, I wasn't puzzling out physics just then. My impulse to accelerate in the face of a tackle was automatic by now, ingrained by years of training, coaching, and experience. Momentum and speed carried me. Finny banged Bell just enough to slow him down, and with my sixth stride I was at the Kansas City forty-one. All that trouble and toil just to get to the race's starting line.
Beginning, middle, and end. The beginning was over. I now entered the middle of the story, the place where novels and movies and oftentimes football runs die a miserable death. I was still braced by Hicks and Bell to my right and left, and about to ram into Jeremy Shockey straight ahead of me.
Shockey. The guy is unbelievable, always running in overdrive, slamming it, jamming it, blowing up the playing field. He's well-celebrated as a go-to pass receiver. For me, he's a kick-ass blocker and the dynamo that lights up the Giants.
Right at that moment Shockey was stacking up not one, not two, but three Chiefs, linemen and linebackers, stopping them in their tracks with a little help from Giants guard Rich Seubert. They all piled together across my path like those concrete walls at which they hurl crash-test dummies.
It didn't matter. Bell was right on top of me. As I broke forward across the forty yard line in my seventh and eighth strides, I could see him to my left out of my peripheral vision. Both of his arms were forklifted straight out, inches away. They looked as long as Yao Ming's. He had me.
Then he held up.
It was inexplicable. Just one of the strange things that can happen in the violent chaos of a gridiron. I've seen 340-pound humans explode upward toward the sky like birds, untouched footballs change direction in midair, quarterbacks bear-hugged and bookended by a pair of defensive ends somehow manage to emerge unscathed. Nothing I see on a football field could surprise me anymore.
But Bell did. By which I mean that somewhere deep in my brain as I made my eighth stride of the play, a neuron fired that registered the strangeness of an All-Pro linebacker who had me virtually in his grasp, only suddenly to pull up and let me go by. It wasn't a complete thought. It didn't register at the time. I didn't even remember it until later, watching film.
So I was past him. Chiefs defensive end Eric Hicks was the first to make contact with me on the play, a lunging push from behind that actually helped me in my cut to the left around the crash-test wall of bodies. In the midst of a run I'll take any help I can get from any source at all.
I was free.
Strides nine, ten, eleven.
Like some lethal seagull, the Chiefs free safety Greg Wesley sailed airborne at me on the thirty-five yard line, smashing his right forearm into my right bicep, a karate-chop blow. Wesley could have ended my run at a modest six-yard gain, but he was just a step behind. Sorry, dude. Wrong angle. See you later.
Strides twelve through twenty brought me to the sideline, my middle-story goal; when you hug the sideline, you know where the bullets are coming from. Aside from the infamous instance of Ohio State coach Woody Hayes darting out from the sidelines and punching an opposing ball carrier in the throat, usually you're safe from that side.
I picked up my downfield bodyguard, the towering wide receiver Plaxico Burress, who wrestled aside a Chiefs cornerback and then came along with me for the ride. You might know Plaxico as an incredibly acrobatic receiver unjustly robbed of Pro-Bowl status, but as a running back I most of all respect him for his excellent, artful blocking.
It all turned Three Stooges on me then. At the twenty-five, I had to pause and actually wait for about a nanosecond.
It happens more often on a run than you might expect — a moment where your best move is to pull up. You have to wait for your blocks to set. Plaxico and I performed what amounted to a comic square-dance do-si-do, exchanging places so he could stop Chiefs strong safety Sammy Knight. Plaxico flung Knight across my path like a piece of luggage and went on to deal with a Kansas City cornerback. As in an old-time Keystone Cops movie, everyone crashed into one another and fell down at the twenty yard line.
Except me and Plaxico. I was free again. I had to propel Mr. Burress out of my way (excuse me, sir) and outrace the previously disposed free safety Greg Wesley, but strides thirty through forty-one were long, ground-gulping gains.
With my forty-second stride I crossed the goal line.
Beginning, middle, and now the end.
This one had a happy, Hollywood ending.
And all of it happened in the snap of a finger. Only fourteen seconds on the game clock. But as football wives and all the fans can attest, gridiron time is the most relative measure there is. It sure didn't seem like fourteen seconds to me. It felt like an instant, and it felt like forever.
"When you sit with a nice girl for two hours, it seems like two minutes," said Albert Einstein. "When you sit on a hot stove for two minutes, it seems like two hours. That's relativity."
I had just spent fourteen seconds on a hot stove next to a nice girl.
We never trailed again, and more importantly, we won the game, 27-17. I did what I always do when I score a TD. I blew a kiss. To my family, to the fans, to the Almighty who allowed me to play this amazing, brutal, exhilarating, childish, transcendent, ultimately American game of football.
Copyright © 2007 by Tiki Barber
The Next Stage
The four of us walked onto a soundstage at NBC studios in New York and took our places in captain's chairs set up in front of the assembled media. Butterflies fluttered in my stomach. This press conference would be a turning point in my life, and I would be lying if I said I wasn't a bit nervous.
February 13, 2007. Jeff Zucker, the president and CEO of NBC Universal, was there, and Steve Capus, president of NBC News, as well as the legendary Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Sports.
Facing us in the audience were reporters from the New York Times, the Daily News, and other print outlets, as well as broadcasters from all over, many of them people I knew from my time with the Giants. Sitting down in front was Matt Lauer, host of the Today show. We had become friendly over the years, having encountered each other at charity events. He was one of the people I most admired professionally and most wanted to learn from.
This was my new life. My new, post-football, post-New York Giants life. We were here to announce my future role as a Today show correspondent and sports commentator for NBC. Playing football — which I had done since I was eight years old and which helped put me up on the stage with heavy hitters such as Zucker, Capus, and Ebersol — was now behind me.
Amid the bright lights and the reporters' questions, I wanted to enjoy the moment. It was a culmination of what had seemed, sometimes, like an impossible dream. I had set my sights on Today from the beginning of my broadcasting career, way back when I had my first radio show on WCBS.
Yes, I had played football for ten years with the Giants, and before that for four years in college, and before that in high school. In my mind, though, being a football player never defined me. I always wanted to branch out, expand my horizons, surprise people.
Be careful what you wish for. As exhilarating as the moment was, it was also like stepping off the end of the Earth for me. Would I find my footing or go into free fall? Playing sports had sustained me, centered me, occupied me for more than two decades, ever since I was in grade school. I was pumped for the challenge, excited about doing something new, but there was also a small voice in the back of my mind, saying, "How can I make this work?"
There was something else, too, another personal concern. For the first time in my life, really, I was doing something different from my identical twin brother, Ronde. The two of us gestated together, were born together (he seven minutes before me), took our first steps together, and went to the same grade school, junior high, and high school, where we played football together. When it came time for us to go to college, we entered the University of Virginia together, where we also played football on the same team, he in the defensive secondary, me as a tailback.
We both joined the National Football League the same year. We almost wound up on the same team, but in the end were drafted to two different ones. During our professional careers, we both went to Pro Bowls, the last one being the last professional football game of my career, just three days before the NBC press conference, on February 10, 2007.
Ronde has chosen to continue on with football as a star of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Our paths would diverge for the first time in our lives. One of our closest connections, which stretched but didn't break in 1997 when I was drafted by the Giants and Ronde by Tampa, would finally be irrevocably broken. I was stepping onto the high wire without my usual safety net.
"On those days when you're not feeling so well," cracked NBC's Steve Capus at the press conference, "we'll call Tampa Bay and get your brother up here."
When it came time for questions from the assembled reporters, I felt as though I were on This Is Your Life, reliving the history that got me to that point in time. Beyond the x's and o's to life, liberty, and the pursuit of a TV contract. Tom Pedulla of USA Today wanted me to reflect on my career as a New York Giant.
"My time with the Giants was phenomenal," I began, in the "safe generalization" mode I knew so well from countless interviews with reporters. "I had a lot of ups and a lot of downs. A lot of boos and a lot of cheers. That time shaped the person I am. It gave me a thick skin, and it gave me resilience."
No one recalls that my time as a Giants running back almost ended before it began, that I had to reinvent myself just to be able to take the next step. Yes, there were times when I was getting booed in Giants Stadium. In my last year, the fans chanted my name. But I remember getting booed, and how much it hurts.
"These last couple of years in particular have been a dichotomy in some ways," I went on. "I became an all-star player, I became one of the elite players in this league, but at the same time the grind started to take its toll on me, and the principles of our head coach started to take their toll on me, and so I started looking for the next thing."
There it was. A minor little news scooplet that I let slip out in front of a phalanx of hungry New York media people. I hinted at the truth: If Tom Coughlin had not remained as head coach of the Giants, I might still be in a Giants uniform.
In a sense, it was thought out. I knew enough about the New York sports media to know that anything I said about Coughlin would get played up in columns and news stories the next day. As of this press conference, I was morphing from reported to reporter. I needed to make a little splash. My new NBC career would get more coverage this way.
Some folks can play the press like a pipe organ. Donald Trump comes to mind, Madonna, Bill Clinton, a few others. I was a piker compared to them, but I knew that if you want the media to write about you, you have to give them something to write about.
It's not like I was saying anything that I wouldn't say to Tom Coughlin's face. Coach Coughlin is a disciplinarian. He has a one-size-fits-all coaching philosophy, treating every player on the roster the same, pushing them all constantly, physically and mentally.
But in the last years of my career, one-size-fits-all didn't fit me. I'd arrive at Wednesday practice still hurting from getting beat up the Sunday before. Coughlin would rag on me for going half-speed. Even more than the quarterback, a running back takes a pounding during games. Especially a back with a role such as I had with the Giants, where I was either rushing or blocking on every play.
I wasn't some greenhorn rookie. I knew the game. I knew my assignments. For a running back, I was old. Ancient. I had done the job for ten years. I could not live up to Coughlin's demands anymore.
It didn't matter. Coach Coughlin treated me as though I had just stepped off the bus. I don't blame the guy — that's just the way he is. An old-school Lombardi type of coach.
But the NFL is changing. It's all about specialization now. Coughlin would virtually have to get a personality transplant to approach the game in the way I'm suggesting — the way it's approached by coaches in other franchises around the league.
I've heard former San Diego head coach Marty Schottenheimer quoted as saying he saved his star back LaDainian Tomlinson from getting beat up in practice, so that L.T. would be fresh for Sunday. There is a realistic hierarchy in place on other teams. You approach your most productive players a little differently, in order to continue getting the best out of them in every game. It just makes sense.
I understand the opposite argument. Every player is equal. Treating some players as "more equal than others," to use a George Orwell phrase, would hurt team cohesion. It's Coughlin's right to approach the game that way, just like it's my right to walk away.
Tom Coughlin's coaching method, his one-track, single-focus mind, his one-size-fits-all training regimen weren't the only factors pulling me away from football and toward Today. Tom Coughlin didn't pull the plug. But he certainly gave it a tug.
The press conference announcing my new career continued. We broke up for individual one-on-one interviews. In a few of those I was, predictably, taken to task for my Coughlin comment ("Giants Will Miss Tiki, Not His Mouth" read one headline the next day). Reporters asked about my future, but they also asked a lot about my past, what had led me to this, why I wanted to change my focus so decidedly.
This book is in part an answer to those questions. It's a ridiculous thing, I know, for a thirty-two-year-old to publish his memoirs. But at the same time I have traveled an amazing journey that a lot of people will find interesting. I've gone from being raised in semi-rural Virginia to holding a high-profile job in television. I accomplished an arduous evolution from being an ordinary performer in my chosen profession, football, to being a standout.
I hope that this book will inspire others in their journeys. But I also hope to memorialize and honor the people who helped me along the way.
My life is all about relationships. I've met amazing, inspiring people, sometimes because they've been my teammates, and sometimes just by happenstance, because I've been in the right place at the right time. They have given me enormous input toward making me a successful person.
I would never fool myself into believing I've done everything on my own. I've always had good people around me who believed in me, motivated out of love, or perhaps because it was in their best interest to make me better at what I was doing. Their motives didn't really matter to me. They helped me.
As much as detailing the ins and outs of professional football, as much as taking you past the sidelines and onto the field to give you the view from inside the huddle, those two questions — how I did it, and who helped me — represent what this book is about.
How do we persevere in the face of adversity? How do we shut out the chorus of negativity and nastiness to put one foot in front of the other and just keep going?
We find a way to put our hearts into it.
It's not as simple as it sounds, and success actually involves a lot of different elements. You can't just say, "I'm going to put my heart into it," and magically reach your goals. There's a lot of work, discipline, and character that goes into the process. But I learned one thing for certain from my football career. Heart is an essential ingredient to success.
Success and happiness come into play when we perform a single act: stepping up. That's it. That's the marker for success and happiness that psychologists from Abraham Maslow on down have determined. I encountered Maslow in Psych 101 when I was at UVA. He was a groundbreaking American psychologist with the innovative idea to study not the lives of mentally ill people (as most psychologists did before him) but of success stories, people like Frederick Douglass, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Albert Einstein, finding out what made them tick. Maslow helped develop the theory of self-actualization, and he said that we're most happy and successful when we progress, get better, move forward. When we step up.
The National Football League is a lot more bookish than one might imagine. Everyone is feverishly grasping for an edge, and a lot of people have come to recognize that the true edge in any sport comes not simply from physical conditioning. Being in top physical form is necessary but not sufficient in a professional football league where everyone, all 1,440 players who make up the active roster, is constantly working out, bulking up, and refining their already elite physical presences.
No, the true edge in the NFL comes not in the objective, statistical zone of the physical — What's your time in the forty? What do you bench press? — but in the more slippery, more subjective realm of the mental.
That's why a lot of people read, coaches especially. They are looking for hints, clues, secrets. The quest leads them into strange nooks and crannies of literature.
Coach Jimmy Johnson's favorite book was Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. From it, Johnson took a lesson about the crucial difference between happiness and pleasure. I can get pleasure from eating a good veal scaloppine at Primola, for example, one of my favorite restaurants in Manhattan. But that pleasure doesn't equal happiness, and it sure doesn't mean success.
"To be happy," Johnson says, "I've got to be challenged, I've got to accomplish things, I've got to have some sense of satisfaction and achievement."
A business bestseller enjoying great currency around the NFL recently is called Good to Great, by Stanford University's Jim Collins. The book's three-word title encapsulates perfectly what I was trying to do for my whole NFL career. It expresses a goal that a lot of us have, not only NFL players, but everyone who is serious and ambitious about life.
If we want to be happy, if we want to be successful, we have to find a way to step up. And to do that, we have to find a way to go from merely being good — taking our place among the mass of people who do their jobs, proceed through their lives competently, and achieve acceptable results — to rise above that level and become truly great. As a friend of mine used to put it, to make a big splash, you can't just tread water.
How do we achieve success and happiness?
By stepping up.
How do we step up?
By finding a way to go from good to great.
How do we do that?
That question has always been my central concern, on the football field or anywhere else. I was exposed to the whole idea of stepping up very early on. Two of the most important people in my life started me on my journey, one by her example and the other by his pure competitive spirit.
Copyright © 2007 by Tiki Barber
Posted December 12, 2007
OK, we're UVA fans, but who can't appreciate a young man whose Mother taught them such values that they have held onto them even with their fame and fortune. Tiki and Rhonde have both made us as Virginians proud. I sent the book to New York and asked if he would autograph it for my UVA grad husband and he did. Along with sending me a personal note as well. One outstanding athlete and person in my book. I wish the book was a little longer though.
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Posted February 23, 2008
Tiki has had an interesting life, just from reading My Life and the Game Beyond. It¿s intriguing to read about his childhood, and what happened in his early career in college and in the NFL. Tiki was born and raised in Virginia, with only the care from his mother, as his father left the family when Tiki was at a young age. His brother Ronde, would be his best friend in his life, as they are twins. The Barber family wasn¿t the most financially stable family, because their mother would be working either two or three jobs. They took this as a life lesson to work hard, so that they would be able to achieve a bright future. After high school both would take a scholarship to the University of Virginia, and both would have a successful football career there. Both twins decided to turn pro, but for the first time in their life they would be separated, as Tiki would play for the New York Giants and Ronde would play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After an attempt to win his first superbowl ring in 2000, Tiki would never be able to win the ¿big one¿. After ten years of playing pro football, Tiki decides to retire even though when some may say he was at the top of his game. My Life and the Game Beyond is a great book to read if you are a Giants fan or a UVA fan.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 2, 2007
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