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How Long Can Colin Cowherd Milk Baker Mayfield For Content?

“The Browns aren’t interesting. And just because you were drafted #1 overall doesn’t make you interesting either.”

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Let me start by saying this: I am a massive Colin Cowherd fan. I think his ability to deliver an opinion, flying solo 90% of the time the way he does, while still sounding conversational and comfortable, is truly a remarkable gift. So many of us sound stiff when we go into monologue mode. Colin lives in monologue mode, and he does so brilliantly. He’s got plenty of detractors and he’s far from perfect, but he is undeniably gifted in the world of talk radio.

Colin Cowherd's Brutal Message For Steelers Fans (Video) - Game 7
Courtesy: FS1

Colin is the reason I got into this business in the first place. I was a psychology student at the University of Central Florida in the early to mid 2000s, and honestly had no idea what I was going to do when I graduated. It wasn’t until I got hooked on Colin’s show back when he was on ESPN that my wheels started to turn. He made it sound so effortless and entertaining. It was what I wanted to do and it was his influence that propelled me into radio. True story. 

That was the nice part. Now, to my next point. How in the world can he justify endless hours of content about Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield? 

Cowherd has been a harsh critic of Baker Mayfield ever since the Cleveland Browns drafted him with the first overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Why he chose Baker as public enemy #1, I don’t know, but that’s what he went with and if you’ve listened to his show for any length of time, you have heard him say something about the Browns and Baker, guaranteed. 

I don’t get how that’s good for business. Now admittedly, I’m not looking at the daily metrics, and there must be some research behind the scenes at FS1 or Fox Sports Radio that says this is working, otherwise why go back to that well incessantly? And look, I get that Baker has barked back at Colin in the past. That’s free advertising of the most effective degree. I can recall a time when Baker even took the bait and went on his show, all of that is well and good.

Causing commotion in the media business is a great way to stand out in the flooded content market we work in, but The Herd is a national show with the goal of attracting a broad audience. I don’t understand how talking about the Browns quarterback situation day after day accomplishes that. 

Aaron Rodgers? I get it. Massive star, playing for one of the biggest name brands in the NFL. Rodgers is one of the best to ever play the game and the Packers have thousands of fans in every state of this country. LeBron James talk, totally get it. LeBron is the best (active) basketball player alive and he’s a polarizing figure. Cowboys talk? Sure. They’re only the biggest football brand in America and one of the biggest sports brands worldwide. But the Browns? Baker Mayfield? Nope, can’t understand it. 

The Browns aren’t interesting. And just because you were drafted #1 overall doesn’t make you interesting either. How much time has he spent on Trevor Lawrence? A bigger college star than Baker.

I’ll answer that for you, almost none. 

According to Statista.com the Browns fan base is the 26th largest in the NFL on Facebook. That is far closer to the bottom than it is to the top. The Browns have been around a long time but their brand doesn’t have the equity or following of other top teams. No doubt Browns fans are loyal and spread across the country, as all NFL teams do, but it’s not one of those brands that you just have to discuss at the risk of becoming irrelevant nationally. 

Cleveland ranks outside of the top 15 in TV market size, so ignoring them seems like an easy ask for a national sports talk radio host. Sometimes I’m confused by the amount of time ESPN will spend on Giants or Jets talk and then I have to remind myself that the New York market is a behemoth. Looking at the size of Cleveland, that can’t be the reason Colin doesn’t let the Baker topic rest.  

It’s mystifying. Maybe its because he called Baker a bust early on and he looks to be right. We all love patting ourselves on the back when we get the chance. That’s at least a possibility. 

But in all honesty, I genuinely wonder if his producers are the ones that are behind this based on some market research they’re privy to or if Colin just comes in and says “How about another Baker topic today?” and they all just nod their head, while internally dying inside because they know this is brutal programming, that it appeals to a small segment of a national audience, and its only done to satiate Colin’s ego. 

Colin Cowherd Offers Prediction for Bills vs Broncos - Game 7
Courtesy: FS1

Again, I love and admire Colin Cowherd, and I listen to or watch his show almost daily, but in the eyes of a host/programmer, I don’t see how the Baker Mayfield obsession can be good for business. 

BSM Writers

Danny Zederman Is Poised To Lead ESPN 1000 in Chicago

“You need to be a good listener to be in radio,” expressed Zederman. “It’s not always about talking – a lot of radio has to do with listening; listening to what’s going on with the fans; listening to what’s going on with the talent.”

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Certain memories from childhood find a way to stick with you. For Danny Zederman, one of those memories is being seated in his mother’s car in Chicago listening to a surfeit of talk radio and being captivated by the power of the aural medium. Whether it was Howard Stern, Jonathan Brandmeier or Steve Dahl, there was always the sound of a familiar voice permeating through the car speakers, cultivating a perdurable appeal to what was being said. Throughout his youth, Zederman was infatuated with radio and thought about potentially pursuing a career in it.

Zederman attended college at The University of Kansas and studied journalism; however, he was relatively uncertain about what he wanted to do upon his graduation. Seeking advice, he conferred with a school counselor who posed a question to him that he remembers to this day.

“‘Danny, what can you do for eight or more hours a day and get paid for it, or not get paid for it; what’s something you’re passionate about?,’” Zederman recalled the counselor asking him. “I said, ‘I’m passionate about sports, and I’m passionate about the radio.’”

The sports radio format was still in its growth phase at the time Zederman attended college in the late 1990s, and the ways to begin working in it were not as widely known. As a result, Zederman had to perform much of his own research to learn the available roles and unearth the path to a successful career. Once this research was complete, he knew that the sports radio industry was for him and started trying to position himself for success in this competitive industry. After all, Zederman grew up in the city of Chicago as an avid sports fan and a steadfast radio listener by osmosis wherefore he sought to merge his two passions into a career.

Over two decades later, Zederman has experienced his journey in radio at home in “The Windy City,” starting his career in 2002 as the operations manager of Newsweb’s conglomerate of Chicago-based stations: WSBC, WCSN, WNDZ and WCFJ. He began working as a producer at The Score in late 2003 and stayed there for just over two years before making the move to ESPN 1000 WMVP Chicago in 2006. In this role, Zederman proved to be an integral part to the station’s development, producing notorious radio programs including Mac, Jurko & Harry, Kap & J. Hood and Silvy & Carmen. One of Zederman’s favorite memories from his time at the station came in 2016 when his beloved Chicago Cubs won Game 7 of the World Series, breaking their infamous 108-year-long championship drought.

“I got to be [at] Game 7 of the World Series, [and] that was incredible,” Zederman said. “The next day we went on the air; my favorite baseball team of all-time just won the World Series… and I’m producing a sports talk radio show celebrating a game that I was at in which the Cubs won the World Series – that was incredible.”

Good Karma Brands purchased ESPN 1000 WMVP Chicago as part of a $15 million long-term affiliation agreement with The Walt Disney Company that also included ESPN 710 KSPN Los Angeles and ESPN 1050 WEPN New York. While ESPN 1000 was being operated by Good Karma Brands since October 2019 under a local marketing agreement, Zederman remained in his role as a show producer.

Yet shortly after the official purchase of the station at the start of the new year, Zederman was promoted to director of content, a role he has since been working in for just under seven months. While he has a new title, Zederman knows working as a producer for over fifteen years effectively prepared him for this new responsibility in radio management.

“I’ve got to think about things further down the line than just the next day’s show like you do when you’re a producer, but you’re still wearing the same hat,” expressed Zederman. “The goal is to find out what the fan wants to hear; what the fan wants to consume; and how to best serve the fan. Although the role’s different, I think being a producer is the best minor-league system for somebody who wants to go into programming because you have a great touch [and] a great feel for what the fans want.”

From an outsider’s perspective, making the shift from being a producer to being director of content could seem daunting because of potential animosity from new subordinates. For Zederman though, garnering their respect was not a difficult task because of his longevity at the station, familiarity with the staff and enduring desire to position the station for sustained success.

“I’ve been here for almost seventeen years. I’ve worked for most of these guys and gals that work in this building,” said Zederman. “They’ve seen my work ethic; they’ve seen how much I care; they’ve seen how much I want this place to succeed, and they respect that.”

In his previous role as a producer, Zederman worked closely with various program directors at ESPN Chicago, including Mitch Rosen, Adam Delevitt and Justin Craig. Over the years, he picked up on various proclivities and other skills they had in an effort to excel in his new role and be the best manager possible, one of which is to value the opinions of colleagues and let them be expressed.

“Justin Craig… was a tremendous listener,” said Zederman. “As a leader, he would listen to us; he would let us talk; he would let us vent; he would let us express ourselves; he would hear everything. I think that’s one thing I learned from him is to manage people, it’s important for them to be heard and to feel heard.”

While the quotidian operations of the station did not significantly change following the ownership shift, Zederman began working with senior vice president and market manager Keith Williams, who has been with Good Karma Brands since 1999. Williams started in his role as a market manager for ESPN Digital in Baltimore, M.D. and Washington, D.C. in 2018, and following a three-year stint in Madison, Wisconsin, joined ESPN 1000 in Chicago last October. His leadership skills and ability to relate to people has helped Zederman assimilate into his new role at the station and gives him another dependable colleague on the team.

“Keith is absolutely incredible – he is probably the best leader that I’ve ever worked with,” said Zederman. “He understands people; he understands situations; he’s a great listener, a great communicator and he’s all about teamwork. We’ve always had a great culture here at ESPN Chicago, but he’s taken that to another level with his ability to understand everybody’s role.”

The market manager for ESPN Chicago before Williams was Mike Thomas, who is now the senior vice president and marketing manager for Audacy in Boston. Thomas, a Chicago-area native, left his job as program director for 98.5 The Sports Hub in October 2019 to join ESPN 1000 in Chicago, and was with the station for two years. In that time, he proved to be instrumental in the creation of the morning drive show Kap and J. Hood, along with overseeing the station’s move on FM via digital HD2 transmission. The change in market manager was prompted by Thomas’ resignation from the position in October 2021 to return to Boston.

“Mike Thomas is a wizard when it comes to programming,” said Zederman. “He was innovative; he had a great sense for what good content was [and] he had a great sense for what the fans wanted. I learned from him how content is created for the fan and how to stay ahead of the curb and always be innovating… changing direction… and finding what’s next.”

As director of content for ESPN 1000, part of Zederman’s job is to ensure the station is generating favorable ratings and revenue. Despite Nielsen being the standard for ratings in radio though, Zederman relies on other metrics to genuinely delineate the performance of his station against more than just its radio counterparts.

“I never get too high when the ratings are good. I never get too low when the ratings are bad,” said Zederman. “I understand how Nielsen measures ratings, so I kind of take it with a grain of salt. It’s not an exact science.”

Accurately instantiating radio performance in the 21st-century extends beyond the scope of simply reviewing the Nielsen ratings on a regular basis. Managers today intricately monitor an assortment of other statistics representative of a multiplatform media environment with an excess of voices and audiovisual content.

“I look at the stream numbers; that’s far more accurate,” said Zederman when discussing his dependance on radio ratings. “I look at our podcast downloads – we have over a million podcast downloads a month; that’s a huge number…. So I look at that to know, ‘Hey, we are resonating with our fans no matter what the Nielsen numbers say – positive or negative.’ There are metrics that we have that are far more accurate.”

Shortly before the rapid spread of COVID-19 in the United States in March 2020, ESPN 1000 released its mobile app where users can stream ESPN 1000 programming live wherever they may be. The app also gives users the ability to listen to past programming, along with other original content including podcast-exclusive shows. Additionally, the station live streams all of it’s original shows on Twitch, creating a visual experience and the chance for listeners to join the conversation without even calling in to the show via the platform’s chat function.

Even before March 2020, sports media was in the midst of a rapid shift towards digital content accessible to listeners on their own schedule, and the change remains ongoing. Staying ahead of the curb by continuing to innovate and monitor changes in the industry are parts of the job Zederman seeks to master to ensure the station remains prudent and able to compete with other sources of content creation. Those sources of content creation extend far beyond the other prominent sports radio station in town: 670 The Score.

“I don’t really worry about competing with The Score,” affirmed Zederman. “The truth is I’m competing with iTunes; I’m competing with Spotify; I’m competing with The Ringer. Nowadays, you can get audio in so many different places that if I think I’m just competing with the other sports talk station in town, I’m in big trouble.”

Part of the shift in content distribution is resultant upon a profusion of new research suggesting that while younger demographics enjoy listening to aural content, they do so less through the traditional radio medium. Rather, audio is being consumed in a variety of different ways, whether it be through digital streams, podcasts, on-demand shows or visual simulcasts, and is only continuing to expand. That is why while ESPN 1000 is on the FM dial, albeit through an HD2 stream, it does not make a significant impact in terms of the reach of the station, nor does it serve as a primary driver of future content.

“You ask somebody between the ages of 15 and 24 the last time they turned on a radio; they probably haven’t done it in months,” Zederman surmised. “If we want to reach our fans, there are so many different platforms to reach them – that’s what they focus on.”

ESPN 1000 has a variety of local and national content varying from live radio shows to original podcasts. While podcasting has incontrovertibly made its assimilation into sports radio, Zederman believes the two aural mediums can effectively coexist despite marketplace saturation because of each one’s innate components that appeal to audio’s consumption base.

“There are times when it is more convenient to listen to a podcast, and that’s obviously why we make our shows available on podcasts, [and] why we have original content podcasts,” Zederman explained. “…I also think there’s an aspect to live radio that will never go away. The day after a Bears game when they lose ugly to the Packers and Aaron Rodgers says ‘I own you,’ there’s nothing like live radio with these hosts pissed off pounding the table and the callers from all over the Chicagoland area calling in to vent their frustration.”

Every source of content distribution seeks to differentiate themselves from others through what materials they release to consumers, yet that also comes with attracting and retaining the most optimal talent. As a director of content, Zederman knows that what the station is able to do is guided by the characteristics of the talent, making the managerial tasks of recruitment and retention essential for future development.

“The number one most important thing in what I do is the fan,” said Zederman. “The fan’s the most important thing because they’re consuming the product. The next most important thing is the talent. You have good talent; you have talent that can tell a story. Talent can make any content interesting.”

Talent are also now able to keep in touch with their listeners for more than just their allotted time slot on the air, truly affording radio personalities the chance to better know their consumers and understand their needs and wants. The intimate relationship long-heralded as the crux of the argument for live radio’s perpetuity and eminence indeed extends outside of the reach of the AM/FM frequency.

“Social media is a great way for the talent to become brands and to get a following,” Zederman said, “and hopefully that following tune into the show the next day… Social media is a great way for the talent to engage with the fan, and I think we just have to continue to go that way and embrace it. It’s a great tool for what we do.”

Sports media is unequivocally different than it was when it initially launched, yet the guiding principle of the industry – that is, to serve the fan – remains the same. Just how effectively the fan is being served is representative of the independent variable, and determines the concurrent ratings and revenue, or dependent variable.

“I think the important thing is to just keep giving people content on multiple different platforms,” said Zederman. “We don’t know what’s next, [but] whatever the next platform is, we’re going to be there.”

For aspiring professionals looking to work in radio management, along with those currently holding management roles at radio stations, Zederman knows that being versatile in one’s ability to understand and perform various roles at the station makes you more relatable to colleagues and able to adapt to sudden changes. But there is one truly unspoken rule of being in management that has been imperative in keeping Zederman in Chicago. It’s a piece of advice that does not require power to be supplied to a microphone in a studio. In fact, it does not require any electricity.

“You need to be a good listener to be in radio,” expressed Zederman. “It’s not always about talking – a lot of radio has to do with listening; listening to what’s going on with the fans; listening to what’s going on with the talent.”

As Zederman continues to work in his first year as director of content for Good Karma Brands’ ESPN 1000 WMVP Chicago, he seeks to continue the station’s ongoing innovation and work to create compelling, informative and entertaining sports content. His thinking centers around satisfying three groups of people he is cognizant of every day on the job, imperative to the present standing and rise to an acclivity where the station seeks to soar.

“I want to serve our fans; I want to serve our partners; and I want to serve our teammates,” Zederman said, “and if every day we are doing those three things, then it’s successful.”

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BSM Writers

ESPN’s Daily Wager Has Found Its Sweet Spot

Rather than catering to a specific audience, it targets the broad sports fan in general who may be an absolute novice, a knowledgeable bettor, and all those in-between.

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Daily Wager

When it debuted in March of 2019, ESPN’s betting show Daily Wager was a vast improvement on a similar product Fox Sports provided. Despite fewer than ten states having legalized sports wagering at that time, it provided the network with an early foothold in the sports gambling media space. Since then, legalized markets have nearly quadrupled. The industry has taken off and is now filled with podcasts, television shows, and radio shows.

Airing every weekday at 6pm ET on ESPN2, the one-hour show is aimed at the casual gambler. There are multiple segments in which the crew breaks down upcoming sporting events, discusses the betting lines for them, and analyzes news and statistical trends from a betting standpoint. The sidebar displays line information for games that night. The bottom section often gives information such as future wagers for the major sports. The show also features discussions pertaining to games and events from the day or weekend before, including line movements. For example, last Friday they broke down the see-saw movement of lines for who would be taken first overall in the previous night’s NBA Draft. 

Doug Kezirian hosts the show, which went on hiatus for part of 2020 at the height of the pandemic. He is based out of Las Vegas and is joined every day by a rotating cast of analysts and contributors. ESPN’s top betting expert, Kezirian studied economics at Brown and possesses a strong knowledge of data. He does a good job of breaking down information while being entertaining. In addition, Kezirian hosts a short companion podcast that builds on the show discussions, and provides some additional betting picks from the crew.

Joining Kezirian are some familiar names to long-time fans of the network. “Stanford Steve” Coughlin, who made his breakthrough with Scott Van Pelt on his daily radio show way back in the day, is a regular guest. Chris “The Bear” Fallica. Fallica, who co-hosts a podcast with Coughlin, rose to prominence with his segments on College Gameday long before sports wagering was readily available. Additional contributors to the show include Erin Dolan, Joe Fortenbaugh, and Tyler Fulghum.

As an experienced gambler who looks very hard at in-depth analytics and is familiar with modeling, the show is a bit underwhelming to me. I’ve spoken with multiple individuals who offer gambling advice services, and not one of them views it as a valuable product. That’s due to the lack of statistical breakdown beyond basic averages, rankings, and recent trends.

From what I’ve watched of the show, there are no deep dives into anything dealing with regressions. There is no discussion of value versus odds, or matchup metrics. Furthermore, the time slot for the show prevents any real ability to advise bettors on line mistakes, or the ability to beat the closing line on most games. It also doesn’t allow for news of weekend events, especially NFL games where player availability might not become finalized until Sunday morning.

And you know what? That’s perfectly ok.

Daily Wager is not designed to target me, or professional bettors. It’s not designed to be a tool for people to become so adept at winning that they can quit their jobs and live the dream life. The program is targeted for the casual gamer, the man or woman who comes home from work, relaxes on the couch, and wants to bet a shekel or two on a sporting event that night. The show helps give them insight on information they didn’t have time to dig through while they were working in the office. It gives them some plays they can tail or allows them to formulate a wager of their own.

Rather than catering to a specific audience, it targets the broad sports fan in general who may be an absolute novice. It grabs a knowledgeable bettor too and all those in-between. They cover a wide variety of sports. They bounce between the most popular events down to more niche sports like tennis. Sometimes they move a bit too fast due to time constraints and wanting to keep the content fresh in a manner that doesn’t overwhelm their audience.

While it’s a bit too driven by base statistics and trends for someone like myself, it doesn’t come across to the more casual player as an overly-pretentious product dripping with hardcore analytic data that could induce a glaze-eyed effect on a tired viewer. While the production holds little value for fans with zero gambling interest, it’s an alternative in its time slot to SportsCenter for those who want more news about the games and fewer highlights.

Additionally, the chemistry between the talent on the show is evident with just one viewing, and the rotating cast prevents the voices from becoming too stale to their regular audience. Kezirian and company have done a solid job of carving out their own niche, although I’m not sure there’s a way to really expand it given their time slot being perfect for their intended audience. 

But maybe they don’t need to. In a space that is becoming flooded with nerdy discussions–which I love–and lots of voices giving in-depth breakdowns, Daily Wager provides a solid, entertaining product for the more casual viewer. As more states open to sports betting, especially with the NFL season right around the corner, ESPN and Kezirian may have found the perfect recipe for success.

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BSM Writers

ESPN is Supposed to Be My Escape

Sports has always been the thing that allows me to check out for a few hours and forget life’s issues. Whichever side you fall on the Roe v. Wade debate, and that is a hot one, could you imagine twenty years ago it would be subject to an ESPN commentary by Malika Andrews as it was on Friday’s NBA Today? Don’t read me wrong here, I am in no way saying Andrews is not entitled to her opinion on that topic, I am just saying it is amazing ESPN has moved to a place where things like an emotional commentary against a Supreme Court ruling is commonplace.

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ESPN Supreme Court

I will always intend this column to be a fun space. It is the way I have always done my show and lived my life. Sports has always been an escape for me from the news of the world. Not certain if you have noticed, though, our nation is politically divided right down the middle.

That divide, unfortunately, has found its way into the world of sports. By virtue of that, it has found its way to the outlet where we consume the most sports, ESPN. Many will argue it is incumbent on ESPN talent to share their stance on societal and political issues, even when they don’t cross over in a way that directly impacts the sports world. I disagree. I would prefer those that deliver my sports do just that, deliver my sports.

I’ll say this now: I fully accept this is not a popular opinion among the loudest in the room. I’ll be labeled many things for saying that and it will not be the first time, or the last, I’ll be told I am beyond wrong. It will not be the first time I’m told I’m something of a simpleton. I’ll be abundantly clear that I do not care one bit about any of that. My life will continue and I’ll keep doing my show either way.

There are people who agree with me and may not say it. They are afraid to be shouted down or told they don’t care enough about social issues, that sports shouldn’t be so important to them that they can’t see the bigger picture. They don’t want to be viewed as racist, sexist, bigoted, crazy, woke or any other horrible name they might be called.

You see, there is no nuance in American debate anymore, be it political or sports. You either agree with me or you are an idiot. Even worse, you might be an awful person, or a Nazi or a racial supremicist or a snowflake. How in the world has it come to this?

Sports has always been the thing that allows me to check out for a few hours and forget life’s issues. Whichever side you fall on the Roe v. Wade debate, and that is a hot one, could you imagine twenty years ago it would be subject to an ESPN commentary by Malika Andrews as it was on Friday’s NBA Today? Don’t read me wrong here, I am in no way saying Andrews is not entitled to her opinion on that topic, I am just saying it is amazing ESPN has moved to a place where things like an emotional commentary against a Supreme Court ruling is commonplace.

If I want that, I have no problem finding it. FOX News, CNN, MSNBC and any sorts of social media and digital outlets give me a cornucopia of opinions. But, where do I go now if I want to avoid that commentary? Where is my escape?

I’m sure it reads as if I am trying to single out ESPN. That is not my intention at all but we all know ESPN dominates the Monday-Friday sports television landscape. When I first plop down in my favorite chair, my immediate impulse is turning on ESPN just to see what they are showing at that given moment. I may not always stick around but I certainly start there.

ESPN has earned that. They have spent and worked to become and remain the Worldwide Leader in Sports. As it is said, though, to whom much is given, much is required. ESPN has earned a massive platform that is consumed by a massive and diverse audience. What percentage of that audience is comfortable with their social and political commentary?

That leads to another concern. How much does ESPN strive to ensure the non-sports commentary on their platform gives equal time to both viewpoints? To be fair, we don’t get that from the cable news networks so it may be too high of an expectation for a sports network. That said, ESPN fills their daytime lineup with shows dedicated to talking heads who consistently take opposing viewpoints on every single sports topic. If the societal and political issues are that much more important, wouldn’t they at least deserve that same treatment?

I’ll be told my escape isn’t as important as societal and political issues. There is some truth in that, I accept it. I only ask if it is necessary for it to constantly invade my sports? There are more outlets than ever for discussion of those topics and it has become increasingly impossible to avoid it anywhere.

The saddest part in all of this is that it seems impossible our nation will ever again be at any level of peace and unity to allow the sports world to permanently be the fun, relaxing escape it once was. We are a polarized nation and both sides can’t imagine they could possibly be wrong and the other side could possibly be sane.

In the meantime, I’ll just be sitting here waiting for the game to start. Maybe I’m the crazy one.

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