John Ashbery, Celebrated And Experimental Poet Of The 21st Century, Dies At 90

Poet John Ashbery, seen here in his New York apartment in 2008, is widely regarded as one of the 20th century’s greatest poets. He died at the age of 90 on Sunday, at his home in Hudson, N.Y.

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Bebeto Matthews/AP

John Ashbery, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet known for his surrealist, confounding works, has died at age 90.

The poet died early Sunday of natural causes, confirms Farrar, Straus & Giroux, the publicist for a new Ashbery biography.

His 1975 collection, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, what many consider his masterpiece, won a rare trifecta of the literary world: the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle prize.

While his enigmatic poems confounded literary critics and peers, his experimental style reinvented literature for a generation of writers.

Ashbery’s first book puzzled legendary poet W.H. Auden. The New York Times says, when Auden selected Ashbery as the Yale Younger Poets Prize winner for Some Trees (1956), Auden “confessed that he had not understood a word of it.” Nevertheless, he said, Ashbery “was one of the writers who most formed my language as a poet.”

In fact, Ashbery joked to The Associated Press in 2008 that, were he to verbify his last name, it would mean “to confuse the hell out of people.”

His poetry, Ashbery once told the London Times, is fluctuant because life itself is: “I don’t find any direct statements in life. My poetry imitates or reproduces the way knowledge or awareness come to me, which is by fits and starts and by indirection. I don’t think poetry arranged in neat patterns would reflect that situation. My poetry is disjunct, but then so is life.”

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Actress Chloe Bennet Wants To Change The Narrative For Asian-Americans In Hollywood

Actress Chloe Bennet says changing her last name from Wang to Bennet allowed her to get more casting roles in Hollywood. While she did this, she says she hopes Asian American women that come after her do not have to take the same steps to find work.

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Last week British actor Ed Skrein, who is white, made news for quitting a project where he was cast as an Asian-American character in the reboot of the comic film Hellboy. Skrein’s decision is the latest addition to an ongoing conversation about “whitewashing.” Audiences as well as performers have started to challenge the casting of white performers as non-white ethnic characters.

Skrein’s decision to step back from the role in Hellboy prompted Chinese-American actress Chloe Bennet, who stars in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series to speak out. That’s because Chloe Bennet was born Chloe Wang. She says she changed her name because it was the only way she could improve her job prospects in Hollywood. But when Bennet praised Ed Skrein on social media for his decision to step away from his role in Hellboy, somebody on Instagram challenged her on the decision to change her name. As part of her response Bennet wrote:

“Changing my name doesn’t change the fact that my blood is half Chinese, that I lived in China, speak Mandarin or that I was culturally both American and Chinese. It means I had to pay my rent, and Hollywood is racist and wouldn’t cast me with a last name that made them uncomfortable. I’m doing everything I can with the platform I have to make sure no one has to change their name again just to get work.”

Bennet spoke with NPR’s Michel Martin about her decision to change her name, her experience as an Asian American actress in Hollywood and her organization Represent. Us. Now., created for Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders that aims to boost and organize the Asian-American community in politics and in the media.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Interview Highlights

On what prompted changing her last name

[Y]ou know it was really just a really organic thing. An uncomfortable amount of my feedback had to do with the fact that I didn’t look like what they expected me to look like. I had a casting director tell me ‘You’re not quite white enough for the role, but you’re not quite Asian enough for the best friend role.’ And I remember genuinely thinking ‘Oh yeah, yeah she’s right.’ Like, I’m not fully white so I couldn’t possibly be the lead even though there was no limitation on the breakdown of the character saying that this character needed to be any ethnicity. Also, when they see Chloe Wang, when you’re new as an actor and your agents are trying to put you out for different roles, the casting directors go, ‘No, that’s OK. We won’t take her. We don’t know who that is. We’re not looking for like that for this role.’

That kind of continually happened and my dad’s first name is actually Bennet. So in Chinese culture, your father’s name is a really big honor and so it only felt natural to take his first name, so I still honor him in that way.

On if changing names mean assimilating and accommodating to stereotypes as opposed to fighting it

Part of it probably is, and as I said, part of me does feel guilt about that at certain times, but it’s my journey, it’s what I did and there’s a certain point where you have to play the game, and I’m doing everything I can with the platform I have now to make sure that no girl that comes to Hollywood now who’s name is Lee or Wong or Chung or Wang has to do this again. It’s really about changing the narrative and changing the content for Asian-American actors.

On the argument that people should be able to cast any ethnicity in fantasy roles

I think there are certain things that lend to authenticity and there are certain stories and projects that do make sense for all white people to be in, if that’s the story and if they want to make the film with true historical accuracy. And then there’s 90 percent of projects where that’s not necessary. I think what’s really dangerous with what, continuously, is happening with Asian-Americans in Hollywood is there’s a narrative that white Hollywood, or just any other ethnicity really in Hollywood gives to Asian-Americans that, ‘You’re the butt of the joke.’ They’re determining that we’re the nerds, that we’re the shy girls or that the guy that can’t be sexy because he’s an Asian man.

When you’re continuously giving a different ethnicity their own narrative without giving them a chance to actually represent themselves or write something that’s true to them, then that’s really dangerous. It really seeps into the psyche of young Asian-American kids. I know it did for me. I didn’t see anybody that looked like me growing up on TV. I genuinely thought to my core that I would have no chance of being an actor because my dad wasn’t white. The more I became aware of my thinking, the more I thought, ‘Oh, this is because I look this way or because I feel this way.’ Part of the reason why I started RUN is because I really want to encourage Asian-American teens and kids and anyone really, to start telling their stories because there’s so many unique and interesting and dark and sad and funny stories that haven’t been told because we haven’t gotten the chance.

NPR’s Gemma Watters produced the audio for this story. NPR’s Wynne Davis adapted it for web.

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Bomb Successfully Defused Following 'Largest' Evacuation Of Post-World War II Germany

A couple leaves their apartment building and walks behind police during an evacuation of more than 60,000 people in Frankfurt on Sunday.

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Technicians worked for hours Sunday to successfully defuse a World War II-era bomb that had been lying dormant under the bustling streets of Frankfurt for some seven decades.

The 4,000 pound bomb was discovered Tuesday at a construction site for Goethe University faculty buildings, reportsThe New York Times. It is believed to have been dropped by the British Royal Air Force.

Everybody within a mile radius of the bomb had to leave Sunday morning, leading to an evacuation of more than 60,000 people.

The BBC says it was the largest evacuation in Germany since the end of World War II. Experts warned that if the bomb accidentally went off, it would be powerful enough to flatten an entire street.

There were no exceptions to the rule: everybody had to clear out, including those inside hospitals, nursing homes and Germany’s central bank.

Premature babies and ICU patients were among those who got out, says the BBC.

For those who opted not to go far, the city opened its convention center and museums offered free entry.

Police used a heat-sensitive camera to ensure nobody remained before experts went to work defusing the 2-ton bomb, reports The Times.

Dieter Schwaetzler, left, and Rene Bennert sit next to the 1.8 ton WWII bomb after they defused it in Frankfurt.

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It was a job that has been done many times over; on average about 2,000 tons of unexploded ordnance are found every year across the country, reports the BBC. Every couple of weeks, Germany’s bomb-disposal unit disables a bomb and says the work should last for years to come.

There are believed to still be hundreds of thousands of unexploded bombs dropped during WW II remaining throughout Germany.

The Two-Way reported in May that 50,000 people had to evacuate the German city of Hanover while experts defused three British bombs.

Millions of tons of bombs were dropped over the course of the war, many of which never went off.

And so, cities were rebuilt and life went on over ordnance that is still able to wreak havoc.

About a dozen bomb technicians have been killed in Germany since 2000, reportsSmithsonian Magazine. And the danger may be getting worse.

(NPR’s) Soraya (Sarhaddi Nelson) says, “Undetonated World War II bombs, of which there are thousands still buried around Germany, are becoming more dangerous with time because of components breaking down.”

#Weltkriegsbombe#Frankfurt

Das sind die Helden von Frankfurt und das besiegte Biest.

Tausend Dank an René Bennert & Dieter Schwetzler! pic.twitter.com/cuHbjfzZe6

— Polizei Frankfurt (@Polizei_Ffm) September 3, 2017

Just a day before Frankfurt’s evacuation, around 21,000 residents had to leave their homes in the western city of Koblenz, while a 1,100-pound American bomb was defused.

Frankfurt Police called the bomb defused Sunday, “the defeated beast” and tweeted images of it being loaded onto a truck and driven away.

City officials said residents of the evacuated neighborhood should be allowed to return to their homes by 8:00 p.m. local time.

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San Diego Declares Health Emergency Amid Hepatitis A Outbreak

A nurse loads a syringe with a vaccine against hepatitis at a free immunization clinic for students before the start of the school year, in Lynwood, California Aug. 27, 2013.

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San Diego’s homeless population has been hit hardest by the highly contagious hepatitis A virus.

The outbreak, which began in November, has spread after vaccination and educational programs in the city failed to reduce the infection rate. The virus attacks the liver.

The public health declaration bolsters the county Health and Human Services Agency’s ability to request state assistance to fund new sanitation measures. Areas with high concentrations of homeless people will receive dozens of portable hand-washing stations. Health workers will also use bleached-spiked water for power-washing contaminated surfaces.

Dr. Wilma Wooten, the San Diego Public Health Officer who signed the declaration into law on Friday, says the sanitation precautions are modeled after similar programs in other Southern California cities – including Los Angeles.

“We know that L.A. has had no local cases of hepatitis A related to the strain that we’re seeing here in San Diego,” she said. “It makes sense that, if they’re doing it there and they haven’t had any cases, it could be beneficial here as well.”

The first cases linked to the outbreak were first reported in November. As of Friday, more than 15 people in the area have died from hepatitis infections and more than 350 others have been sickened.

According to the World Health Organization most hepatitis A outbreaks are primarily spread when an uninfected person ingests food or water that is contaminated with the feces of an infected person. The disease is closely associated with unsafe water or food, inadequate sanitation and poor personal hygiene.

Hepatitis A infections are common among the homeless population due to the lack of access to sanitary facilities. San Diego’s efforts to combat the illness began earlier this summer. Health workers promoted hand washing practices and stepped-up street cleanings – but an article published by Voice of San Diego highlighted bureaucratic obstacles that have delayed sanitation improvements in the city.

Concerns have also been raised over the city’s ability to handle the outbreak. Employees of the Service Employees International Union say the county doesn’t employee enough public health professionals to meet the demand of the growing epidemic.

The California State Legislature is reviewing whether the amount of health resources in the county are adequate. Its findings are expected within the next several months.

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'American Space Ninja' Back On Earth After Record-Breaking Flight

Astronaut Peggy Whitson smiles after landing in Kazakhstan, wrapping up a record 665 days in space for an American.

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Imagine more than 600 days in space; that’s 21 months cruising the cosmos, or close to two years without flush toilets or pizza.

On Saturday, Astronaut Peggy Whitson touched down in Kazakhstan at 9:21 p.m. EDT alongside a fellow American and a Russian in their Soyuz capsule, wrapping up a record-breaking mission.

Whitson spent 288 days — more than nine months — on this latest mission aboard the International Space Station. But over the course of her career, she has been away from earth for three long-duration missions, an accumulation of 665 days — longer than any American ever and more time than any woman worldwide.

Whitson, who is also a biochemist, broke the record for an American astronaut’s time in space in April on her 534th day in orbit, as The Two-Way reported. President Trump called her to offer congratulations and they discussed the timetable for sending humans to Mars.

Whitson has smashed other records as well: she is the world’s oldest female astronaut (57 years old), the most experienced female spacewalker (10 space walks) and she is the first woman to have commanded the space station twice, reports The Associated Press.

After the 9:21pm ET landing, @AstroPeggy has a total of 665 days in space, the U.S. record and places 8th on all-time space endurance list pic.twitter.com/grVIRo3SmX

— NASA (@NASA) September 3, 2017

Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin of Russia returned with Whitson Saturday and has actually spent a bit more time away: 673 days, reports AP. Also abord this latest mission was American Jack Fischer, who spent 136 days in space.

During their time aboard the ISS, NASA says Whitson and Fischer “contributed to hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science.” Their work included research into antibodies “that could increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs for cancer treatment,” as well as looking into the changes that astronauts eyes undergo in an environment with so little gravity.

Whitson was supposed return home in June, but when an extra seat opened up on the Soyuz, “she jumped at the chance to stay in orbit an extra three months,” reports AP.

The day before their departure, the space station’s new commander Randy Bresnik praised the astronauts’ work, “We are in your debt for the supreme dedication that you guys have to the human mission of exploration.”

Bresnik called Whitson an “American space ninja.”

The Iowa native began working for NASA in 1989. She started astronaut training in 1996 and first docked with the ISS in 2002. By 2008, she was serving as the station commander — the first woman to do so, according to her NASA bio.

638 days in space and the view is still amazing! Soaking up some sunset time in the cupola… pic.twitter.com/AiReQzkjJZ

— Peggy Whitson (@AstroPeggy) August 6, 2017

Now that she is back on solid ground, Whitson will be enjoying the earthly advantages she has been missing most. “Flush toilets. Trust me, you don’t want to know the details,” she told The Associated Press. “Pizza has been on my mind for a month or two.”

She is due home in Houston by Sunday night, reports AP. And while she says her home was spared from the ravages of Hurricane Harvey, her coworkers, who had to sleep on cots in backup Mission Control rooms, were impacted. “Any trepidations I might have about returning in the aftermath of a hurricane are entirely eclipsed by all those folks keeping our mission going.”

And while this may well have been Whitson’s last spaceflight, she says she sees herself continuing to work on the programs.

“My desire to contribute to the spaceflight team as we move forward in our exploration of space has only increased over the years,” she said.

As for what she will be missing about space: “I know that I will hugely miss the freedom of floating and moving with the lightest of touch,” she tells AP.

“I will miss seeing the enchantingly peaceful limb of our Earth from this vantage point. Until the end of my days, my eyes will search the horizon to see that curve.”

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Steely Dan's Walter Becker Dies At 67

Guitarist Walter Becker of Steely Dan performs at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival at the Fair Grounds Race Course May 6, 2007 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

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Walter Becker, co-founder of Steely Dan, died Sunday at the age of 67, according to his website.

The news was later confirmed by his longtime bandmate Donald Fagen. In a statement, Fagen said “I intend to keep the music we created together alive as long as I can with the Steely Dan band.”

No other details were offered, but the guitarist, bassist and songwriter had been in poor health, and didn’t participate in two Steely Dan concerts in July. Fagen told reporters in August that Becker had undergone a medical procedure that prevented him from touring.

Becker had performed with Steely Dan as recently as April.

Walter Carl Becker founded Steely Dan with singer and songwriter Donald Fagen in 1972, and with the help of many talented session musicians, the band released a string of popular and critically-acclaimed albums that combined rock, jazz and studio wizardry in unprecedented fashion.

Becker was careful to distance his music from the “fusion” wave that was taking shape in jazz at the time.

“[M]ost of the things that go into the fusion category are premeditated efforts to take incompatible musics and put them together,” Becker told the New York Times in 1977. “We try not to do that. There’s a certain attitude concerning improvisation that we got from jazz, where musicians are a little freer to play around what’s different from most rock today, in which the players seem very constricted. But this is the beginning and end of it as far as comparing what we’re doing to jazz.”

During the band’s initial run from 1972 to 1981, Steely Dan released six Top 20 albums and scored three Top 10 singles. The band’s best-selling album, 1977’s Aja, is widely regarded as one of the best rock albums in history.

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The band temporarily disbanded in 1981, during which time Becker focused on producing records rather than making them himself. But Steely Dan’s popularity never waned, and Becker and Fagen regrouped in 1993, primarily as a touring band. It wasn’t until 2000 that the duo would release their comeback album, Two Against Nature, which won four Grammy Awards, including Album Of The Year.

Becker and Fagen were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame a year later.

Becker also recorded two solo albums, 1994’s 11 Tracks Of Whack and 2008’s Circus Money.


This is a developing story. We’ll update with further information as it becomes available.

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Cambodia Daily Newspaper To Close After 24 Years

Reporters of the English-laguage newspaper Cambodia Daily watch a video clip featuring Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha at their newsroom in Phnom Penh on September 3, 2017. One of Cambodia’s last remaining independent newspapers, the paper announced on Sept. 3, that it was closing after 24 years, the latest in a series of blows to critics of strongman prime minister Hun Sen.

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One of Cambodia’s major English-language newspapers will close this week because it is unable to pay what the government says it owes in back taxes.

In a statement released Sunday, The Cambodia Daily says “as a result of extra-legal threats by the government,” the paper will stop publication on Monday, Sept. 4. That’s the deadline the government gave the paper when it slapped it with a $6.3 million tax bill last month, accusing it of failing to pay that amount in taxes over the past decade. The fine came as a result of an investigation Prime Minister Hun Sen called for into private companies operating in Cambodia.

The Daily has been operating legally in the country since its founding in 1993 by American journalist, Bernard Krisher.

“The allegations of theft are unfounded and defamatory,” said Deborah Krisher-Steele, daughter of the founder and the paper’s deputy publisher, in a statement.

Jodie DeJonge, the editor-in-chief, told NPR that they couldn’t pay the enormous tax bill and that they’d asked for a formal audit, but never received one. Both the paper and the publisher argue that this really has nothing to do with taxes and more to do with Hun Sen trying to curb dissent ahead of the general elections next year.

Journalists and media watchers across the region, some of them alums of the paper, reacted to the closing with heartfelt messages.

Take a bow @cambodiadaily – You were set up knowing the govt would probably shut you down one day for doing your job https://t.co/mpgI9L3teo

— Kevin Doyle (@doyle_kevin) September 3, 2017

@cambodiadaily until their last day doing the best JOURNALISM in this country. Giving everything as always, PROUD OF YOU GUYS, REALLY PROUD

— Omar Havana (@OmarHavana) September 3, 2017

Awful news for independent press, both in SE Asia and globally. Best of luck to the Daily’s talented journalists. https://t.co/ulgB8keuig

— Mike Tatarski (@miketatarski) September 3, 2017

Cambodia won’t be the same without @cambodiadaily. Sad to see the closure. Such a great loss for readers and nation https://t.co/lkQQ8XXFRG

— Pichayada P. (@PichayadaCNA) September 3, 2017

This is not the first time Hun Sen has gone after the media and The Daily directly. Over the last 30 some years of his reign, the paper has unabashedly held the former Khmer Rouge commander’s feet to the fire in both English and Khmer.

But the strongman has no plans to relinquish that power anytime soon, and when the opposition party did better than expected during June’s local elections, Hun Sen started cracking down on dissent and free speech.

In fact, The Daily‘s final major story was to break news that the leader of the opposition party had been arrested on charges of treason.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen cast his ballot as his wife Bun Rany (L) looks on at a polling station in Kandal province on June 4, 2017.

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Last month, the government ordered the U.S.-funded National Democratic Institute to close and has also gone after Cambodian radio stations. The Khmer-language arms of Radio Free Asia and Voice of America have also been sent tax notices.

Human rights advocates have strongly rebuked Hun Sen’s actions.

Steven Butler, the Asia program director for the Committee to Project Journalists, says what’s happening in Cambodia is an example of a time of “depressed free expression” Southeast Asia is going through right now.

“I know it’s absolutely true that press freedom has come under pressure in many countries,” Butler says. He says the way China tightly controls its Internet and the press, as well as the way the United States is not speaking out in favor of speech right now, may be to blame.

Butler says losing The Daily is not just a little setback in the long-term war journalists are fighting, but that the struggle for freedom of expression will continue.

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Blind USC Football Player Executes Perfect Snap In Game Debut

USC long snapper Jake Olson leads the Trojan Marching Band following a victorious game against Western Michigan on Saturday.

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Jake Olson cannot see but he felt his moment of triumph Saturday with perfect clarity.

The blind 20-year-old executed a perfect snap for an extra point in the last three minutes of the University of Southern California’s game against Western Michigan.

USC won 49-31.

As the ball sailed between the uprights, the stadium erupted in cheers. Olson’s teammates grabbed him in bear hugs.

PAT IS GOOD.

FORGET ROJO, JAKE OLSON IS THE PLAYER OF THE GAME!

— Reign of Troy (@ReignofTroy) September 3, 2017

“I just loved being out there. It was an awesome feeling, something that I will remember forever,” Olson said.

After USC’s Marvin Tell III returned an interception for a touchdown making the score 48-31, USC Coach Clay Helton turned to Olson and asked if he was ready to get in, reports ESPN.

Olson said he was ready.

A teammate helped guide him onto the field. He crouched into position and snapped the ball for the successful kick.

Watch the video of the play:

YouTube

“What a pressure player,” Helton toldThe Los Angeles Times. “Is that not a perfect snap at that moment? It’s beyond words.”

The 6-foot-4 Olson said he couldn’t have done it alone.

“It’s an operation, from a holder just making sure I’m lined up straight and it just creates a lot of trust, you know.”

It has been a long journey for the junior from Orange County, Calif.

Olson has dedicated himself to two years of practice, making snaps during drills and in spring games, but Saturday was his first appearance in a live game.

Born with retinoblastoma, a cancer of the retina, Olson’s left eye was removed when he was a baby. By age 12, he knew he would also lose his right eye.

The day before his surgery, Olson spent the final evening he would ever be able to see beholding a USC practice, reports ESPN.

Having learned of his story, the team had adopted the boy as something of an honorary member, allowing him to run with them through the stadium tunnel, walk the sidelines during games and give locker room pep talks, reports USC News.

This is anything but a regular PAT.

Jake Olson, blind since age 12, just snapped for the first time in a live game. https://t.co/amyHcFoVue

— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) September 3, 2017

But Olson didn’t know he that he could get off the sidelines and play until he learned about long snapping.

“It kind of clicked in my mind that it is a consistent position in that you’re snapping the same distance for every snap,” he told CNN. “You definitely have the mechanics of what you’re supposed to do, but a lot of it is just feel.”

He became a starting long snapper on his high school varsity team, reportsThe Los Angeles Times. And while he relied on teammates to guide him onto the field and help line up the ball, he earned respect as a solid player in his own right.

“We didn’t see him as a blind person,” teammate Jerry Fitschen told the newspaper. “We saw him as a football player.”

Hell YEEEEAAAAHHH. If you don’t know #JakeOlson then ya betta ask somebody. Without Sight, NOT without Vision! So proud of you @JakeOlson61https://t.co/mD30V66i0Z

— Nate Boyer (@NateBoyer37) September 3, 2017

It helped earn him a scholarship to USC. In 2015, the year Olson was accepted to the university, coach Steve Sarkisian told the LA Times:

“Someday, he’s going to snap in a game for us,” Sarkisian said. “When? I don’t know. But it will happen.”

“When that day comes, it will be awesome.”

“It’s something that I will remember forever,” Olson said Saturday, “I just can’t quite believe it yet.”

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