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Lamar’s laugh track never ends

[Times photos: Stefanie Boyar]
"I love this," says Lamar Thomas, signing autographs for Holiday's Marquise Gamble, 11, left, and Tampa's Lee Russell, 13, at a youth football clinic.

[an error occurred while processing this directive] By DARRELL FRY

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 22, 2001

TAMPA -- You feel it in the corners of your mouth first, then in your sides just below your rib cage. It's pain, but it's the desirable kind. The kind that hurts so much it actually feels good.

This is what hanging out with Lamar Thomas on Sunday gets you. Rib-tickling pain, the kind so intense it makes your eyes water and your mouth tingle from being stretched so wide for so long.

He is always on, always in character. Even at 7:40 on this morning, when it's so cold you swear the wind is leaving marks as it rakes across your face, Lamar is already working the room, cracking jokes on his old Dolphins teammate, Terrell Buckley, and anyone else at the golf course that catches his eye.

Michael Baker, 13, of Tampa works out with former Bucs receiver Lamar Thomas at Legends Field.
By the afternoon, when he's taking part in an NFL youth football clinic, he is well into his routine and no one escapes his barbs. Not the unsuspecting kids who do as much laughing with Lamar as they do anything related to football. And not T.Buck, a Broncos cornerback now who's also working with a group of kids at the clinic about 40 yards away.

"You know what?" Lamar says to a boy who looks no older than 11. "You're about the same size as Terrell Buckley. He's over there. Go over there and tell him to give me the $100 he owes me from playing golf."

Lamar is on T.Buck's case all day, especially as they head to the par-3 18th green at Carrollwood Country Club with T.Buck and Dolphins kicker Olindo Mare tied. T.Buck reached the green on his second shot, but missed a long putt for par.

That's when Lamar got in his head, saying and doing everything he could to make T.Buck nervous as he stood over a short putt he needed to at least tie Mare. Sure enough, T.Buck ran the putt by the hole for a double-bogey.

Lamar couldn't possibly have gloated more than he did.

"He was just talking, talking, talking," T.Buck said. "He had everyone cracking up."

The afternoon football clinic provided fresh meat for Lamar's jokes. Just like at the golf course, he had everyone busting capillaries. "Do you ever see a player hold his hand up to get everybody in the huddle? Well, what he's really doing is telling everyone he has stinky breath and he needs some help," Lamar jokes.

The footballs are thrown around some more, then everyone cracks up again at something Lamar says. More football, more laughs. More laughs, more football.

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Stay away from Lamar if it hurts to smile or if you're under doctor's orders not to exert undue stress on your funny bone. He will have you in stitches one way or the other.

This is how he begins with the first group of 20 kids who stop by his clinic station at Legends Field: He instructs everyone to stand an arm's length apart so the tips of their fingers can barely reach the person's next to them. When everyone is standing with their arms outstretched, he delivers his zinger.

"Whew! I hope ya'll put on deodorant today," he says smiling.

For the next 15 minutes that this group is in his charge, Lamar pretends to be an onerous football instructor, but the only thing he beats out of these 11- to 14-year-olds is more laughs.

"You better not let the ball hit the ground," he warns the kids before starting a passing drill. "If I see that, I'm going to tear somebody up."

Sure enough, he intentionally throws the first pass too high for a blond-haired boy, who could do nothing except lunge in vain. As soon as the ball hits the ground, Lamar runs toward the kid while yelling for him to dive on the ball and pick it up.

"Get on it. Get on it," he says, fighting back a smile.

Lamar greets the next group with this question: Who wants to get hurt out here and go to the hospital? No one says anything at first, then a little girl says she'd like to get hurt today.

"Great," Lamar says. "Just don't sue me."

Lamar, who had a sometimes tumultuous stint with the Bucs before signing with Miami, then asks a kid who is wearing a Bucs cap if he's a Bucs fan. When the boy says no, Lamar says, 'Yeah, me neither."

"I love this," Lamar says seriously during a break at the clinic. "I get excited about doing this. It's the highlight of my day. After this, I'm emotionally spent."

At least until 7:40 the next morning, when the Lamar Thomas Comedy Show begins anew.

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