Monday, June 24, 2024

David Lamm 1945-2024: Bombastic sports journalist made huge impact in print, radio, TV

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Lamm worked at the Times-Union from 1977-1983, then became a fixture on sports talk radio and TV

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David Lamm once echoed Lou Gehrig about his chosen profession. 

“I’m the luckiest guy on the face of the earth,” he told Mike Lyons during a 2019 interview for the Jacksonville Broadcasters Association on YouTube. “I never planned for this but I’ve had a wonderful career.” 

Lamm’s self-professed luck was to the benefit of sports fans on the First Coast who read, watched and listened to his bombastic but insightful and knowledgeable takes for nearly four decades. 

Lamm, 78, passed away on Friday according to a Facebook post by his son Alex. Lamm worked at the Florida Times-Union beginning in 1977, eventually becoming the lead columnist and sports editor where he was a fixture at Florida-Georgia games, The Players Championship, NASCAR races at Daytona, the Masters and the Gator Bowl. 

“It is with immeasurable sadness to let by FB community know of my Pops passing today,” Alex Lamm posted. 

He said plans for a memorial would be announced later. Lamm also is survived by his wife of 58 years, Ellen “Boo” Lamm, his other son Tom and five grandchildren. 

David Lamm ‘won everyone over’ 

Lamm, the son of a postal carrier in Rocky Mount, N.C., was first and perhaps foremost a print journalist, beginning when he covered his high school football team, and later at the Daily Tar Heel when he went to the University of North Carolina. 

Lamm ascended rapidly, serving as the columnist in Greensboro, then at the Times-Union when he was hired by managing editor Fred Seely — Lamm’s editor at the Daily Tar Heel. 

Seely said his sales pitch to late Times-Union publisher John Tucker was that Lamm would think and write outside the box. 

“I told John that David was a great guy who would open up the sports department to new ideas,” Seely said. “The guy is a wonderful writer and we need to take a look at him. Tucker loved him — mainly because David loved golf as much as he did — and said, ‘this is a guy we need.'” 

Seely said Lamm’s personality, while often over the top, “won everyone over.” 

Lamm earned a column and quickly established himself as one of the voices of Southern sports. 

“He was at every big game,” said former Atlanta columnist and CBS college football commentator Tony Barnhart, who replaced Lamm at Greensboro. “David lived for the big games, the big golf tournaments. He was a newspaperman in the strictest sense of the word. He cared about the profession and didn’t back down from anyone.” 

Lamm had a ‘fearless’ approach his his job 

Lamm was never shy about questioning coaches on play-calling, personnel decisions and when they ran afoul of the rules. Likewise, he’d take PGA Tour players to task for club selection and Tour executives for their decisions. 

“We didn’t always agree,” said former PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman. “But David was a great supporter of golf and the PGA Tour coming to the First Coast. He was supportive of everything we have ever done and how important the Tour and The Players was to the community and charity.” 

Lamm was seldom without an unlit cigar in his mouth, which he removed to ask the tough questions. 

Mike Bianchi, a former Times-Union columnist and now with the Orlando Sentinel, said Lamm was “fearless.” 

“It didn’t matter if he was writing or on the radio, he didn’t have a filter,” Bianchi said. “He’d give you his opinion. It may not be politically correct or what people wanted to hear, but it was his take. And he would ask questions at press conferences no one else would dare ask. The funny part is how everyone respected his honesty. He’d rip guys like Steve Spurrier and Bobby Bowden but he’d show up at games and press conferences and they’d still embrace him.” 

It was Spurrier who is credited for inventing the nickname, “Lamm Chop.” 

Former Gator coach Doug Dickey said Lamm understood that building relationships was more important than trying to get coaches in “gotcha” moments. 

“Deep down, David was a very kind man,” Dickey said. “He was extremely comfortable to be around, very personable and you could talk to him off the cuff without worrying that everything you said would go in the paper the next day. We respected him and we were always glad to have him around.” 

Lamm was a hit on radio, TV 

Lamm started a second career in TV and radio beginning in 1983 and continuing regularly until 2015, working on two radio stations and two TV stations. He attacked electronic media in unorthodox ways, such as his alter-ego “Blabbermouth Lamm” (complete with a cheesy fake mustache). 

He hosted “Lamm at Large” on WTLV and Continental Cable and collaborated with Sam Kouvaris on WJXT with their show “Sam and Lamm,” and later on “Sports Talk Live.” 

As recently as 2019, Lamm did color commentary for Jacksonville University football on ESPN+ and within days of his passing still recording short commentaries on sports for 1010-XL. 

“People say there’s no sports talk radio in Jacksonville without Jay Soloman,” said Jaguars play-by-play announcer and 1010XL personality Frank Frangie, referring to the former JU announcer and sports radio pioneer. “But I also think there’s no sports talk radio without David Lamm.” 

Kouvaris said he and Lamm engaged in a fierce rivalry for breaking news. But it never got in the way of their personal relationship. 

“If I was going to break a story, I knew I had to get in front of David,” Kouvaris said. “When we started collaborating, we almost never agreed on anything. But it worked because there was a level of respect between us. I would tell him he was coming out of left field. He’d tell me I was wrong. We’d make each other defend our positions but it was never personal and it made the show better.” 

Lamm enjoyed his oversized image

Lamm also enjoyed the life of a sports media personality. He was an avid golfer but anyone in his group at Hidden Hills or the Golf Club of Amelia, his two favorite courses, knew they needed to play at his speedy pace.  

Lamm also enjoyed charity golf tournaments, 19th holes, media hospitality rooms, the old Island Club at The Players and talking sports in hotel bars and lobbies or on long drives to SEC venues with colleagues. 

“He made road trips a lot shorter,” Frangie said. “We’d get in the car to drive to Gainesville, Tallahassee, Atlanta or Birmingham and the time would fly by because we were talking sports and life. When you were on the road with David, you had no choice but to have fun.” 

Seely said he will never forget the sight of Lamm at an old Gator Bowl Ball in the 1980s. The affair was black tie, but BYOB. 

“David walked into the hotel ballroom in a tux, with a case of Miller Lite on his shoulder,” Seely said. “That was his idea of BYOB.”

Kourvaris said Lamm was never shy about being a celebrity in Jacksonville. 

“No one enjoyed being David Lamm more than David Lamm,” he said. “He enjoyed being larger than life.” 

“One of the greatest guys in the world,” Seely said. “He was nothing but fun to be with. He accepted his fame pretty well.” 

Lamm gave back to the community 

There was another side to Lamm, once people peeled aside the layers of his over-sized personality: he was a big softie with with a bigger heart. 

Lamm started the “Santa Lamm” Christmas parties in 2002 and more than 4,000 kids have participated. He coached Little League baseball. He mentored young sportswriters and broadcast journalists and read and listened to everything that came from a First Coast media outlet, and quietly passed out compliments and advice.

“Santa Lamm really mattered to him,” Frangie said. “He was making a difference before it became in vogue to start foundations and charities. And he was always looking out for the younger guys, offering them tips and praising them.” 

Former Gator Bowl President Rick Catlett said Lamm was quick to embrace First Coast sports ventures such as the efforts to get the NFL, the USFL, the Gator Bowl and The Players.

“If you needed to get something out, David would help you,” Catlett said. “When we got the USFL he was on board because it helped Jacksonville. He supported the Gator Bowl because it helped Jacksonville. He’d kick your butt if you did something dumb but if you were doing something right he would support you.”

Lamm’s on-air presence diminished over recent years because of back and other health problems. Frangie regrets that the current generation of sports fans may have missed out on the best of David Lamm 

“I hate that they never got to read a David Lamm column,” Frangie said. “I hate they never saw “Lamm at Large” on TV. He was one of a kind, authentic and honest and never changed who he was. The greatness of David Lamm is that there was nobody else like him.” 

But Lamm said five years ago that he was the lucky one. 

“How many people fall into something and it turns out to be the love of their life?” he said during the 2019 interview with Lyons. “They didn’t even know it at the time.”

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