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Buc logo creator, artist Lamar Sparkman dies at 88

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Published:   |   Updated: March 20, 2013 at 04:37 PM
TAMPA -

When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers resurrected their orange uniforms and winking-pirate helmets during November's throwback game at Raymond James Stadium, it was an unforgettable afternoon for the franchise's longtime fans.

For Lamar Sparkman, the widely known sports cartoonist who designed the "Bucco Bruce'' logo, it became an emotional experience.

"I called him during the game and he was too choked up to speak,'' said Sparkman's grandson, Carter Toole. "He was an artist who took great pride in his work. To be able to see that, especially with the Bucs winning, he just loved it. He saw that his work was still remembered.''

How could it be forgotten?

Sparkman, whose popular cartoons appeared on the pages of the Tampa Times and Tampa Tribune for 40 years (1947-87), died Wednesday morning after complications from pneumonia. He was 88.

A private burial service is Friday. The funeral is Saturday morning at 11 at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Tampa.

Sparkman is survived by two daughters, Rosemary McAteer of Brooksville and Lamar Toole of Charlottesville, Va., along with three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife, Gloria, who passed away in 2005.

He was known for regular football cartoons about the University of Florida ("The Adventures of Alli-Gator''), Florida State ("Song of the Seminole'') and the Buccaneers (the "Buc Bomber'' - a World War I-style fighter plane that navigated treacherous surroundings in the franchise's early years).

He was a regular at the Masters - three of his paintings still hang at Augusta National - and a personal favorite of the legendary Arnold Palmer.

His drawings also captured notable accomplishments from local athletes - and many have been preserved as cherished keepsakes.

Sparkman, who attended Plant High School and UF, worked on despite health woes, including a near fatal cranial aneurysm and a cancer that forced the removal of his left eye shortly before his Tribune sports retirement to concentrate on painting portraits.

"If van Gogh can work with one ear, I can work with one eye,'' Sparkman said at the time.

"No other newspaper in America had a Lamar Sparkman,'' former Tribune sports editor and columnist Tom McEwen wrote in "The Cartoon World of Lamar Sparkman,'' a compilation of the artist's work that was published in 1994. "He entertains, informs and editorializes.''

The beginning of Sparkman's craft was modest.

"I always liked to doodle and draw things,'' he said.

Sparkman, a World War II veteran who was working as a salesman, produced his first cartoon for the afternoon Tampa Times on Aug. 21, 1947. The subject was Tampa's Broughton Williams, the former Florida Gator who was playing in the College All-Star Game against the defending NFL champion Chicago Bears.

His work caught on, and he became a fixture on the sports pages.

"He never made deadline,'' McEwen said. "But deadlines hold for someone who offers something so special as Lamar Sparkman has.''

Sparkman's most notable contribution occurred in 1975, when he was commissioned to design a logo for the Bucs.

On his first attempt, he produced a skull-and-crossbones design (ironically, very similar to the Bucs' new logo, which debuted in 1997), but it was rejected by the team's advisory board. Sparkman eventually submitted a winking Buccaneer, wearing a feather-plumed hat.

It was enthusiastically supported by the advisory board.

Initially described as a "high-class cutthroat'' with a "devil-may-care attitude,'' it was intended to be a cross between Errol Flynn, Robin Hood, Jean Lafitte and D'Artagnan (one of the Three Musketeers).

The logo fell out of favor when the Bucs suffered through 14 consecutive losing seasons. The current red-and-pewter look gained enormous traction in 1997 - perhaps because the Bucs then began a run of five playoff appearances in six seasons - but Sparkman's original logo enjoyed a nostalgic comeback this season.

"My grandfather got to see that and enjoy it,'' Toole said. "He was a very passionate person and he was passionate about the Gators, the Bucs, all the sports in the Tampa Bay area.''

In Sparkman's memorable corner of the world - cartoons and portraits - he made contributions that won't be forgotten.

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