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Payton in a rush to laugh


HAMILTON, Ontario -- It's not that Elfrid Payton doesn't have a quiet side, but when Payton is wearing his Baltimore Stallions uniform, he has little use for containing his thoughts or emotions.

Sometimes he'll burst into song during practice, and often breaks up his teammates and coaches with a joke. Team meetings occasionally run a bit long because of Payton's goofiness. Before games, even between plays, his wisecracks keep the team loose. His chatter is a fixture on the line of scrimmage.

"I'm kind of an open guy," Payton said, a smile breaking through his sneer. "I talk a lot, but that's me. You ain't got to be serious all the time. I don't mean no harm."

Payton reserves the harm for the unfortunate offensive tackles assigned to block the Canadian Football League's top pass rusher, not to mention the quarterbacks who try to avoid him after holding the ball too long in the pocket.

Payton is quite serious about getting to the quarterback, which pretty much sums up his job description with the Stallions. And since joining Baltimore in mid-season last year, he has become a cornerstone of one of the CFL's top defenses.

In last week's 41-14 victory over Toronto, he produced five sacks, tying a single-game league record.

That earned Payton his second Lineman of the Week award this season, and tied him with Memphis rush end Tim Cofield for the league lead with 16 sacks. True to his nature, Payton punctuated each sack with a flamboyant dance.

How could the Shreveport Pirates, who signed Payton before the 1994 season, have let him get away?

"[Payton] is just a fun guy, one of a kind. He makes you laugh," Baltimore coach Don Matthews said. "We all appreciate his personality. But that's not always the case in professional football. Here, we judge people on their playing ability and enjoy their personalties, as well."

By Payton's account, that did not happen in Shreveport. Coach Forrest Gregg didn't take kindly to Payton's open-mouth policy, or his lack of sack production in the Pirates' blitz-oriented defensive scheme.

At one practice, Payton said he got into an altercation with a teammate, and Gregg intervened and chewed out Payton in front of the team.

It wasn't their first confrontation. Payton was thrown out of practice that day. Two weeks later, Shreveport released him. "They [Shreveport] did me a favor," said Payton.

The Stallions fit Payton's talent. When he joined Baltimore last year, Payton became the strong-side end who gave then-rush end O. J. Brigance badly needed help. After Payton's arrival, opponents produced 91 fewer yards per game.

This year, with the emergence of strong-side end Grant Carter, Matthews shifted Payton to the weak side, where he is mostly left in one-on-one situations. Payton often turns that into a mismatch.

"It has a lot to do with pride," said Payton, 6-1, 230 pounds. "I don't feel anybody should be able to block me."

Said Brigance: "He sets his man up and plans his moves so well. I watch him on film, especially his hands, to try to better myself. He never stops amazing me."

Carter, a rookie who joined Baltimore late last season, said he also is learning from Payton. Having roomed with him on several road trips, Carter also has seen Payton's other side.

"We've had some interesting conversations on topics ranging from A to Z. He's a good-hearted guy who talks about his wife and [three] children for hours on end," Carter said. "He has a private side that he doesn't let many people see.

"He plays the game the way it should be played, because he knows what he's doing and he comes out to have fun every day. When it's time to work, he comes to work. He exemplifies what being a professional athlete is all about."

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