When I sat down to write this Sunday night, I just stared at my screen for what seemed like hours. I couldn’t find the words to express how I felt about the passing of Lee Roy Selmon (1956-2011). I grew up in Tampa Bay, and even though I don’t live there anymore, it will always be my home. To use the word “devastated” by his death is an understatement. We are all saddened, and shocked.
He was more than the first player drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers organization, the first Player of the Year (defensive), the first number retired, the first (and only) Hall of Famer, and the first name to go up in the Bucs Ring of Honor. To the Tampa Bay community he was so much more. He was known as “The Gentle Giant” because as tenacious as he was on the field, he was a kind, generous, and classy man off of it.
Selmon embraced Tampa Bay, and Tampa Bay embraced him back. “We have Selmon” was a common defense against scoffers and hecklers, because before the Dungy Bucs, he was all we had. We had others, but not like Selmon. Lee Roy was special in so many ways.
There were his on the field accomplishments both at Oklahoma and during the nine years he spent with the Buccaneers. He had amazing careers both collegiately and professionally. At Oklahoma, he played with brothers Lucious and Dewey in 1973, known collectively as “The Selmon Brothers” for their tremendous defensive efforts. He won back-to-back national titles in 1974 and 1975 and was named consensus All-American both years. He won the Vince Lombardi Award and the Outland Trophy in 1975 and finished his Sooner career with 335 tackles, a school record for a lineman at the time, 40 of them losses. Selmon was elected to the College Hall of Fame in 1988 and the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame in 1992.
To this day he remains the Bucs’ franchise all-time leader in both sacks (78.5) and forced fumbles (28.5) and he racked up 742 tackles, seventh most in Bucs’ history. He was first or second team All-Pro five times and named to six straight Pro Bowls from 1980 to 1985. In the 1982 Pro-Bowl, he was co-Player of the Game, recording four sacks. He retired on August 13, 1985 due to injury, and a year later his number 63 was retired by the only organization he played for professionally. He was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame in 1995, and remains the lone Buccaneer. On November 8, 2009, he became the first player named to the Buccaneers Ring of Honor.
We are proud to say “We have Lee Roy”, even if we’re not a Bucs fan because of his stronghold on the community. He became the Assistant Athletic Director at the University of South Florida in 1993, and was instrumental in bringing the University a football program. As a member of the Athletic Department, he pushed for a conference USA bid and as Athletic Director received, and accepted, an invitation to join the Big East in 2003. After he retired in 2004, he became President of the USF Foundation Partnership for Athletics and brought the Bulls a new state-of-the-art facility with his fundraising efforts. On Saturday, the USF football team wore #63 on their helmets in their game against Notre Dame, defeating the nationally ranked team in a 23-20 upset. Lee Roy was supposed to be there, but instead was fighting for his life in a Tampa hospital from the massive stroke he suffered Friday.
He opened a chain of restaurants simply named Lee Roy Selmon’s, and a stretch of highway was renamed the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway in 1999. He was successful, and he was humble, tenacious on the field, and gracious off of it.
His presence was larger than life, and his generous heart and radiant smile was even bigger.
He spoke softly, shook hands gently, and cared genuinely. He was dedicated, he was kind, he was Tampa Bay.
There will never be another Lee Roy Selmon, but he set the example for former players like Derrick Brooks, and current ones, like fellow Sooner Gerald McCoy. Many people have words of admiration, not just for the football player, but for the man; and with every statement, there is obvious sadness and heartbreak.
I don’t have any personal stories to share, I was never lucky enough to have met him, but I asked a friend of mine, Jerry Petuck, a producer at 620 WDAE in Tampa, if there was anything he would like people outside of Tampa Bay to know about Lee Roy, and this is what he was kind enough to share:
“There aren’t words for what he meant to the Tampa Bay area over the last 35 years. A perfect example of who Lee Roy was…. One of my colleagues, Darek Sharp, and his wife was at the Grand Opening for one of his Selmon’s BBQ restaurants just last weekend. As slammed as they were, Selmon saw the two of them, invited them to his table, and had dinner with them. That’s just who the guy was. He spearheaded the campaign for USF to adopt a football program. Up until just the past 3-4 years, the program was based in trailers. The University now has a world class facility thanks to Lee Roy’s fundraising. He was simply the face of Tampa Bay sports and it will take a long time for this community to recover.”
Today, I am a Sooner, a Bull, and a Buc. And yes, it will take Tampa Bay a long time to recover, but we will never say “We had Selmon”, because he will never leave. He is never going to be truly gone. His spirit and grace will live on forever.
We will always have Selmon; we will always have Lee Roy.
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