We were away from the house earlier this evening when I used my phone to check my e-Mail, and there was a note from my mom alerting me that Lee Roy Selmon, arguably the finest player to wear a Tampa Bay Buccaneers uniform, died earlier today at the age of 56 due to complications from the stroke he suffered on Friday.
Selmon, from the University of Oklahoma, was the Bucs’ very first collegiate draft pick for Tampa’s inaugural season in 1976. Along with his older brother, Dewey, and other talented players like Richard “Batman” Wood, he was the cornerstone of what would become the NFL’s top-ranked defense in 1979, when Tampa came to within just 9 points of a Super Bowl berth to cap their fourth season. That same season, Selmon was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. He would be selected to the Pro Bowl six times. As of this writing, 27 years after his retirement, Selmon still holds the team record for career sacks at 78.5*. He is and remains the Bucs’ sole representative in the Pro Football Hall of Fame following his induction in 1995. After injuries took their toll on him, he retired prior to the start of the 1986 season, and his number, 63, was retired by the Bucs at halftime during that year’s season-opener at old Tampa Stadium. When the Bucs installed their Ring of Honor at Raymond James Stadium in 2009, it was a foregone conclusion — at least in the minds of hardcore fans — that Selmon’s should be the first name enshrined there.
Thankfully, the Bucs saw things our way.
All of that speaks to his accomplishments as a football player. On the field, he was an undisputed leader and a prime motivating force behind what for a time was an absolutely crushing defense. Off the field, he was a humble, even gentle man. When he retired from the Bucs in 1984, he remained in Tampa, working for a time in the private sector before returning to the world of football as the associate athletic director for the University of South Florida in 1993. He was one of the people responsible for bringing a football program to the school. He also maintained strong ties to the Buccaneers organization and Tampa itself, serving as an ambassador for both the team and the city. Acting as a mentor, he made a habit of meeting with new players joining the team, particularly those chosen from the college draft, hoping to help them get their professional careers off on the right foot. Throughout the 25 years following his retirement from professional football, he was one of Tampa’s finest citizens and community leaders, helping to raise funds and awareness for such charitable causes as the Children’s Cancer Center, the Special Olympics, the Ronald McDonald House, the NAACP, and the United Negro College Fund.
My personal favorite memories of Lee Roy Selmon revolve around seeing him at Tampa Stadium before games. Back during the late 70s and early 80s seasons, particularly that exciting 1979 season, my Scout troop worked concessions. I was one of those kids you saw walking up and down the stands, selling Cokes or hot dogs or whatever. Before the games, and before we started working, we could go out to the wall separating the field from the first row of seats, and watch the players warm up. In those days, you could call to a player and wave, and more often than not they’d turn and smile and wave back. A few, including Lee Roy, would come to the wall and say hello, ask you how you were doing, and so on. If you had a pen and something to sign, he’d sign it. You could do that every week, and he wouldn’t care. He always was in a good mood, always had a smile for young kids like me, and then he would go out and lay the hammer to some poor quarterback or running back. Then, if you caught him coming back to the sideline after forcing a turnover or causing the other team to punt? He’d have a smile and a wave for you then, too. On one or two rare occasions, the kids working concessions might get their own quickie pre-game autograph/picture session with some of the players. Somewhere in a photo scrapbook in my mom’s house, there might still be a picture of 11 or 12-year old me and a couple of my fellow Scouts, standing in front of this giant of a man and a couple of his team mates.
Those were some fun, wondrous times which I’ve never forgotten. When I finally got my own Bucs jersey to wear to games or even when hosting our party in 2002 for the Bucs’ first-ever Super Bowl appearance, and even though I got it with the team’s new design, colors, and logo, there was only one name and number to have put on it: 63: SELMON. I didn’t care that his career predated the change by a decade; Lee Roy Selmon is and always will be “The Original Buccaneer.”
Rest in peace, Mr. Selmon, and thank you; not simply for being a great football player, but for being an even greater human being.
* = Though the NFL didn’t start recognizing quarterback sacks as an official statistic until 1982 – two years before his retirement – Selmon recorded 78.5 sacks over the course of his career – nearly a third of those between 1982 and 1984.