Lee Roy Selmon: Our Greatest Buccaneer and a Tampa Bay Treasure

Tom EdringtonSenior Writer INovember 6, 2009

It has been a life's pleasure to know Lee Roy Selmon for 33 years. Our paths first crossed when a young Tampa Tribune sports writer met the first player taken in the 1976 NFL draft, the first-ever pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

On Sunday, Selmon will be introduced as the first inductee into the team's Ring of Honor. This is the third of a three-part series remembering the players who formed the backbone of what became the 1979 NFC Central Division championship team.

"Our kindness and goodness are the best things we can offer in life."

-- Lee Roy Selmon

He is the unbreakable cornerstone of the Tampa Bay Buccaneer franchise.

He is the face of the Bucs.

He is beloved in his Tampa community.

He is a kind, gracious gentle giant of a man.

Meet him once and you'll never forget him. Meet him twice and you are most fortunate. Know him for more than 30 years and you are blessed.

He is Lee Roy Selmon.

He is the youngest of nine children reared on a farm outside small town Eufala, OK. We all remember his playing days at OU with brothers Lucious and Dewey.

We were fortunate that then-general manger Ron Wolf had the wisdom and foresight to call the name Lee Roy Selmon with the first pick in that 1976 NFL draft. It was a no-brainer.

We members of the Tampa Tribune were fortunate to meet him that first day he showed up. Didn't know what to expect. We were surprised to say the least to hear this soft, soothing voice. It was hardly what you'd expect from a fierce, imposing defensive end.

He was tall, angular, with long muscular arms and huge hands. He looked every bit the part.

That first season for Tampa Bay was a rough one. Lee Roy found out what 0-14 smells like. The Bucs locker room was a tough place as the losses piled up.

Most writers took the easy way out and would crowd around Lee Roy's cubicle. They could count on him for quotes, they could count on him to not be angry. Lee Roy never got mad. Still hasn't to this day.

"We learned about ourselves," Lee Roy remembers. "We learned about resolve. We learned to get over that hump."

With Selmon on board, the Bucs added Ricky Bell in 1977, then quarterback Doug Williams in 1978. The pieces were in place, the backbone of the Buccaneers was now solid.

That 1979 season saw all the pieces blend. "It was all about our team," is how Selmon puts it. That is Lee Roy. He was the ultimate team player.

To this day, he credits his teammates. Always has. But individually, he was unblockable. He was a combination of speed and flawless technique. He played with extreme heart and passion.

The rest of the team followed his lead. He was a quiet guy, but his play left no doubt who the on-field leader was.

The first playoff win in team history came against the Philadelphia Eagles. "To play in it and win, I was excited just like our fans were," Selmon recalls.

That team will be honored on Sunday and they'll see their teammate inducted into the new Ring of Honor.

Selmon is excited that many of them will be back. "And I'm just excited to be part of it," he said.

Selmon will accept yet another honor with an amazing touch of humility.

He was simply the most humble of professional athletes. At times, he would seem embarrassed by his celebrity. It's a struggle to get him to speak about himself.

"It's all the people I've been blessed to play with and work with," he'll tell you. "Humility is important. Tony Dungy has it, Derrick Brooks has it."

And Selmon has it in a major way.

His honesty during those playing days was refreshing. "Be honest, be real and not think too highly of yourself," he has said more than once and it's a lesson today's players in any sport should really take to heart.

A back injury ended Selmon's playing career after the 1984 season. But he was only beginning to impact lives. He worked at First Florida Bank in those early offseasons when many players had jobs outside football.

Years later, he became athletic director at the University of South Florida, where he raised the money to start the school's football program.

He hired Jim Leavitt to coach the team. The face of the Buccaneers had also become the face of the USF football program.

Today, he has heavy involvement with his Lee Roy Selmon's restaurants along with Outback Steakhouse founders Chris Sullivan and Bob Basham.

Despite his demands, his schedule, Selmon is constantly approached by people who simply want to shake his hand. There are no strangers in Lee Roy's life.

Meet him once and he treats a person like a long-lost friend. He is engaging and willing. They still seek his autograph.

"Signing an autograph is the decent thing to do; acknowledge another person is the right thing to do. Our kindness and goodness are the best things we can offer in life."

That is Lee Roy Selmon.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame called him in 1995. If there was a Humanity Hall of Fame, he'd be in that one, too.

Now it's the Ring of Honor.

But at the end of the day, it is Lee Roy who has honored us all these years.

He honors us by the way he treats people, all that he has done for so many causes, the way he has always helped others.

"Open a door, reach out, touch a life..." he has said more than once.

If you have a "bucket list" of things you want to do, put Lee Roy Selmon on that list.

Seek him out and meet him. It's not hard. He's a man of the people of Tampa Bay.

Reach out to him, shake that enormous hand. Look into his eyes and take in that Selmon smile.

Look at his face and see the face of greatness, kindness, and humility.

See the face of a very special man.

Speak to him and relish the moment.

For if you do, you will always remember him.

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