It’s interesting, the things we remember vividly years after they take place.
The day was December 3, 1978, and I was seven years old. That was the day my father took me to my first professional football game. I remember sitting in the stands at Tampa Stadium with him and some of his co-workers from Ernst & Ernst, the old accounting firm that has since morphed into Ernst & Young. We left shortly before the final gun and as we were walking along the sidewalk outside the stadium, with me holding my brand new Tampa Bay Buccaneers pennant, a motorist slowed down and asked what the score was. I still remember my dad’s response: “17-7
My lone clear memory of the action on the field does not involve either team scoring. It involves an injury. I don’t recall if it was a running play or passing play, but the Bucs were on defense and as players from both teams stood up after a tackle, one of them remained on the ground in obvious pain. The stadium as a whole fell silent, but people around us were talking in low voices and I could tell they were distressed about whoever that was on the turf. I asked my father which player was hurt, and I remember his reply like it happened yesterday. He leaned over and said: “That’s Lee Roy Selmon. He’s our best player.”
Selmon was helped onto the trainer’s cart. As it was driven behind the east end zone to take him off the field, he was sitting upright with his helmet off and I remember precisely how he looked: Calm. How fitting that was.
The following season, the Bucs’ defense would prove to be the top-ranked unit in the entire NFL and Selmon would be named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Although the Bucs had no offense to speak of, their Selmon-led defense was so formidable that it carried the team to three playoff appearances in the four seasons between 1979 and 1982 -- and to within 10 points of earning a trip to Super Bowl XIV.
Because he played in a 3-4 defense with the Bucs, Selmon was double-teamed on almost every single down and quite often triple-teamed, yet he still dominated. Former Chicago Bears offensive lineman Ted Albrecht, referring to a game in which he had to face Selmon, once said this to sportswriter Paul Zimmerman: “At halftime I told the coach my deepest secrets. I said I never wanted to be buried at sea, I never wanted to get hit in the mouth with a hockey puck, and I didn’t want to go out and play that second half against Lee Roy Selmon.”
And I have not even mentioned his legendary college career with the Oklahoma Sooners, during which he was a two-time All-American, won both the Lombardi Award and the Outland Trophy, and led the Sooners to back-to-back national championships.
He was inducted into both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and College Football Hall of Fame. He was the first player ever drafted by the Buccaneers, and so far he is the only one ever to play for them who has been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a Buccaneer.
But going back to what I alluded to earlier, when I said he looked calm while being carted off the field 33 years ago, the main thing about Selmon is not all the accomplishments, but the man himself. He was the personification of class and integrity, and for all his on-field ferocity, he was the kindest and humblest person you could ever meet, the ultimate “gentle giant.”
He became known because he was a football player of the highest caliber, but remained known because of his genuine good nature. In all the coverage since he passed away on Sunday, hardly anything has been said about his career because all the talk and ink have been spent declaring what a good person he was. This is remarkable because it is the first time I have ever witnessed such a thing in news coverage, and I have been a news junkie ever since 1980, back when
Lee Roy Selmon was raised on a farm in eastern
Maybe it was Selmon’s farm rearing that made him so adroit when it came to down home food. It was no secret that he could whip up a fine barbecue, and when I was a kid grocery stores around
All through the years, Lee Roy Selmon remained an integral part of the
Once, I was at a
And speaking of the
People of my generation and older generations know Lee Roy Selmon as a force on the gridiron. People of younger generations know him as a man whose restaurants serve up a delicious pulled pork sandwich. They also know him as a man who quietly and dutifully pulled a little-known university’s athletic department up by its bootstraps and turned it into something to be reckoned with. Everybody knows him as a man of character who believed in doing things the right way. May he never be forgotten.