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September 5, 2011 @ 12:29 pm
Current rating: 5.00 Stars/1 Votes

Losing Lee Roy Selmon Hurts

Written by Mark
Mark Cook


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PewterReport.com Buccaneers beat writer and Tampa native Mark Cook shares his personal, heartfelt thoughts on the passing of Tampa Bay's legendary defensive end Lee Roy Selmon, who died at the age of 56 on Sunday after suffering a serious stroke last Friday.

Back in the 1980’s, one of my writing heroes, Lewis Grizzard, wrote a book titled, “Elvis Is Dead, And I Don’t Feel So Good Myself.”

Sunday night as I sit there numb, thinking about the death of number 63 – Buccaneers legend Lee Roy Selmon – from a stroke he suffered on Friday, I would like to steal Grizzard’s title, but change the name “Elvis” to “Lee Roy.” My head spins, my heart hurts and I have tried to blink myself from this bad dream.

As a person who has followed the Buccaneers since a child, the passing of my hero breaks my heart. The first game I ever saw the Buccaneers play on television was Tampa Bay’s first franchise win in 1977 against the New Orleans Saints. Not knowing the history of the 26-game losing streak, I assumed this was a pretty good football team. Little did I know the heartbreak I would suffer over the years watching this team.

But even in those tough years there were always a few bright spots.

The 1978 team got better and by 1979 the Buccaneers would host the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC divisional playoffs at the old Tampa Stadium. I remember that Saturday afternoon vividly as our television at our home had recently broken. Not wanting to miss this historic moment, my Dad and I walked down to my grandmother’s house and watched the game from there. Ricky Bell ran for 142 yards, Jimmie Giles caught a touchdown pass and Lee Roy Selmon became a permanent fixture on Ron Jaworski’s back that day.

My wife and I bought my grandmother’s house after her passing in 1995, and as I write this, I sit in the same living room where I witnessed that initial win in franchise history, and where two years later I saw the Buccaneers hand the Eagles a 24-17 defeat.

A week later, the Los Angeles Rams came to town and left with a 9-0 victory and a ticket to the Super Bowl. I was crushed.

But from that moment on when I played football in the yard [nearly every afternoon] I was always Doug Williams on offense and Lee Roy Selmon on defense. My friends were Jack Youngblood, Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach or Mean Joe Greene, but I was always a Buccaneer. I took plenty of ridicule over the years but it never wavered my choice to be a Buccaneer. As Bucs fans, I’m sure you can relate.

In 1981, my Dad took me to my first Buccaneers game on November 14 against the Denver Broncos for my 11th birthday. Selmon played in that game but unfortunately the Buccaneers defense couldn’t contain a little known backup at the time by the name of Steve Deberg and Denver won 24-7.

In 1984, I was in the stands for the final game of John McKay’s Buccaneers coaching career. Little did the 60,000 or so in attendance know but it would prove to be Selmon’s final home game as a Buccaneer, too. A herniated disk in his back suffered in the Pro Bowl led to his retirement and a Tampa Bay legend was gone from the gridiron.

In the mid 1990’s, I was a flunky producer/reporter for Tampa’s WFNS 910 a.m. – the area’s first sports radio station. While I earned a paycheck punching buttons in the studio I used my press pass to get into Buccaneers’ practices at the old One Buc Place. I would pretend I was a big shot, but I did my reporting on my own time and dime.

One afternoon while the Buccaneers were practicing I was standing on the back patio at the team’s antiquated facility off of Westshore Boulevard and noticed a large shadow cast over the concrete porch. A little intimidated, I walked over and introduced myself to Lee Roy Selmon.

We spent the next 15 minutes talking about his Buccaneers days, and his new job with the University of South Florida. He didn’t know me, nor even asked me whom I was working for. And for those 15 minutes I was treated as if I were Charlie Rose, Chris Mortensen, Larry King or one of the world’s great interviewers. I found that old cassette taped interview just a few weeks ago and listened to it. It will always be a treasure to me.

In 2009, I was a struggling free-lance writer but convinced my wife to let me spend some money to take my son to the Packers-Bucs game where Selmon would be inducted into Tampa Bay’s Ring of Honor. My son, who was eight at the time, never saw Selmon play but he had heard me talk about the legend. As Selmon spoke that day, tears filled my eyes. My son looked up, maybe a little embarrassed at his dad crying, but I was not ashamed that afternoon nor am I as tears fall writing this story.

On Saturday afternoon I was at One Buccaneer Place for the team’s special teams practice, and after getting my work done I decided to stop by St. Joseph’s hospital for an update on Selmon. Top columnist Joey Johnston of the Tampa Tribune was there in the ICU waiting room and we spent the afternoon into the evening trying to gather information as best as we could, while at the same time respecting the family’s privacy.

As the afternoon became evening, and after watching members of the family shuffle in and out of the waiting room, you could tell by their body language, things were not well. Holding out hope for any encouraging word, I still had the uneasy feeling things may not work out well for the 56-year old Selmon, whose stroke was considered to be quite serious.

As I made my way out of the hospital I walked down the hall one more time. I could see the family gathered at the end of the hall. As much as I wanted information for the news story it was, I turned around and silently said a prayer for Selmon and his family. Journalism would have to wait.

My best friend, Spencer Robinson, and I talked Sunday evening after the news came out. Robinson told me about a time back in the late 1970’s when Selmon came to a local bank in Lakeland for an autograph appearance, and his father took Robinson and his younger brother to wait for an hour in line to get a photo.

“This isn’t right,” Robinson said. “Lee Roy meant too much to be gone too soon. He was my hero, but even more so, my father’s hero. It hurts me that he is gone, but I hurt more for my Dad because his hero is gone.”

Today the tributes will start in print and on television. I imagine the Buccaneers will wear a 63 patch on their jersey or sticker on their helmet this season. A moment of silence will probably be held before next Sunday’s game against the Lions, and there will undoubtedly be some sort of mention or tribute to Selmon at the throwback game later this fall when former Tampa Bay tight end Jimmie Giles, a teammate of Selmon’s, will be inducted into the Bucs’ Ring of Honor. Fittingly, Selmon, the franchise’s only Pro Football Hall of Famer, was the first Ring of Honor inductee in 2009.

But whatever the tribute is, it won’t be enough. Like my friend said, he had too much left to offer. But as I get older it becomes more and more apparent that sometimes life just isn’t fair. Fifty-six just doesn’t seem old to me.

As my son went to bed last night I hugged him a little harder and I told my wife I love her a little louder. I’ll pray for comfort for Selmon’s family. And I’ll wonder why him, why now?

And to paraphrase the great Grizzard with some liberties, “Lee Roy Is Gone, And I Don’t Feel Too Good Myself.”

Rest in peace, Gentle Giant.

Last modified on Monday, 05 September 2011 18:54

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  • avatar

    If he would of played for a big media market team like the steelers, cowboys, jets, or giants, he would of EASILY been known by everyone today...fortunately, he didnt and he played for us. What a phenomenal football player and was an even better person....he will be missed by all buc fans..i know i never saw him play, but when i first started watching the bucs and following them in 1996, i remember looking up buccaneer players and wanted to see if they had any hof players. I came across lee roy selmon and i asked my dad if he knew the only buc player in the hof and he said right off the bat, lee roy selmon and just started talking about him and my dads from waterloo, iowa and we live in kc.....RIP Mr. Selmon. even though i never saw you play, i sure as hell know your the best player ever in bucs history and that includes brooks, sapp, barber, lynch and rice.
  • avatar

    I was nowhere near Tampa, nor a Bucs fan during Lee Roy's playing days, so I came to know of Mr. Selmon as a superior member of the Tampa Bay Community after I relocated to Tampa. I only know of his field prowess based upon watching old games (as a kid, I'd never heard of him, never having followed the Bucs, but the way the community revered him, I had to watch some old games to see for myself - I was not disappointed). As I have embraced Tampa as my hometown, I embraced one of its true heroes and good guys in Selmon and I will miss him as I miss a family member. RIP 63.
  • avatar

    Mark, I just wanted to thank you for your wonderful piece. If reading it was hard I can only imagine what it must have been like to write it. For the first few games this season we're going to remember Lee Roy's death. But I think as time passes on we'll remember his greatness.
  • avatar

    I'm sure the Selmon family was just thrilled to death that the media buzzards were prowling around during their time of tragedy. RIP Lee Roy!
  • avatar

    I am proud to say I was a fan when he was drafted, when he played and made the pro bowl, and when he was inducted to the Hall of Fame. He was a class individual in a sport that has far too few. He will be dearly missed, and and not just as a former great player but as a stalwart of the community. Rest in Peace # 63
  • avatar

    Mark, great piece. As a fellow NFL defensive lineman Lee Roy Selmon was the one I looked up to as a shinning example of how to be a Pro on and off the field and into retirement. While I thought then and I still think today, I have a long way to go to be like Lee Roy, I was always grateful that a fellow defensive lineman set the standard for excellence for the Franchise I played for and loved. I was just talking to former Buc linebacker David Lewis about Lee Roy up in the press box when the Bucs played a presason game against the Patriots. I asked him if Lee Roy ever got mad on the field. David told me that Lee Roy never got really mad but he would simply grit his teeth and say rather plainly and matter factly "Imma get that guy". That was Lee Roy Selmon...simple excellence and to the point with elegance. Lee Roy you were and will always be my idol....RIP brother. -Chidi
  • avatar

    Well Mark a great article. As I grew up in Tampa when the Selmon brothers was drafted by John McKay and Staff, How did we not know that Mr Lee Roy Selmon was the Bucs period, As I came thru Tampa in between US Army assignments I ran into Lee Roy Selmon at the old Sears across form the old Tampa Stadium which is now the Bucs Hq's. He was a very Gentle Man who care for Tampa, Tampa people and He try to set high goals. I hope that on Turn back the uniforms day in Dec when they play Carolina. I hope that Tampa should start a new traditons call the Bucs of Honor in from of the Tampa Stadium. They have something around the League, why not in Tampa. Tampa has had some great players thoughtout their short live history. How about bucs how about it a Bucs Hall of Fame for the fans to honor their own. I will be there on Carolina game if I can GO Bucs
  • avatar

    Well said Mark.
  • avatar

    Very nice Mark, we're about the same age, and I can relate 100% as that first win against the Saints (that was basically won by the Buc's D), but LeeRoy was our Babe Ruth, he was legendary before he even got in the pro's, but he started carving out his legacy right away. I remember standing in line at the Sears in the old Tampa Bay Center, which is basically their training facility now, but I asked him to make a muscle, and even though this man was the epitome of humilty and grace, he curled that arm and out busted a shotput of a bicept, their were other kids trying to wrap their hands around it, another time he and Ricky Bell were in their uniforms at a Family Mart, I believe Bell had invested in a Popeyes Chicken and I'm sure LeeRoy offered his help by standing in that hot sun for hours and greeting people, that could'nt of been easy. Even on the field, I've heard from more than one O'lineman say that he'd been beat so badly by LeeRoy, that they'd be holding on for dear life, and #63 would never pitch a fit to the ref's, there will simply never be another LeeRoy.
  • avatar

    It is always tough losing the heroes of our youth ... You told a great story in this very nicely put together tribute ... Thanks ... All of my own personal heroes died many years ago and it was and always is a major downer ... Hopefully the Buccaneers can find a way to keep the name of LEE ROY SELMON out there for many years to come as he truly deserves this. COLONEL77
  • avatar

    What a shock! 63 is gone,wow. I met Lee Roy in Sarasota at the Block & Tackle club(Bucs fan club) in 1976.Such a gentle giant and he made you feel special. Thank you Lee Roy for all you did for the bay area. I fell blessed to have meet you. As I was working around my yard this morning and listening to the re-broadcast of the Bucs total axcess radio show the week before his Ring of honor induction tears of sadness and joy were flowing for what he did for the team I love and the Tampa Bay community. Prayers go out to the Selmon family for the man we all loved so much. David Kayser Bradenton, Florida
  • avatar

    Great piece,Mark. I remember telling my elementary school classmates that I wish my name was Lee Roy...to much laughter and confusion. Perhaps it sounded a bit odd coming from a skinny blond kid living in Montana. I proudly wore his 63 faux jersey to picture day. Unlike many athletes,the more you knew of Lee Roy the better he looked and sounded. RIP, Big Fella
  • avatar

    I feel very grateful to have met Lee Roy in 1978 in the Bucs Locker Room. What an example he was for all of us to follow as the Love of God and Life surrounded him. Thank you Lee Roy for coming to Tampa Bay and sharing part of your life with many of us in this area.
  • avatar

    Awesome read bro. I remember him being drafted and then I ran out and baught the Bucs to put in our electric football league and I have been a fan ever since. lee Roy and his brother put the D on the map. I hope the young Bucs can use this as motivation to go out and kick azz all year
  • avatar

    I feel like I have lost the best friend I have never met.
  • avatar

    For some reason I can picture Tom McEwen greating No. 63 at the pearly gates saying welcome home big guy! :) John McKay will be right behind McEwen!
  • avatar

    Great story and well said Mark! i think anyone of us who are true Buc's fans are hurting big time right now! I still cannot believe No. 63 is gone, just like I will always remember where I was on 9-11 or when I heard Elvis or John Lennon died I will always remember where I was when I heard this terrible news. Lee Roy Selmon was more then just a great football player he was a man who always made you want to be a better person just by watching him. I had the honor of shaking his hand like twice and I will always remember those times as what a great man he was.
  • avatar

    Very moving tribute Mark. Thank you for sharing it with us. It is too soon for him to leave us, but heaven just got another angel.
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