Lee Roy Selmon – Photo: Getty Images
Five years ago Bucs legend Lee Roy Selmon passed away from complications due to a stroke. Here is a column PewterReport.com’s Mark Cook wrote back then about his memories of the Gentle Giant.
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. Cedric Brown returned an interception for the Bucs only score that day. Every detail is burned in my memory. A father and son moment that will never be taken away.
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.
Photo: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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.
Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, surfing and family time at the beach. In addition, Cook can be found in front of a television or in Doak Campbell any time the FSU Seminoles are playing. Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at [email protected]
A true gentleman and a wonderful representative of the Buccaneers and the Tampa area.
Lee Roy Selmon remains the greatest Buccaneer. He WAS the Bucs in their early years and played hard every down, win or lose. He embodied the word class and represented the entire Tampa Bay area in a way that made us all proud.
I know you know this Mark, but long time Buccaneer fans would give their eye tooth for having not only met the man, but for being able to talk to him and have him tell you his story. I was at that game when he was the first Buccaneer inducted into the Ring of Honor and was also proud to be there and to be able to thank him in some small way. Lee Roy was the only Buccaneer in the NFL Hall of Fame for many year, our first player to make it. No Buccaneer player will ever be better than Lee Roy Selmon.
Thanks and a hat tip for this story, for this reminder of Lee Roy’s legend here.
Thanks Mark. i just had to wipe my eyes. Lee Roy was such a humble person. Many of us have stories about him and I have told mine before so no need to tell it again. I am grateful Lee Roy Selmon is one of my heroes and an inspiration for me and many others. In my opinion he is still the best player to ever put on a Buc uniform. From the get go he was doubled and tribled teamed. Go Bucs!
Appreciate it Horse. We were blessed to see such a talent play in person.
Thank you Mark. We’re the same age (only four days a part) and it was like I was writing the article myself. Our experience was almost exactly as mine, I even watched the Eagle playoff game at my grandmother’s where I saw my uncle on national television smack dab in the middle of the screen, screaming at the camera with all the other fans in a sea of orange. I actually ready read pieces of your article to my wife because I talk about Lee Roy. Even though we live in South Florida, we purchased Season Tickets (our first time)…had a hunch Winston was going to make the Bucs fun again. The point is she lets me talk about Lee Roy all the time, I always tell her I wish I had a chance to meet him in person because every time you saw or heard about him, you would hear nothing but great things. Thanks again for taking us back and remembering Lee Roy!!
Thanks so much Keith. Means a lot my friend.
The greatest Buccaneer indeed. Also, the original Buccaneer. I still can’t believe he’s gone.
Mark: Always great to read a story about #63. As I type this, right behind me is a bit of a Lee Roy Selmon shrine in my Bucs Den. There is a hand painted (by my talented son in law) football of Lee Roy who personally autographed it for me after he made the Hall of Fame. On the wall beside it s a photograph (also autographed) of a much thinner Scubog standing next to Lee Roy in his home that was taken back in 1985 when I had a chance to do some work for him. I have the book Gentle Giants, written by Lee Roy’s mother in law about all three of the brothers. It is autographed by both Lee Roy and brother Dewey. I have the “Thank you Mr. & Mrs Selmon” bumper sticker. I have an autographed Hall of Fame Game program. Of course, I have loads of newspaper articles and photographs of the greatest Buccaneer. But the real memorabilia is what is in my memories. As great as Lee Roy was, he had no ego. He treated everyone like he was fortunate to meet them not the other way around. I was thrilled that he remembered me each time we would meet.
As I was doing the work mentioned above, Training Camp was about to begin. Of course I asked Lee Roy if he was looking forward to new Coach Bennett. He then revealed to me that his “season was in jeopardy” because of a back injury he suffered at the Pro Bowl. This was not common knowledge. He also told me he would not have surgery due to his fear of anesthesia. I was shocked. He never played again.
Always grateful that Lee Roy and his family remained in the area and became an even more important part of our community. For those of you who were too young to see #63. He was an absolute terror as a 3-4 defensive end who barely weighed 250 even though he was listed at 260. He was lightning quick off the edge like Simeon Rice and would help the QB up like Gerald McCoy. I often wondered just how good Lee Roy would be if he ever got Sapp’s attitude.
Thank goodness we won that coin flip with Seattle. Rest in peace Lee Roy. We’re still thinking about you.
Sincere, heartfelt and well written. Wonderful memories. Thank you for sharing.
In 1977 when the Bucs entertained walk on try outs I was invited back for the second day of practice. They gave me a funky set a pads and told me to block. Trying out for center or guard. On the third practice play out of nowhere came a blur and I was knocked into next week looking out of the ear hole of my helmet.
Next this big ass hand grabbed my arm and yanked me to my feet. Leroy said to me “that was half speed kid” yanked my helmet off and swatted my head, softly.
McKay immediately yelled “get that guy off the field before he gets killed”.
That was the last time I ever put a pair of pads on.
Leroy Selmon was a true man among men. Years later I went to a grand opening of one of his restaurants just to see the man. Amazingly he said he hoped he didn’t hurt me that day. He remembered me after at least 20 years. What a great dude he was.
Wow!! You guys have some great stories! Thank you and Mark for sharing!
The greatest of players, a gentleman, and a gentle man. Much like Sweetness, he advanced the cause of integration by his humanity. He and Walter Payton were the best mankind had to offer. The one shortcoming of Warren Sapp was that he failed to follow their example. Sad, just sad.
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