TAMPA - Everywhere, there are reminders of the late Lee Roy Selmon, the first Tampa Bay Buccaneer inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His name, Tampa's version of royalty, is attached to an expressway renamed in his honor. It's on the marquee at a popular chain of barbecue restaurants. The University of South Florida's athletics center was dedicated to him. "If you look at the known quantities around this town - the brands, if you will - there are very few who had the name identification of Lee Roy," Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. "But more importantly, as somebody who lives and dies by public impressions, nobody was held in as high regard as Lee Roy Selmon. I didn't know anybody who ever had a bad word to say about him. That's rare." Rarer still: Selmon's football ability is only part of his legacy. When Selmon died at age 56 after suffering a massive stroke in 2011, it was more than the passing of a remarkable athlete.
"If you had the chance to meet Lee Roy Selmon, he changed your life," former Bucs tight end Jimmie Giles said. Warren Sapp, drafted nearly four months before Selmon's Hall of Fame induction in 1995, became the modern face of Tampa Bay's franchise and a symbol of its ascension to Super Bowl greatness. But Selmon set the tone for Tampa Bay's fledgling expansion franchise, which made him the No. 1 overall draft pick in 1976. Two years after enduring an unthinkable 26-game losing streak, the Bucs were 10 points away from reaching the Super Bowl. Selmon, a relentless pass-rushing defensive end who also played the run effectively, set the franchise's career record for sacks (78.5). He was named to the Pro Bowl six times. In 1979, he was voted NFL Defensive Player of the Year, leading the league's No. 1-ranked defense. Due to a herniated disc in his back, Selmon retired from the NFL after nine seasons, a few months before his 32nd birthday. At halftime of the 1986 opening game, Selmon's No. 63 jersey was retired. "Whenever I want to feel good, I think about Lee Roy Selmon," former Bucs coach John McKay once said. That sentiment was shared throughout Tampa Bay's locker room. "I remember playing against Walter Payton and we were talking at each other the whole game," former Bucs linebacker David Lewis said. "He'd say, 'Hey, Lew, Lee Roy has got to be the nicest defensive player I've seen in my entire life. Nobody else plays football as nice as he does.' "I'd say, 'What? He didn't hit you that hard?' He'd say, 'He knocked the hell out of me. Then he helped me up! I've never seen a player like that.'" Bucs quarterback Doug Williams, after taking a pounding, looked on in amazement when Selmon had chances to level the opposing quarterback. No one was looking. But Selmon usually opted to just push him over. "I remember saying, 'Lee Roy, why don't you clobber that guy?'" Williams said. "He'd always give me that shrug and and just say, 'Come on, guy.'" Selmon's version of rage once was displayed at Dallas, where he was grabbed by the legs and literally tackled by his blocker. The official did nothing. Selmon sprang up and shouted: "Heck! Heck! Dang! Dang!" "When you draw it up, Lee Roy is every bit of the person that the first pick in the draft should be," said Ron Wolf, who was the franchise's vice president of football operations in 1976. "To this day, that's still true. I'm not sure if there has ever been a better first pick in the draft. "He was a Hall of Fame player - and a Hall of Fame person." It's time for Selmon to make some room in Canton. He will always be the first Buc enshrined. But now he has company. firstname.lastname@example.org (813) 259-7353 Twitter: @JJohnstonTBO