Lee Roy Selmon's name is written in huge letters on the façade at Raymond James Stadium, but more importantly it is written in the hearts of every member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers family.
Those hearts are in mourning today. The greatest Buccaneer of all-time passed away on Sunday, two days after suffering a stroke. He was 56 years old.
Members of the Glazer family had formed close friendships with Selmon since becoming owners of the Buccaneers in 1995. The family released this statement regarding his death:
"Tampa Bay has lost another giant. This is an incredibly somber day for Buccaneer fans, Sooner fans, and all football fans. Lee Roy's standing as the first Buc in the Hall of Fame surely distinguished him, but his stature off the field as the consummate gentleman put him in another stratosphere. Put simply, he was first class. He was the real deal. We are so blessed to have known this fine man and to have called him one of our own, yet so sad to have lost him so soon. Our hearts go out to the Selmon family at this time of their loss."
Selmon's death adds a very unwelcome date to a timeline that includes some of the most important moments in Buccaneers franchise history.
On April 8, 1976, the expansion Buccaneers made Selmon the first pick in the NFL Draft and the first college player ever drafted by the team. On December 20, 1979, Selmon was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, still one of the top individual honors ever won by a Tampa Bay player. On January 29, 1980, Selmon started an amazing run of six straight Pro Bowl appearances. On September 7, 1986, Selmon's #63 jersey became the first – and still the only – number ever retired by the Buccaneers. On July 29, 1995, Selmon became the first Tampa Bay player ever inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame; he remains the only player in the Hall who spent all or most of his career as a Buccaneer. On November 8, 2009, Selmon saw his name go up on the stadium as the first player inducted into the Buccaneers' prestigious new Ring of Honor.
Selmon was born in Eufaula, Oklahoma on October 20, 1954. The youngest of nine children (six boys, three girls) raised by Lucious and Jessie Selmon in Eufaula, Lee Roy eventually played football for the University of Oklahoma alongside two of his brothers, Dewey and Lucious. The Buccaneers drafted both Lee Roy and Dewey in 1976 and the two were teammates in Tampa from 1976-80. Lee Roy married the former Claybra Fields in 1977 and the couple raised three children, Brandy, Lee Roy, Jr. and Christopher.
Selmon was a standout on and off the field from an early age. He was a National Honor Society Member at Eufaula High School, and he helped lead the Sooners to consecutive national championships. He won the Outland Trophy, the Vince Lombardi Award and three All-American honors and also graduated from Oklahoma with a degree in special education.
As a player, Selmon was everything the Bucs could have hoped for with the first pick in 1976, and much more. He remains the franchise's all-time leader in both sacks (78.5) and forced fumbles (28.5) and he racked up 742 tackles in 121 career games. He was the centerpiece of a defense that, remarkably, rose to #1 in the NFL's rankings in just the fourth year of the Buccaneers' existence, leading the team to its first playoff berth in 1979. Those young Bucs shocked the NFL by advancing all the way to the NFC Championship Game in '79, and Selmon led them back to the postseason again in 1981 and 1982. He accounted for six of the franchise' first 14 Pro Bowl berths and still ranks tied for third in that category in Buccaneer annals.
Still, all of that paled in comparison to the accomplishments that sprung from his enduringly strong character. While playing, he was a perennial contender for the NFL Man of the Year and Byron "Whizzer" White awards, both of which recognize a player's humanitarian service. After his retirement in 1985, Selmon remained in Tampa, working as a bank executive, and continued to impact the community in countless ways. In 2001, Selmon became the Athletic Director at the University of South Florida, beginning an ultimately successful effort to create a football program at the school. That program has since risen to national prominence.
There are many reminders of Selmon's impact throughout the Bay area. In 1999, the former Southern Crosstown Expressway was renamed the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway in his honor. In 2000, he opened the first Lee Roy Selmon's Restaurant in Tampa, which would grow into a chain that in 2009 was named one of the 10 best sports bars in America.
Selmon's name on Raymond James Stadium will also serve as a permanent reminder of his greatness, both on the field as a Buccaneer and in the community before, during and after his playing career. It is doubtful, however, that any Tampa Bay fan or any member of the Buccaneers family would ever truly need such a reminder, as Selmon's legacy is simply unforgettable.
Lee Roy Selmon touched countless lives in and out of the Bay area during his 56 years. If you would like to join the Buccaneers in celebrating the legacy of "The Original Buccaneer," please visit the team's official Facebook page and share your thoughts in the comment section. If you have any favorite photos of Selmon you would like to share on the Bucs' Facebook page, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.