Lee Roy Selmon, who last November became the first person inducted into the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' new Ring of Honor at Raymond James Stadium, found it amazing that a thing so immense could happen to someone from tiny Eufaula, Oklahoma.
There is something about seeing your name permanently affixed to a famous arena that makes you contemplate your roots, apparently. It is, said Selmon, humbling.
Perhaps that's why Rich McKay brought up his father's origins on Wednesday, during a press conference revealing that former Buccaneers Head Coach John McKay would be the second inductee into the Ring of Honor. The younger McKay spoke at length about his father's career, his strengths, his demeanor and his importance to their family, but his very last words bracketed John McKay's 78 memorable years.
"I don't talk much about my dad this way but [he's the] son of a coal miner that ends up on this stadium on the wall and he's in the Coliseum," said Rich. "It's a really great achievement for him."
McKay, the Buccaneers' general manager from 1995-2003 and now president of the Atlanta Falcons, attended the press conference at One Buccaneer Place to speak on his father's behalf. John McKay died of complications from diabetes in 2001. As Rich approached the podium after an introduction from Selmon, he laid an orange-sashed golf hat by the microphone, recalling one of his father's trademarks.
The hat was a symbol of another Coach McKay trademark: his stoic calm. McKay and the young Bucs franchise endured some tough times, to which the coach often responded with biting wit. But he also was a rock for the young men who were looking to him to fashion a competitive team out of such a disadvantaged start.
The hat, right there on the podium, was solid and real. The calmness, according to Rich McKay? Not as much.
"He was a guy who acted like you thought he was really calm," said the son, recalling private moments with his father when Rich and his brother John, Jr. were still young and they were still at USC. "[But] he was nervous. He'd look at us and we were scared to death. We'd walk out and then he would put this persona on like this is no big deal. It was interesting how he was able to control his emotions that way because I saw him as a guy that definitely felt it. He was definitely nervous about it because he was a fierce competitor."
McKay had turned down several other NFL coaching opportunities during his brilliant 16-year tenure at USC, but he accepted the Buccaneers' overture because of the nature of the challenge. That fierce competitor his sons knew relished the opportunity to build a team from the ground up and compete at the highest level of the game. However, he wasn't necessarily prepared for how steep the challenge would be. It didn't take long, Rich said, for his father to realize that it was going to take a lot longer than planned to achieve his goal.
The Coach refused to give up, even though Rich said there were opportunities to leave during the early years. McKay felt an obligation to the young men he was trying to lead to better days.
"None of us knew how to play in the National Football League; we had to be taught," said Selmon. "But he was patient with us and how he built this team from the ground floor up. He set a stage where we could stay encouraged while we were going through some struggling years.
"His reputation speaks for itself. He took this team and molded us and we were able to get one game away from the Super Bowl in 1979. I think about all those things, the things that he brought to this community, and as a coach to us as players, and the difference that has made in all of our lives. I am so glad that he [took the Bucs position], because he did a marvelous job and made a big impact on this community."
McKay retired after the 1984 season, having led the Bucs to three playoff berths and two division titles - certainly more than could have been expected. He remained in Tampa afterwards and got to see his son have a big hand in rebuilding the franchise into a winner again. Though Rich looked truly touched during his speech on his father's behalf, there was little lingering sorrow over John's passing nine years earlier. Selmon, however, did wish that his former coach could have shared not only the honor of being inducted into the ring but also the specific experiences that came with it.
"The Ring of Honor is so special to me because it's created by your own, for your own," said Selmon, echoing his initial thoughts from a year ago. "This is a Tampa Bay Buccaneer recognition and I feel that when it's that way it's done by the people that know you the best, that have had a relationship with you over a long, long period of time. To me, that sets it apart from any other recognition I've ever received in my entire life. The Buccaneers really extended themselves far beyond what [my family and I] expected or could have ever dreamed of. It is the topic of many of our conversations still today - the hospitality and the kindness that was extended to each and every one of us."
McKay's posthumous induction will take place on December 5, during halftime of the Buccaneers' game against Rich McKay's Falcons. The McKay family will once again be on hand as their patriarch's name takes its place next to Selmon's on the stadium's façade. Fittingly, it will occur during the team's second Throwback Game, with the Bucs wearing the same uniforms that McKay's early teams did.
The uniforms have changed since McKay's days at the helm, as has virtually everything about the franchise. Rich McKay marveled on Wednesday at the team's state-of-the-art facility, a far cry from the One Buccaneer Place he and his father called home. If anything, the Buccaneers have grown since McKay's days, when he helped shepherd the team through its infancy. Would it have grown as quickly, or achieved such heights, without the influence of John McKay, the founding head coach and the newest member of the Ring of Honor?
"Last year we established the Buccaneers Ring of Honor at Raymond James Stadium," said Co-Chairman Bryan Glazer. "It's purpose is to recognize the individuals who have made the most significant contributions to the history of this franchise.
"We are forever grateful to Coach John McKay for his contributions to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and we look forward to making it official in December."