Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Growing Pains

The Bucs' early struggles didn't stop Lee Roy Selmon

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Hall of Fame DE Lee Roy Selmon cherishes the lessons he learned during the tough early years of the Buccaneer franchise

By Jim Gehman, NFL Insider for NFL.com

If adversity builds character, the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers may be the most charismatic NFL squad ever to take the field.

Lee Roy Selmon, the expansion team's first draft choice and that season's top overall selection, began his pro football career with a 26-game losing streak. Yet it was an experience the defensive end always will cherish.

"Any time that you are a part of an expansion program, to be a part of the history, I thought it was a very special opportunity and just thank the good Lord for it," Selmon says. "We all were experiencing the same thing at the same time.

"It was pretty difficult. Certainly not the way that you would want to get started. Every member of the team and the coaching staff had their 'in the valley' experience going through that. I thought [head coach] John McKay painted a picture of hope for us when he said our evaluation was not going to be strictly based on wins and losses, but on improvement from week to week. So the pressure was kind of taken off somewhat, which allowed us to, after each of the losses, have hope for the next game and strive for that first victory."

That first victory came on Dec. 11, 1977 in New Orleans when Tampa Bay beat the Saints 33-14.

"It was just an unbelievable moment," Selmon says. "As soon as that last second went off the clock and we won, everybody was so ecstatic because of what we had been through getting to that point.

"To finally get that first victory was quite a relief - a lot of excitement, a lot of congratulatory hugs and pats among players and coaches. And then to be received back in the Tampa Bay area by nearly 8,000 fans certainly highlighted that victory. If there was anything similar to a Super Bowl or any type of a championship win, it was the reception we received when we arrived back in Tampa Bay."

Only two years later, behind a spectacular season by Selmon, the Buccaneers made the playoffs and advanced to the NFC Championship Game. He was named All-Pro and was selected to the first of six consecutive Pro Bowl squads.

"I think it was not so much an individual coming together as it was a team coming together," Selmon says. "I remember at the end of the '78 season, we hadn't won a lot of ball games, but we had kind of gotten a feel for what it took to be successful in the National Football League. To see all of us come together as a team and enjoy the success of 1979 was truly remarkable."

Selmon's remarkable nine-year career, which ended due to a back injury in the 1985 Pro Bowl, was recognized in 1995 when he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, an honor he says brings a feeling of meekness and humility.

For the past seven years, Selmon has been the assistant athletic director at the University of South Florida. He often reflects upon his NFL experiences when he advises student-athletes.

"I enjoy doing that very much because, having been a student-athlete myself, I value the college experience of getting a degree and the difference that makes in our lives," Selmon says. "There's a real meaning and purpose behind athletic programs on college campuses.

"I think being a former NFL player certainly helps me to encourage our student-athletes who have aspirations to enter professional sports not to be so narrowly focused. If you are fortunate enough to have a long career, you still need to be prepared for life after sports. And now is the time to get that done."

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