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Lee Roy Selmon: The Greatest Buc Ever

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The late Lee Roy Selmon was the inaugural player chosen by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1976 and was also the first-ever Buccaneer to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images.
The late Lee Roy Selmon was the inaugural player chosen by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1976 and was also the first-ever Buccaneer to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images.

Few names resonate through the fan base of an NFL franchise like that of Lee Roy Selmon, a defensive monster born and raised on a farm in Eufaula, Oklahoma, who became the first-ever pick of the newly established Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The year was 1976 and Selmon was a star member of the two-time national champion Oklahoma Sooners.

Having already earned the nickname “The Gentle Giant," Selmon instantly became the gold standard of how every member of the Buccaneers franchise would be judged in the future. However, it was not his talent on the field by which he earned respect, but in the manner he handled defeat. As a member of the Sooners, Selmon had become accustomed to winning as well as being a champion. But as the headliner of the Bucs, Selmon found out firsthand what it was like to be a laughing stock of an entire league as the team quickly became the face of futility.

From the opening kickoff of the 1976 NFL season through the bulk of the following year, Tampa Bay lost its first 26 games – a staggering statistic to this day. In fact, it was not until the 1979 season that the Bucs finally tasted success with a 10-6 record and a run to the NFC Championship Game. Although they would go on to have winning seasons in 1981 and 1982, the 1979 season marked the deepest Selmon and the Bucs would ever travel into the NFL postseason.

By the time a serious back injury forced him to leave the game he so loved in 1984, Selmon was a six-time Pro Bowler, the 1979 Defensive Player of the Year and was voted to the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team. He finished his career with 742 tackles, 78.5 sacks and 28.5 fumbles forced. Two years later in 1986, the Buccaneers retired his No. 63, another first for the much-maligned franchise. In 1988, Selmon was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and in 1995, he became the first member of the Bucs to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

The first jersey this writer owned was Selmon’s No. 63 and 19 years after he signed that same jersey, I found myself under his leadership as a member of the University of South Florida Athletic Department. From 2001-04, he served as the school’s athletic director and I will never forget how kind, patient and understanding the once feared defensive lineman was on a daily basis.

The same man who terrorized quarterbacks for nine seasons in the NFL was indeed a “Gentle Giant” off the gridiron. And in the summer of 2013, he will be joined in the NFL Hall of Fame by fellow Buccaneer defensive lineman Warren Sapp. Selmon was the epitome of a class act as a player, husband, father, administrator and mentor. May he rest in peace.