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Former Tampa Bay Buccaneer great Lee Roy Selmon showing signs of improvement

TAMPA — Lee Roy Selmon, the only Buccaneer in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, is showing some signs of improvement after suffering a stroke Friday at his Tampa home and has recognized family members, according to his brother Dewey Selmon.

But the family is awaiting the results of tests taken Saturday morning at St. Joseph's Hospital that will better define his condition, Dewey said.

"We're happy with the progress he has made,'' Dewey added. "Lee Roy is a fighter. It's just a delicate situation and we're all waiting. We really won't have an update until we get the results of a battery of tests at around 6 o'clock. That will help us know the immediate situation.''

Dewey said he was told by doctors the first 48 hours following a stroke are important and more information will be available this weekend.

Selmon, 56, has been responsive to family members, Dewey said.

"That's true. And that's the good news,'' Dewey said.

A former teammate of Selmon also said the former Buccaneer was showing signs of improvement.

David Lewis, a former teammate with the Bucs, said he visited the intensive care unit at St. Joseph's Hospital late Friday night and spoke with Selmon's son, Lee Roy Jr., who told him Selmon was able to recognize his family members and move his hand and fingers.

"The family is praying and hopeful and maintaining its faith," said Lewis, now an assistant football coach at Tampa Catholic High School. "The first 40 hours are critical.

"He has strong faith," Lewis added. "His family has a strong belief. He's a Hall of Famer in every way. He never let the franchise down. He never let the community down. He never let his fellow man down."

Lewis said numerous members of Selmon's family, including brothers Lucious and Dewey, were with him Friday night, and that he observed the scene through a window.

"It was tough seeing him in that position."

USF athletic director Doug Woolard said the Bulls would have No. 63, Selmon's jersey number, on the back of their helmets for Saturday's game against Notre Dame.

"He may be certainly one of the finest persons with the most integrity of any individual I've ever been around," said Woolard, speaking to reporters with USF President Judy Genshaft before Saturday's game. "I feel very fortunate to call him a friend and to be able to work with him side by side. I think everybody that's ever met him feels the same way."

Woolard said he called USF coach Skip Holtz on Friday afternoon to tell him Selmon had suffered a stroke, and the team was made aware last night, and that Selmon's health was part of the team's chapel service Saturday morning.

USF's football team visited the College Football Hall of Fame on Friday and saw Selmon among the honorees. With uncertainty as to the details of his health

"We're aware he's in the hospital. We know it's serious. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and we're hopeful for a full recovery," said Woolard, who spent an hour with Selmon on Thursday. "He was excited about coming here and planning on coming up (Saturday) to be a part of this. I told him I couldn't have scheduled this game without Lee Roy Selmon because we probably wouldn't have football at USF without what you did to bring football to USF."

Genshaft said Selmon has had a positive presence around not only the football team, but all of USF's student-athletes.

"He was passionate about Tampa Bay and USF. His wife worked at USF, his kids worked at USF," Genshaft said. "He is loved. He is absolutely loved. ... The fans are going to yell so loud that Lee Roy will hear them."

Bucs coach Raheem Morris said he's praying Selmon, 56, will make a full recovery and pay another visit to the Bucs soon.

"What he has meant to us has been unbelievable,'' Morris said following a special teams practice Saturday. "Three-and-13, 10-6, starting a new season — it didn't matter. Lee Roy Selmon was a constant here at Buccaneer camp. Hopefully, he'll be back here shortly, soon and we'll get him back a part of this because what he means for our community, and not only our community, but NFL history, period, is phenomenal.

"It's obvious, being the first person in the Ring of Honor. With all the rumors going around yesterday, what happened? How it happened? Everybody was just broken up. Heard he was in Oklahoma. Heard he was in Tampa. Nobody knew where he was and everybody was just worried and concerned. Thankfully, it was for the best. Thankfully, we can all pray for him and have him in our prayers and hope that everything works out.''

Morris said the quiet Selmon has always been an example for how Bucs players should give back to the community.

"He's not a big sounding board guy,'' Morris said. "He's kind of a lead by example guy. I've kind of learned that being around him. He moves in silence. He always has. He's very appreciative. He's one of the guys you want to bring your young players around and meet and see to learn how to act and how to be a professional. He's always shown that way and that's been something, too, I've leaned on very heavily. Bringing (Gerald) McCoy in here last year, it was great to have an Oklahoma Sooner meet and Oklahoma Sooner and show him how you l grow as a professional in this community and how you act in this community and how you can lead that through your community behavior. It's been good. It's been great.''

Selmon, the only Tampa Bay Buccaneer in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, suffered a stroke at his Tampa home Friday and was listed in "extremely critical condition," according to University of South Florida spokesman Michael Hoad.

News of Selmon's illness sent shockwaves throughout the nation, especially in Tampa Bay, where he is an iconic figure in football and is known for his impact in the community.

"Lee Roy is such a special person," said Rich McKay, the former Bucs general manager and current Atlanta Falcons president and CEO, whose father, John, was Selmon's first coach with the Buccaneers.

"My dad had the great fortune of coaching a lot of great players, and if he made a list, I couldn't tell you what it would look like," McKay said. "But I know not a lot of guys would be above Lee Roy. If he doesn't come out of this, I'd feel awful for his family and for those who never got to know him because he's such a special guy.''

Selmon was instrumental in bringing football to the University of South Florida and served as the school's athletic director from 2001-2004. Even the Crosstown Expressway, which runs through downtown Tampa, was renamed in his honor in 1999.

"Lee Roy arguably is maybe the most popular, credible athlete there is in the area," former Bulls coach Jim Leavitt said. "He's the one that made the call to offer me the job. There were so many things that happened with Lee Roy in (USF's) history. He cared very much for young people, about giving them the opportunity for an education. He's a special, special guy."

He helped make Tampa a better place, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said Saturday.

"In this city, more than any other athlete we've had here, Lee Roy Selmon stood above anyone," Buckhorn said.

"He is a hall of fame citizen, he has never stopped giving back and he has always taken time for the fans," Buckhorn said. "Most cities don't have an athlete like him. We are lucky that we do."

Former Mayor Dick Greco echoed those thoughts.

He said Selmon has always made time for fans, often stopping whatever he was in the middle of for an autograph. He also constantly did things for people in the community, albeit quietly and often without recognition.

"He has no ego," Greco said. "There's not a lot of people that are great sports figures that are like Lee Roy Selmon."

Linda McEwen, the wife of the late Tampa Tribune sports editor and columnist Tom McEwen, said Saturday that she's keeping Selmon in her prayers.

The last time she saw him, Selmon was giving a eulogy at her husband's funeral in June. Tom McEwen covered the Bucs when Selmon first started. He helped push for Selmon's induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Linda McEwen said.

"Tom had made it his campaign to get Lee Roy into the Hall of Fame, where he rightfully belonged," she said. "It was his privilege to back Selmon for the Hall of Fame."

There was some confusion over Selmon's condition Friday evening after the restaurant chain that bears his name issued a release indicating Selmon had died. But Selmon's brother, Dewey, told WTSP-Ch. 10 that Lee Roy is alive and in serious condition. A publicist for the restaurant later apologized via Twitter and acknowledged that the statement was issued prematurely.

"Representatives of Lee Roy Selmon's Restaurants apologize for an earlier release," said Judi Gallagher of Judi Gallagher & Associates. "We were misinformed and deeply regret the previous statement attributed to the company. Our prayers are with Lee Roy Selmon and his family."

Selmon, an All America defensive lineman at Oklahoma, was the first player selected by the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1976 NFL draft. The Bucs also drafted Dewey in the third round.

Selmon went on to become one of the NFL's most dominant players, being named to the Pro Bowl six times. And in 1979, after leading the Bucs to the NFC Championship game, Selmon was the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 1979.

Selmon retired in 1986 after missing the previous season with a herniated disc. His jersey number 63 was retired before the season opener that year.

He became the Bucs first, and only, inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995. And in 2009 he became the first player inducted into the Bucs' Ring of Honor in Raymond James Stadium.

Selmon's presence was a major force in the drive to launch USF's football program, and his efforts helped raise funds to build USF's main athletic facility, as well as the program's ambitious recent upgrades with new stadiums for baseball, softball and soccer. His son, Lee Roy Selmon Jr., played defensive tackle for the Bulls from 1999-2004.

Just last week, Selmon was recognized at USF's first Football Kickoff Dinner, which drew 450 supporters to the A La Carte Pavilion in Tampa.

"What a tremendous individual Lee Roy Selmon is," former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz said that night. "To have the chance to sit there and visit with him. You talk about class (in) the people I've been fortunate to come into contact with at South Florida."

"You always knew how he would react to every situation," said McKay. "He was going to be so appropriate and measured in his response to whatever the situation was. I feel very badly for anyone who hasn't had a chance to get to know him."

Lee Roy and his wife, Claybra, have three children: Brandy, Lee Roy Jr. and Christopher.

Times staff writers Stephen F. Holder, Greg Auman, Eduardo Encina and Shelley Rossetter contributed to this report.

Selmon's football career at a glance

1954: Born Oct. 20

in Eufaula, Okla.

1976: First player selected

by the Tampa Bay Bucs.

1979: Named AP defensive

player of the year.

1986: Retired after nine NFL seasons. Jersey number (63) retired.

1988: Inducted into National

Football Foundation's College Hall of Fame.

1993: Named associate athletic director at the University of South Florida. Led school's effort to

create football program.

1995: Becomes first Bucs player to be voted into Pro Football Hall of Fame.

2009: Inducted into Bucs'

Ring of Honor.

Former Tampa Bay Buccaneer great Lee Roy Selmon showing signs of improvement 09/03/11 [Last modified: Saturday, September 3, 2011 5:29pm]

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