TAMPA — He became the face of a franchise that had no identity, bringing legitimacy long before the first victory.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers great Lee Roy Selmon had that kind of impact and commanded that level of respect, whether among his peers in the late 1970s and early '80s, or among today's players, who revere him even decades later.
The football world was saddened to learn of Selmon's death on Sunday, with reaction ranging from memories of his incredible football exploits to his well-documented compassion and gracefulness.
"From what I gather and from what I've seen of him, he changed the game," said Bucs guard Davin Joseph who, like Selmon, played for the University of Oklahoma.
"He was a Hall of Fame player and a No. 1 overall pick. But he was a great, great guy as well."
Selmon went to six Pro Bowls, is the only Buc enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and posted eye-popping numbers. He had a franchise-record 781/2 sacks, 281/2 forced fumbles and led the Bucs to a No. 1 defensive ranking in just the club's fourth season, 1979.
Tampa Bay advanced to the NFC Championship Game that season, this after beginning a combined 0-26 in its first two seasons, 1976 and 1977. Selmon helped lead the Bucs back to the playoffs in 1981 and 1982.
Other memorable Bucs would follow, but Selmon set the bar particularly high.
"He's the first of many great Buccaneers to play here," Joseph said. "He set the standard for all the greats — (Derrick) Brooks, (Mike) Alstott, Ronde (Barber), (Josh) Freeman, Warren Sapp.
"You name all those great players, and they're all special. But Mr. Selmon was the original Buccaneer."
Sapp, who soon could join Selmon in the Hall of Fame said of Selmon, via Twitter, "The greatest Buccaneer to ever wear the uniform and a better man."
Some knew Selmon's talents were uncommon long before he arrived in Tampa Bay. Former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer witnessed Selmon's destructive ability first-hand and remembers it fondly.
"When you see him make plays on film, Lee Roy Selmon would make tackles and lay people down," Switzer told the Daily Oklahoman newspaper. "Everybody else would have crumpled to the ground, and Lee Roy Selmon would still be standing up."
Rumor has it Selmon was never actually knocked off his feet while at OU. And given the way people who watched him rave, perhaps it's true.
But Selmon's legacy will be as much about his character than his talents. Bucs center Jeff Faine, in just more than three years in Tampa, has gained an appreciation for Lee Roy Selmon, the man.
"Pro athletes, because of the exposure and spotlight, are thrust into that role model position," he said. "I hope that young players se that if there was ever a good role model, it was Lee Roy Selmon."
Former Tampa Bay teammate Jimmie Giles remained close friends with Selmon until his death, sharing family vacations when their children were young.
"He was a great football player," Giles said. "That's not even an issue. But he was a great human being. I always left feeling better about myself after speaking with Lee Roy. That's how you know someone is special, because they have that kind of impact on you. When you met Lee Roy Selmon, he touched your life in some way."
Giles remembered a time when he thought Selmon might — finally — lose his cool. He was approached by a reporter who began to probe him about a rumor that his brother, Dewey, might be released by the Bucs.
"I thought that was a time where Lee Roy would just light into this reporter to defend his brother," Giles recalled. "But instead, he was just as nice as he could possibly be. He said, 'Dewey's going to be all right. Everything is going to work out and it'll be fine.' He was the same person all the time."
Said Joseph: "It just seemed like he had so much more to give. But he used his time to the fullest.
"He was a gift."