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Tampa Bay Buccaneers could learn from all-time great Lee Roy Selmon

Okay, here's the plan.

Early today, we sneak him into the stadium. We give him a familiar orange jersey and a set of shoulder pads, and we hand him the old helmet with a winking pirate on the side. We hand him a picture of Aaron Rodgers and try to convince him it's Ron Jaworski.

And then we turn Lee Roy Selmon, No. 63 again, loose on the Green Bay Packers.

"No, no, no, no," Selmon says, laughter interrupting every word of his protest. "There are other things in life. These days, going to a movie is pretty good."

Tough, you tell him. He's starting at right defensive end today. Even now, even with Selmon at age 55, do you doubt he would be the Bucs' best pass rusher? Even now, even when he has been away from the game for a quarter of a century, don't you think he has to have one game left in him?

"I could rush with my cane," he says, laughing so hard you think he might fall out of his chair. "I'd beat them with my cane."

Fine. Selmon doesn't use a cane, but whatever it takes. By golly, the Bucs need Selmon out there. They need his perspective. They need his professionalism. They need his quiet perseverance.

Most of all, they need directions away from 0-7.

Officially, of course, Selmon will be at today's game to grip, to grin and to be inducted into the team's Ring of Honor. It sounds like a nice little ceremony, especially on a day the Bucs will break out their old pumpkin-colored jerseys.

But is it enough? Couldn't the Bucs use a dash of Lee Roy?

On a day the Bucs remember Lee Roy, it should be pointed out that Lee Roy remembers, too. To this day, Selmon can tell you how good it felt to run out of the tunnel and onto the field. How it felt to make a big play and see the reaction of teammates. How it felt to hear the roar of the crowd.

Also, he remembers losing. A lot of losing.

Frankly, today's winless Bucs have nothing on Lee Roy.

"Yeah, I can relate to them," Selmon says. "I was out watching them in training camp, knowing they went through an offseason program preparing to win, not to expect the losses they've had. I know it begins to wear on you a little. That's the first thought. It's not a lot of fun right now. But you can't go back and redo it.

"My second thought is that the only way you get out of it is you have to have a positive outlook to work. You still have to do that week of work. You have to do the film study, even harder if possible, to get ready for the next opportunity. That's how I looked at it. It's another chance. It's an attitude-type thing. You have to hold on. It tests your character. It shows you what's inside of you. You have to deal with it."

Even for a quiet, gentle man such as Selmon, that was always the hardest part. Consider Selmon at 22. In high school, he lost only a handful of times. At Oklahoma, his teams went 32-1-1 with two national titles.

Then he came to Tampa, and in his first 26 play-for-pay games, his team lost.

"It wasn't easy," Selmon says. "It was difficult. But what I remember most was having a Council Rudolph, a Pat Toomay there to pick you up when they sensed you were a little down and out about it.

"It happened at different times in those 26 games. Every player felt it. Part of it was that there were times you looked at a team on film and you said, 'We match up so well against this team.' You really believed it was going to be the one. It was going to be the first regular-season win of the Bucs. It's going to happen today.

"And then you go in and play hard and lose by three. Not only did the loss hurt, but you had built up in your mind this was going to be the one. You're so deflated. My wife would know when I was down. I wouldn't talk a lot. That's when my brother (Dewey) or another veteran player would say, 'Come on, we've got to keep putting in the effort.'?"

If winning came slowly to the Bucs, however, Lee Roy arrived in a hurry. Former Bucs assistant coach Wayne Fontes remembers that, before Selmon's first practice, defensive coordinator Abe Gibron noticed that, at 260 pounds, Selmon was kind of small to play defensive end.

"Then he practiced," Fontes remembers. "And Abe was like, 'Wow. We have something special here. No one has anyone like this guy.' That was after one practice."

Since then, so much time has passed so quickly, and a new generation of fans has come along, and you wonder what percentage of Bucs followers even saw Selmon play. He played only 121 games. Part of the reason, former teammate Richard Wood believes, is that the Bucs defense had to play so many snaps in the early days.

"Some days, it was like we played two games," Wood says. "And I still never heard Lee Roy say anything stronger than 'heck.' That was his curse word."

It was all of the losing, Selmon admits, that made 1979 such a rewarding season. The winning started, and the jokes stopped.

In some ways, that was the Bucs team that time forgot. There was so much losing from 1984 to 1995 that fans stopped remembering most of their history. But that '79 team, with Lee Roy and Dewey Selmon and Doug Williams and Ricky Bell and Jimmie Giles and Wood and Mark Cotney and David Lewis, was outstanding. A franchise that had won seven games in three years won 10, and it found its way to the NFC title game.

"There was such a focus on that team," Selmon remembers. "Instead of being the punch line on Johnny Carson, we were the little Cinderella team down in Tampa Bay."

Success never lasts, however. Selmon was done by 1985. Back surgery might have allowed him to squeeze another year or two out of his career, but Selmon had entered the NFL with a plan. He wanted to accomplish more than what football has to offer. And so he left, refusing to be one of those players who bounces around to squeeze out an extra season.

"No regrets," Selmon says. "I appreciated the game, and I wanted to play it with my best effort, but I didn't want it to define my life. I believed there was more to it than football. It was an important part of it, but I wasn't consumed by it. I always knew there was going to be more to life when retirement came."

These days, a lot of the old trophies are boxed away. There are a few displayed, he says, but he isn't one to stand and admire what he did. "I don't live in the past," he says.

Still, he had some days. There are film clips of him knocking one blocker into another, both of them falling backward into the quarterback. Once, he leaped to block a Jaworski pass then fell on him like a man leaping off a building. He was fast, and he was relentless.

And still, he remained humble. Even now, Selmon will look you in the eye and say with a straight face, "There is nothing special about Lee Roy Selmon."

You tell him he's going to have a hard time convincing other people of that. But here's the darndest thing. Selmon believes it. After all the awards, after all the admiration, the person impressed the least by Lee Roy is Lee Roy.

Today, he is inducted into the Bucs' Ring of Honor. Hey, he has been honored before. The Outland. The Lombardi. The NFC defensive player of the year. The College Football Hall of Fame. The Pro Football Hall of Fame.

This one is special, too. It blends in a '79 team that isn't nearly as appreciated as it should be, and a '76 team and the '09 team. Selmon will talk for five minutes about how good it is, even in orange jerseys. "I like Creamsicles," he says.

Then Selmon tells you a secret. As much as being the first name in the Bucs' Ring of Honor means to him, he swears he would yield the honor to someone else if it meant his Bucs could win a game. Williams, for instance.

That would be cool, too, of course. Except there is a problem.

If Selmon is going to play defensive end, doesn't Williams have to line up at quarterback?

Next in line

Who should be the next former Buc in the team's Ring of Honor? One man's suggestions:

1. Derrick Brooks. Provided Brooks isn't still trying to play, he'd blend the early years and the glory years perfectly.

2. Doug Williams. The statistics will never tell the story of Williams' impact. When he came, the winning started. When he left, it stopped.

3. Warren Sapp. Say what you want about Sapp. He redefined the position of defensive tackle when he was in Tampa Bay.

4. Paul Gruber. The most unappreciated Buc of them all. Finally, he should get recognition.

5. John Lynch. A smart, aggressive safety who tackled like a linebacker. Ask Barry Sanders.

The next five: 6. Hardy Nickerson; 7. Mike Alstott; 8. Ricky Bell; 9. Ronde Barber; 10. James Wilder

Tampa Bay Buccaneers could learn from all-time great Lee Roy Selmon 11/07/09 [Last modified: Saturday, November 7, 2009 8:19pm]
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