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Downtown Tampa statue honoring Lee Roy Selmon is about more than just football

The 8-foot statue of the Bucs’ Hall of Famer, USF athletic director, businessman and philanthropist is unveiled Friday morning.

TAMPA — Statues honoring football heroes are usually erected outside stadiums, and no one is more deserving of being bronzed in front of Raymond James Stadium than Lee Roy Selmon.

That a statue of the Bucs’ Hall of Fame defensive end was unveiled Friday in downtown Tampa — far away from the stadium and from USF, where as athletic director he built the football program — pays true homage to the man’s contributions beyond football.

The 8-foot cast bronze statue, at the corner of S Florida Avenue and E Brorein Street in the shadow of the Selmon Expressway, says enough in its design. Selmon isn’t in full uniform; he’s not even wearing a helmet. He isn’t depicted bearing down on a quarterback.

Selmon is wearing his retired No. 63 Bucs jersey over a collared dress shirt. He has on business slacks and dress shoes. His right hand is on his hip, a mannerism familiar to those who were close to him. His left hand is giving USF’s “Go Bulls” horn salute.

Selmon has a watch on his left wrist and is wearing his wedding ring. But most recognizable might be the smile.

“We wanted his characteristic smile,” said sculptor Joel Randell, who is from Selmon’s native Oklahoma, “because he has such a warm heart and a warm expression. In his bust of himself in the football Hall of Fame, he has a serious look. To do something that was a little different to show who he was off the field, because I know he was a tough guy on the football field, we incorporated that.”

The new Lee Roy Selmon statue at the corner of E, Brorein St. and Florida Ave. in downtown Tampa on June 7, 2019. (DIRK SHADD | Times)

Selmon was the first draft pick in Bucs history in 1976 and became the franchise’s first Hall of Fame player. He helped carry USF’s football program from a pipe dream to reality, among other significant impacts he made on the school. He owned a chain of popular barbecue restaurants that bore his name and was heavily involved in the Tampa Bay community.

Before the statue was unveiled, speakers shared their memories of Selmon. Many became choked up, even nearly eight years after his death at 56 following a stroke.

“He’s been gone for a while and still making guys cry,” said Bucs chief operating officer Brian Ford, one of the speakers who caught himself fighting back tears.

After that, Selmon’s widow, Claybra, helped pull back a sheet revealing the statue.

“It’s definitely fitting in so many aspects,” said Selmon’s older brother, Dewey, who played beside Lee Roy with the Bucs. “Sports was a part of him, but when Sunday afternoon was over, there was the rest of the week. And there were more people and situations and services to do. I think he did more off the field than he did on it.

“All the stories I heard today, they weren’t exactly football stories. They were relationship stories. The fact that this (status) is downtown, around green space, a place to reflect, sounds like it’s fitting.”

The new Lee Roy Selmon statue at the corner of E, Brorein St. and Florida Ave. in downtown Tampa on June 7, 2019. (DIRK SHADD | Times)

The statue was funded by the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority, part of its $4.9 million Selmon Greenway project, which has built a 1.7-mile multiuse trail that goes from the Tampa Riverwalk south through the Channelside District to Ybor City, keeping pedestrians and bikers out of the traffic flow.

When the Crosstown Expressway was renamed after Selmon in 1999 and converted to electronic tolling, he served as a spokesman for the authority. Instead of seeking compensation for his service, he asked the authority to create a scholarship program for local kids interested in science, technology, engineering and math studies.

“The one thing I didn’t want is I didn’t want (the statue) to be about football,” said Robert Frey, director of planning and innovation for the authority. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m as big a football fan as anybody, but what the gentleman represented and the things he did outside of football to help the community and help people, in my opinion, that far and away outvalued anything he did on the gridiron.

“We wanted it to reflect what he really meant to the community and to developing young people to become better people.”

Statues are a way of carrying on legacies to future generations. Selmon’s stands along a busy city intersection near the Riverwalk, the convention center and Amalie Arena that draws its share of foot traffic.

That brings us back to Raymond James Stadium. Outside the Browns’ stadium in Cleveland, a statue of Jim Brown stands. Johnny Unitas is bronzed outside M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. Statues of Dan Marino and Peyton Manning have been erected outside the stadiums where the Dolphins and Colts play, respectively.

Should there be a statue for Selmon one day outside Raymond James Stadium, home of the Bucs and Bulls?

“We’ve talked about it,” Ford said. “There could be some things in the works. We’re not there yet. But absolutely. He’s a part of our organization, and he’s the ultimate role model, not only in the locker room but how he got involved in the community when he was a player.

“I talk about his legacy to rookies today. Everybody knows who Lee Roy Selmon is. When you become a Buccaneer, you hear the story about Lee Roy Selmon whether you plan it or not. There’s not many players like that. It’s ingrained from Day 1.”

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at Follow @EddieInTheYard.