One year later, Lee Roy Selmon's absence still felt

The Bulls put a No. 63 sticker on their helmets as a tribute to Selmon. That is the only number retired by the Bucs.
The Bulls put a No. 63 sticker on their helmets as a tribute to Selmon. That is the only number retired by the Bucs.
Published Sept. 4, 2012

TAMPA — As a man who left his mark all over the city, Lee Roy Selmon's presence is still easy to find on the one-year anniversary of his death.

In life, of course, Selmon could drive on the road bearing his name, could enjoy a meal in his restaurant namesakes; in memory, his name is even more present, attached to banking centers and the main athletic facility at USF. His legacy is everywhere.

"God has done a great job of bringing us peace," his son, former USF football player Lee Roy Selmon Jr., said Saturday after a day at Busch Gardens with his daughter, Leah, who turns 6 this week. "We've been able to find joy, just knowing he's in a better place. … He left his footprints on this community, touched a lot of people. It's even more of a blessing to see his legacy live on in the Tampa Bay area."

That may be strongest at USF, where Selmon served as athletic director and current student-athletes knew him as a daily presence in the building that now carries his name. A plaque outside the main entrance pays tribute to Selmon as "an enduring example of integrity, academic excellence, compassion, competitiveness and commitment to young people," and those sentiments live on.

"Having somebody like that on your side is amazing," senior running back Demetris Murray said. "He was the true epitome of being a Bull. He came here every day, had a smile on his face and loved what he did. It's really heavy on our hearts this week, knowing it's been a year already. I know a lot of guys will play with that on their minds. We want to put it all on the line, like he did every day for the USF family."

Selmon's death, at age 56 after suffering a stroke in his Tampa home, came last year on the night before USF opened its football season with a win at Notre Dame, and the Bulls wore decals on their helmets last year with the initials and number — LRS 63 — of the man who played a central role in bringing football to USF.

Football coach Skip Holtz remembers less than two weeks before Selmon died, when he and his father, legendary coach Lou Holtz, sat with him at USF's preseason kickoff dinner. After the meal, he and his dad talked a good 20 minutes about how special Selmon was and what a blessing it was to have him a part of the Bulls' athletic program.

"He has made an impact on our players, on their lives," Holtz said. "I think Lee Roy had an impact on anybody he had the opportunity to interact with. There are a lot of memories. I remember his smiling face, his gentle spirit, just the way he interacted with people. I miss having the opportunity to just go down to his office and sit and talk."

The beauty of it was you didn't have to be the football coach to command Selmon's attention; for countless athletes, what might have been a walk-by brush with a legend turned into a full conversation with a man who took time to listen to today's athletes, to offer warm encouragement, and at times, even envy their youth.

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Bulls defensive end Ryne Giddins, who grew up locally and knew well of Selmon's playing career, remembers one USF practice when he saw Selmon, a regular visitor on the sideline, approached him after a drill.

"He came up to me one time and said, 'I wish I was like you,' " Giddins said. "I was like, 'What? I wish I was like you!' I'm grateful to have the opportunity to see him and talk with him while he was here. Knowing someone of that caliber can come down and talk to us, it's amazing."

Selmon, the only Bucs player in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, is also a member of the Bucs' Ring of Honor. His impact on the only team he played for remains strong, as seen in another generation of Bucs players trying to follow his lead.

"When he pops into your head, you try and think of football, but it's hard because he was such a great person and was so much more than that," said Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who followed Selmon's football path from Oklahoma to Tampa Bay. "He was just so nice when you met him. I just really try to remember the things that he taught me and always use those things in my life. It doesn't feel like a year."

On Saturday, for the first time, the chain of restaurants bearing his name will open a new location, its eighth, without his smiling presence at its Brandon location. And while Selmon's enthusiasm and personality are sorely missed, his spirit is still there, in much more than just the menu.

"I do think of Lee Roy every day," said Outback Steakhouse co-founder Chris Sullivan, a restaurant partner of Selmon's. "He was such an inspirational, wonderful human being. We felt very strongly that Lee Roy's legacy, because of who he was, would remain strong in this community for a long time.

"We feel like we can celebrate Lee Roy's life and legend by continuing to operate and open Lee Roy Selmon's restaurants. We're proud to be associated with Lee Roy and his family, and we'll continue to honor him that way."