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Selmon’s impact on community still felt 40 years after draft


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Lee Roy Selmon, photo at left, was the first player ever drafted by the Bucs in 1976. By 1999, the Crosstown Expressway in Tampa had been renamed after Selmon. And after he was AD at South Florida, the school named the athletic center after him. TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO
Lee Roy Selmon, photo at left, was the first player ever drafted by the Bucs in 1976. By 1999, the Crosstown Expressway in Tampa had been renamed after Selmon. And after he was AD at South Florida, the school named the athletic center after him. TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO
Published: April 23, 2016
Updated: April 23, 2016 at 07:42 AM

TAMPA — Forty years ago — before the league staged a combine, before around-the-clock analysis, even before the birth of ESPN — the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers rather quietly made the franchise’s first selection in the NFL draft.

The Bucs picked Lee Roy Selmon, a defensive lineman from the University of Oklahoma.

“It was not a difficult decision,” said Ron Wolf, who was the franchise’s vice president of football operations. “The Oklahoma people spoke of him with a certain awe. We felt he would have an impact.”

He did — and in ways no one could have imagined.

 

Selmon displayed a dazzling package of strength and speed, helping the fast-moving franchise to the brink of Super Bowl XIV in only its fourth season, eventually earning induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, although injuries shortened his career to just nine years.

Four decades later, even after his tragic death in 2011 at age 56, he continues to influence the Tampa Bay area.

Thursday night, the Bucs will again be on the draft clock. As always, they will seek a talented athlete, a self-motivated leader, a high-character representative of the franchise. In each category, Selmon set the standard.

“I never got to meet him, and I will always regret that,” said University of South Florida football coach Willie Taggart, who was hired in 2012. “I do feel his spirit. I wake up every day, come to work and try to do something that emulates what he did. The Selmon name is gold.”

To some, the Selmon name means USF football. When he joined the school’s athletic staff, the program essentially became reality. He served as fundraiser, adviser and athletic director. His calm, reasoned guidance was credited as a major reason for USF’s acceptance into the Big East Conference. The school’s athletic facility is named for him. Hundreds of athletes benefit from a cutting-edge mentoring program that was his brainchild.

To others, the Selmon name means a restaurant. The Lee Roy Selmon’s barbecue chain opened its first location in 2000. By design, it has a down-home feel. Selmon wanted to replicate the food and hospitality offered by his mother in Eufaula, Oklahoma.

And to thousands of commuters each day, the Selmon name means a road. The Lee Roy Selmon Expressway, the former Crosstown Expressway that was renamed in 1999, connects South Tampa and the MacDill Air Force Base area with downtown Tampa while continuing into Brandon. Selmon often joked he never profited from the tolls while saying he had nightmares about receiving a ticket on the highway named for him.

“When the Bucs drafted Lee Roy Selmon, just think of the influence that one act had on our city,” former Tampa mayor **** Greco said. “It made his teammates into better people. Of course, it ultimately helped make the Bucs into a playoff-type team. It provided one of the greatest citizens we’ve ever had around here.

“Most of all, we got a role model for our young people. The best role model, in my view.”

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