Conversation with an Unassuming Legend

Like everyone in the Tampa Bay area, I was completely shocked at the news of NFL Hall-of-Famer Lee Roy Selmon suffering a stroke late last week and his unexpected death just a few days later.

As a sportsfan, I was sorry to see someone so young and vibrant leave us so soon and felt such sadness for his family and friends who knew him better than any of us. As a member of the community, I felt a deep loss for the region that had come to look up to Selmon, as a neighbor, philanthropist and role model. To the athletes and colleagues at USF as well as team members across Selmon’s restaurant enterprises and community involvement, I extend sincere condolences to those who had the privilege of working closely with a man who many of us respected and admired but from afar.

But about seven weeks ago, I had the distinct honor of changing that status when I was given an opportunity to meet the football legend in person to interview for a feature on his work with Lee Roy Selmon’s restaurants and in the community.  Our story published on Thursday, Sept. 1, the very day that news spread across the area that Selmon had suffered a stroke.

I am sharing with you here a link to that story about his work as a business man and neighbor in the Bay area featured in the September edition of Destination Tampa Bay. Many great journalists and sports columnists in the area have produced in-depth profiles and special features on the man, much more profound than my little business story, and there were some beautiful tributes to him this weekend in both the Tampa Tribune and St. Pete Times. This story was just one of many that he did with local and national writers and broadcasters, but for me personally, I look to it now with gratitude – that I even had the opportunity to meet him. And I wanted to share his words and what others said about him in this time of loss and mourning, because it was such a recent conversation shared.

I’ve been fortunate and gotten an opportunity to interview other past and present local sports celebrities for Tampa publications in the past few years, such as Warrick Dunn, Jeff Garcia, Ryan Nece, Matt Bryant and others.  But Mr. Selmon was the first and only NFL hall-of-fame member. I had to get over my awe when I first met up with him and minimized my gushing as much as possible, but this has never been an easy thing for me as is evidenced in Exhibit A below, by the flushed and clearly overwhelmed Greek at right.

There is nothing I can say here that hasn’t already been said about Lee Roy Selmon, especially these past few days; I merely wanted to echo the sentiments of what others have been saying and share some of his more recent words with you.

This was a man who, even when answering a question about business, got back to the heart of what he believed in most – family. He spoke with such affection and warmth about his former teammates as if they were his brothers. He spoke of his wife and kids as extensions of himself. And of course, there are his many brothers and sisters, whom he also spoke of lovingly as he reflected with fondness and thoughtfulness about his childhood growing up in Oklahoma in a home filled with many but dishing up just as much love and respect for each other as for the neighbors down the street, something he said he tried to carry throughout the other stages of his life – as a college student and athlete, as a professional athlete, as a husband and father, as a businessman and later, as a philanthropist and mentor to others.

Lee Roy Selmon didn’t need an expressway named after him or the moniker which naturally preceded his name of NFL hall-of-famer. He didn’t need any of that, and if you asked him this, he would have likely told you that. To an observer, it seemed as if all he needed was to be surrounded by the people for him he cared about most- at work, at home, in the community – and a chance to pursue those things he was most passionate about. And clearly, he succeeded at that on all of these fields.

It was an honor to meet him and talk with such a positive figure in our community. The Bay area’s lights are a little dimmer.

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