Tuesday, September 6, 2011

On the Loss of a Great Man

The NFL, the University of South Florida, and the entire Tampa community lost a great man this weekend with the passing of Lee Roy Selmon. Having been the first draft pick of the first year, he was the original Buc. And being the only player in the NFL Hall of Fame who spent more than one year as a Buc, he is arguably the BEST Buccaneer. Ever.

Two memories of Mr. Selmon stand out in my mind. My family’s business, which I headed in the 90s and early 2000s, was nominated for “Most Family Friendly Business.” We didn’t win, but as they say, it’s an honor to be nominated. Lee Roy Selmon spoke at the event. He began by saying that if anyone was late because of traffic on the Crosstown, please don’t blame him. He referred to the expressway that was named in his honor.

But what impressed me most was the way he spoke of family – his own and families in general. It wasn’t the words he said that were memorable, it was the light in his eyes and the emotion in the timbre of his voice when he spoke of his mother and his brothers, his wife and his children that made me know this man believed in the sanctity of family. I had no doubt his family was first in his life.

One Saturday afternoon, I was in Buccaneer Heaven picking out a new shirt to wear to the next day’s game. It was early in the season, and the store was crowded. We’d won the SuperBowl the year before. We were optimistic. The energy in the store was electric and fun. Suddenly the cheerful noise ceased, little by little, replaced by whispers. “Lee Roy.”

Through the front door came our Hall of Famer, pushing a handcart loaded with cases of his Barbecue sauce. Here was a man who made his own deliveries to each little mom-and-pop location that sold his sauce. Like when Moses approached the Red Sea, the crowd parted to let him through. If this was Buccaneer Heaven, then surely Jesus had just walked into the room.

The crowd of shoppers stood in silent awe as he shook hands with the manager, picked up his paperwork and emptied his cart. A few brave souls said hello to him as he passed back out the front door. He nodded and smiled, and went on about his quiet business. But we all knew we had just been in the presence of greatness.

Football is just a game. Certainly other things in life are far more important. Like Family. This weekend we lost a man who loved both. And we deeply feel that loss.