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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 977

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This is the grave of Lee Roy Selmon.

Born in 1954 in Eufaula, Oklahoma, Selmon grew up on a farm outside that town. He was a huge kid and incredibly athletic and in Oklahoma, that meant you played football. It was a football family. He had two older brothers playing for the University of Oklahoma; they became fringe NFL players. So it was obvious that Lee Roy would also be a Sooner. Selmon was most definitely not fringe NFL. He was an absolute monster out there, which people often remarkable because supposedly he was a real nice, quiet guy in real life.

Selmon played a little in Norman as a freshman, getting three sacks. But as a sophomore he raised that to nine sacks and then a remarkable eighteen sacks as a junior. He had a mere mortal as a senior with ten sacks but also set career highs in tackles and assisted tackles. In 1975, he won the prestigious Outland Trophy, for best interior lineman, and Lombardi Award, which is basically for being the best tough guy in college.

Now, there were two new teams entering the NFL in 1976. One was my Seattle Seahawks. The other was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs had the first pick in the draft and not surprisingly, they drafted the anchor for their defense in Lee Roy Selmon. Tampa rose shockingly rapidly and won the NFC Central in 1979 and 1981. Now, the Bucs did very, very, very little right for the next fifteen years, notorious as the worst run franchise in the NFL. But they did one thing right early on and was that was pick Selmon. He was totally dominant as a defensive end. He was one of the first real sackmasters, which came into being as a major part of the game not too long before he arrived on the scene, naturally enough with the rise of better passing offenses.

By 1978, Selmon was a second-team All Pro. The next year, he was Defensive Player of the Year. Between 1978 and 1984, he was a three time first-team All Pro and two time second-team. He was an absolutely monster. He totaled 78.5 sacks in his career. But he would have a short career. Like so many football players, his body started breaking down. He suffered a back injury in 1984 and he called it a career.

Only 30 years old, what would Selmon do with the rest of his life? Basically, he stayed Lee Roy Selmon, Tampa Bay hero. He made a living working for various charities and also as a bank executive. In 1993, the University of South Florida, which is in Tampa despite that not really being that far south in Florida, hired him as an assistant athletic director. How much of his job was doing real AD work and how much was showing up and being Lee Roy Selmon, I’m not sure, but I’d bet very highly on more of the latter in the early years. However, in 2001, he was named as the athletic director right as South Florida was moving up to D-1 football. He only stayed for three years, but seems to have been pretty good at the job, as USF became a rising mid-major program.

Selmon was named to the NFL All-Decade Team for the 1980s, despite only playing for the first five years of them. He was named to NFL 100th anniversary all time team in 2019. Most importantly, in 1995, he was named to the NFL Hall of Fame.

In 2004, Selmon retired because his health was getting pretty bad. He had a massive stroke, which killed him. He was 56.

The NFL always puts together high quality documentary footage that is fun to watch. Here’s their bit on Selmon. You can have fun trying to identify the various quarterbacks he sacks in the video. You can’t embed it unfortunately.

Lee Roy Selmon is buried in Trice Hill Cemetery, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

If you would like this series to visit other defensive linemen on the NFL 100th Anniversary Team, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Reggie White is in Mooresville, North Carolina and Gino Marchetti is in Springfield, Pennsylvania. Previous posts of this series are archived here.

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