Lee Roy Selmon: years of losing were washed away for the defensive end and the Bucs in a playoff win over the Eagles in 1979 – The Game I’ll Never Forget
WHEN WE CAME INTO TAMPA Stadium prior to our divisional playoffs game against the Philadelphia Eagles in 1979–the first playoff game in the history of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers–I had never seen the place in such an uproar. The energy and electricity that was flowing around the stadium was unbelievable. We looked around and said, “Wow! What’s going here?” I think it just inspired us to play that much harder. It was like a big-time college bowl game atmosphere, except all the fans were on our side. This was a bowl game with all our fans.
Considering where we had come from, no one would have thought we would be hosting a playoff game at this particular time. Ours was a worst-to-first story. We had won only five games in 1978, but that actually was a good year for us. So the first two years of our existence, we had won a total of only two games. So here was a team that had won just seven times in its first three years–and we suddenly were in the playoffs! Having gone through that made this moment much nicer.
Because I had been with the Buccaneers since their inception in 1976, I saw some hard, tough, painful times. It’s an adjustment to get used to losing. Unless you’re experienced at something like that, you don’t know how you’re going to respond as an individual and as a team.
Our coaches, especially head coach John McKay, set a tone that really allowed us to keep our spirit and morale up so that we could continue to do the work necessary to become better as a team. But every player, at some point in time, would hit rock-bottom, where he’d say to himself, “How can this keep going on?” Or he’d have that one game where he’d say, “I’m sure. I believe this is the game we’re going to win.” But then we didn’t win. To me, that was the kind of scenario that exemplified my lowest point because it would be, a game in which I would think, “We match up well. We’re going to get our first win.” And then it didn’t happen.
Everyone went through that. But I think we all adjusted very well and understood that we had to continue to get better as a team if we expected to win, because we understood nobody was going to give us a win. It just wasn’t going to happen; no one was going to feel sorry for us. So we knew we were going to have to cling together and keep working hard.
It was a great tribute to Coach McKay and the staff and players that we endured that building process. Slowly, we got a lot of good players together. On offense, we had guys such as Doug Williams Jimmie Giles, and Ricky Bell. On defense, we had David Lewis and Richard “Batman” Wood and Cecil Johnson and my brother, Dewey, and me. We kept adding pieces until we had the makings of a team.
The 1979 season started out great for us. A lot of people didn’t see us coming–we surprised a lot of teams. Vie got on a roll, and it looked like we had the NFC Central title locked up. But then at the end of the season, we needed just one more win to clinch the division and couldn’t get it.
I remember Coach McKay saying, “We can’t win at home. We can’t win on the road, We need to play at a neutral site.” It came down to the last game. We played the Kansas City Chiefs at home in a torrential rain storm and ended up winning 3-0. Neil O’Donoghue made the field goal, but don’t ask me how he did it. After the game, there was pandemonium. Everyone was giddy, flopping around on the wet field. I remember the writers saying that all the rain that came down had created a neutral site.
That win got us into the divisional playoffs game against the Eagles. No one gave us much of a chance to win against Philadelphia, but I think everyone on our team was prepared to play. And like I said, the crowd gave us a lift right off the bat.
The opening possession set the tone for the game. We got the ball and started giving it to Ricky Bell. Picky left; Ricky right; Ricky up the middle; Ricky off guard. Our offense took over at our 20 and spent more than nine minutes driving the ball downfield. Ricky, of course, ended up scoring. It was an incredible drive. And in the warm weather, the Eagles defense must have been dying. An 18-play drive–that’s amazing. Our defense was just standing on the sideline, watching. About 10 plays into the drive, we starred wondering, “Hey, is it our turn yet?”
That day, Picky had a divisional play-offs-record 38 carries for 142 yards. He was built for that type of workload. He was a big, tough guy and didn’t mind being used that way. We certainly relied on him a lot. In the heat, he just wore the defense down–he kept pounding and pounding and pounding.
We also had a big day on defense, holding the Eagles to fewer than 50 rushing yards. That was huge because they had a really good running back in Wilbert Montgomery and a good offensive line with guys like Stan Walters, who was one of the better tackles in the league. I locked horns with Walters quite a bit that day. Whenever you played him, it was a long afternoon. He was a huge guy, so you would try to home in using speed and techniques. Overall, you would to stick to your game plan and do things as a unit that gave you a chance to play well. So, there was a little battle going on over there.
Mostly, though, the game belonged to Picky. He wore down the Eagles until we won, 24-17. The crowd just went wild, and we were celebrating and savoring the win in the locker room. Like I said, after winning just five games in our first three years, this one was really sweet.
–As told to Chuck O’Donnell
Lee Roy Selmon’s Career Statistics
YEAR TEAM TACKLES REC. FORCED SACKS
1976 Tampa Bay 24 0 0 5
1977 Tampa Bay 110 2 5 13
1978 Tampa Bay 92 0 2 11
1979 Tampa Bay 117 2 3 11
1980 Tampa Bay 97 2 4 9
1981 Tampa Bay 73 0 5 6.5
1982 Tampa Bay 58 1 2 4
1983 Tampa Bay 71 1 3 11
1984 Tampa Bay 100 2 4.5 8
Totals 742 10 28.5 78.5
Lee Roy Selmon’s Most Memorable Game
NFC Divisional Playoffs; December 29, 1979; Tampa Stadium; Tampa
Philadelphia 0 7 3 7-17
Tampa Bay 7 10 0 7-24
Scoring Eagles Buccaneers
Tampa Bay–Bell, 4-yard run (O’Donoghue kick) 0 7
Tampa Bay–O’Donoghue, 40-yard field goal 0 10
Tampa Bay–Bell, 1-yard run (O’Donoghue kick) 0 17
Philadelphia–Smith, 11-yard pass from
Jaworski (Franklin kick) 7 17
Philadelphia–Franklin, 42-yard field goal 10 17
Tampa Bay–Giles, 9-yard pass from Williams
(O’Donoghue kick) 10 24
Philadelphia–Carmichael, 37-yard pass from
Jaworski (Franklin kick) 17 24
Team statistics Eagles Buccaneers
First downs 15 17
Rushing yards (net) 48 186
Passing yards (net) 179 132
Passes (completions-attempts-interceptions) 15-39-0 7-15-1
Punts-average 5-44.3 5-42.6
Fumbles-lost 2-1 0-0
Penalties-yards 8-62 9-105
Eagles: Montgomery 13 rushes for 35 yards, Harris 4-13, Jaworski 1-0.
Buccaneers: Bell 38-142, Eckwood 8-19, Williams 6-19, J. Davis 3-6.
Eagles: Jaworski 15 completions, 39 attempts, 199 yards, 0
interceptions, 2 touchdowns.
Buccaneers: Williams 7-15-132-1-1.
Eagles: Montgomery 4 receptions for 35 yards, Carmichael 3-92, Smith,
3-49, Krepfle 3-23, Harris 1-2, Campfield 1-minus-2.
Buccaneers: Giles 3-43, Hagins 2-34, Mucker 1-34, Owens 1-21.
Eagles: Robinson 1 interception for 37 yards.
Buccaneers: Selmon 2 sacks for 20 yards.
As Big a Hit as Ever
LEE ROY SELMON SAYS THAT TAKING over as the athletic director at the University of South Florida has been a lot like breaking into the NFL: It has taken some time to reach the top, and he hasn’t been able to do it alone.
“It’s been a learning experience and a learning curve,” says the 47-year-old Selmon, who assumed the position in May 2001. “It’s been exciting. I’m thankful for the opportunity. You really work with a team of folks. No one person does it all by themselves. You empower people who are talented and skilled to do their jobs, to paint the direction clearly, and then everyone moves toward that clear goal that is set in their respective areas. That’s how I look at it. It’s lust like a team.”
Selmon remains a big name in Florida, even though he gave up hunting down quarterbacks for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1984. There’s nothing like being the AD of a growing school and having a road named after you in Tampa–the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway–to keep your name alive.
Furthermore, people flock to eat at Lee Roy Selmon’s, a restaurant specializing in “soul-satisfying Southern cooking.” Mama Selmon’s meatloaf, stuffed crawfish, and 7-Up cake get high marks, but Selmon says, “I hear the most comments about the ribs.”
Although he laughs at the suggestion that they should be called the “quarterback broken ribs,” Selmon did in fact put a hurtin’ on a lot of QBs during his football days. It all started in his native Oklahoma, where he and his brothers Lucious and Dewey helped turn the Sooners into a national power in the mid-1970s. All three started on the 1973 team, a time he calls “the most fun I had as a football player.”
In 1976, the Bucs made Selmon their first draft pick in franchise history. He didn’t disappoint. After trying times for the Buccaneers, Selmon was the leader on a team that won the NFC Central title in 1979 and 1981. In nine seasons, he had 78.5 sacks, 380 quarterback pressures, forced 28.5 fumbles, and recovered 10 fumbles. He was All-Pro four times, All-NFC five times, and played in six Pro Bowls. In 1995, Selmon was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
One of his three children, Lee Roy Jr., is a junior defensive tackle on the USF team. However, he tore the ACL in his left knee playing basketball in mid-May and will miss the upcoming season. The injury will deny Selmon the chance to play when USF meets Oklahoma–his dad’s alma mater–early in the season.
Otherwise, though, the elder Selmon has no complaints.
COPYRIGHT 2002 Century Publishing
COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group