The Tampa Bay area was in a collective state of shock late Friday night after reports that Pro Football Hall of Famer and former Buccaneer defensive end Lee Roy Selmon, 56, had been hospitalized with a stroke.
There was no official word on his condition, but a spokesman for the University of South Florida said family members characterized the situation as grave.
There were conflicting, rapidly changing reports about the health of Selmon, who serves as president of the USF Foundation Partnership for Athletics. In fact, early Friday night, a statement from Lee Roy Selmon's Restaurant expressed "deep and profound sorrow that we learned of our dear friend Lee Roy Selmon's passing this afternoon."
Less than one hour later, officials said that statement was "prematurely released."
KFOR-TV, an NBC affiliate in Oklahoma City, reported that Lucious Selmon told a former teammate he didn't think his younger brother was going to make it. Lucious Selmon said the family was told Selmon had a 20 percent chance of survival with brain damage.
KFOR also reported that Selmon's niece, Shannon, sent an email to family members that said her uncle had a blood clot in his heart.
Selmon, who was USF's athletics director from 2001-04, resigned from that position and returned to a fundraising role because of high blood pressure caused by heart- and stress-related problems, his brother Dewey Selmon told The Tampa Tribune in 2004.
As news of Selmon's condition circulated through the Bay area Friday night, former teammates and civic officials reacted with concern.
"The prayers of this whole city are with Lee Roy Selmon right now," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. "He is part of our family. He is part of who we are as a city. When no one knew where Tampa, Fla., was, they knew Lee Roy Selmon.
"And on the field, he was the best. Off the field, he was as gentle as a lamb. I tell people all the time, if my kids grow up to be like Lee Roy Selmon, I would feel very lucky."
Former Tampa Mayors Sandy Freedman and Pam Iorio said Selmon's impact has been immeasurable.
"He made Tampa feel better about itself at a time when we didn't feel so good, not just from the football standpoint and winning football games," Freedman said. "He was the kind of person that makes people feel good to be around him. Some athletes are a tough sell. They think they're above it all. He was never that way."
"Lee Roy is a fierce competitor on the field and off the field, a gentle and kind community leader who inspires and leads by example," Iorio said. "I have seen him many times with young people encouraging them. He has a tremendous effect on our youth in a most positive way."
Selmon, an All-American and the youngest of three football-playing brothers at the University of Oklahoma, was the first overall pick in the 1976 NFL draft by coach John McKay's expansion Bucs. He quickly became the most distinguished member of a franchise that lost its first 26 games, then came within 10 points of a Super Bowl berth in the 1979 season.
"He was the greatest player this town has ever seen — and maybe the greatest person as well," former Bucs offensive tackle Charley Hannah said. "He was sensational. But to see him then and to see him now, you'd never know that about him. He's so humble, it's almost hard to believe."
Hannah said he saw Selmon within the past two weeks at a USF football kickoff banquet.
"I kidded around with him and gave him a hard time, but that's never much fun with Lee Roy because he never fights back," Hannah said. "He's such a grateful and humble guy.
"It's just so easy to be his friend. I feel lucky to have been his teammate. I want to be able to talk to him one more time and express how I feel about him. Who doesn't know about Lee Roy Selmon in Tampa?"
Selmon's football career, his contributions to USF, plus his name attachment to the barbecue restaurant chain and the city's Crosstown Expressway have made him synonymous with the area.
Paul Catoe, president and chief executive officer of Tampa Bay & Co., said his organization planned to make Selmon a centerpiece in the area's upcoming pursuit of the Super Bowl in 2015.
"You will find no greater ambassador for our area — or any area — than Lee Roy Selmon," Catoe said. "How many public figures can you name where no one — and I mean no one — ever has anything bad to say about them? It just speaks to the character of this man.
"I'm absolutely devastated to hear about (Selmon's condition). He cares so deeply about people. He came on our board of directors (for Tampa Bay & Co.) when we were floundering around and we really needed some credibility. He gave us that with such class and conviction. This area isn't going to have anyone else like Lee Roy Selmon. I think I'm safe in saying that."
Those sentiments were echoed by Joe Horrigan, a spokesman for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
"He has been a stalwart for the Hall, a really class guy, and he is treated with a great deal of respect by his fellow Hall of Famers," Horrigan said of Selmon, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1995. "Not a sour guy. Always upbeat.
"He had the extra burden of representing the entire franchise in the Hall of Fame, and that's a burden he wore with dignity. He (has) great personal character, and he had a successful second career in the public spectrum. All in all, a quality man."