There was no sense trying to play like him. That was never going to happen. Living like him was another matter.
Anyone could do that, Gerald McCoy reasoned, so since he first met Lee Roy Selmon, the Buccaneers defensive tackle felt obligated to do so.
"The things he did off the field, the way he gave back to the community, that's really what I learned from Mr. Selmon,'' McCoy said Tuesday. "I've modeled my game after other players, but how I use (the) platform this game gives me, that I got from him.''
The words didn't come easily for McCoy. When Selmon died Sunday at the age of 56, two days after suffering a massive stroke, McCoy had known him only a little more than a year. In that short span, though, the former Bucs legend became like a father to McCoy.
The bond was natural. Like Selmon, McCoy was a defensive lineman who played his college ball at the University of Oklahoma, where McCoy was given the honor – or was it a burden – of wearing the same No. 93 jersey Selmon wore for the Sooners. Both were first-round draft picks of the Bucs.
McCoy met Selmon in the spring of 2010, about a week after the Bucs selected McCoy to be the newest in a line of defensive cornerstones. Selmon greeted McCoy not with a handshake, but a hug. Soon, the conversation turned, as theirs always did, away from football.
"He took me under his wing and just sort of mentored me, not really so much about football, but as far as life goes,'' McCoy said. "He said, 'It's not about what you do on the field, but what you do off the field – how you use your talents to give back.'
"He was great for that.''
The Bucs are expected to celebrate that greatness prior to the start of their season-opening game against the Detroit Lions on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. The team also is expected to wear a commemorative uniform patch or helmet sticker throughout the season in remembrance of Selmon.
It's unlikely anyone could forget him.
Even players who did not spend their childhoods hearing of his exploits or their college days playing in his shadow, as McCoy did, have came to know Selmon in a way that left an indelible mark.
"The first time I met him, I didn't know who he was,'' Bucs left tackle Donald Penn said. "He shook my hand, introduced himself and said he'd been watching me. He was always so cordial to everybody. We're going to make sure this Buccaneer family never forgets Lee Roy Selmon.''
McCoy will never forget how Selmon continued to support him and "believe'' in him, even after McCoy struggled through most of his rookie season. Bucs coach Raheem Morris remembers Selmon for much the same reason.
"He was just a guy that was supportive no matter what was going on,'' Morris said. "Whether we were 3-13, 10-6, or 0-0 heading into a very opportunistic season, he was just a very supportive guy. He was a guy that showed you by example.
"He was never a big, loud boisterous type of person. He always moved in silence. He would come in and lead by example. When he played he led that way. When he was the athletic director at (South Florida) he led that way. Whenever he came into this building (at One Buc Place) he led that way.''
Veteran running back Earnest Graham was among those who often crossed paths with Selmon at One Buc. The string of occasional meetings made an impression Graham will carry with him well beyond his football career.
"He's one of those guys that you aspire to be,'' Graham said of the Pro Football Hall of Famer and first player inducted into the Buccaneers Ring of Honor. "If I do half as much in my lifetime as him, I'll be OK. It's definitely a huge loss for this community.''
Linebacker Geno Hayes fought back tears as he echoed those sentiments.
"A great man and a huge loss for the community,'' Hayes said. "What a great role model for everybody. He showed us all how to lead, how to speak it and live it. It's hard to even talk about this … it's tough.''
It was toughest, it seemed, on McCoy. All at once, he said, he felt as though he'd lost a friend, a father figure, an inspiration and, of course, a mentor.
"I saw him a couple of weeks ago and I told him, 'I'm going to (have a great season),' and he told me, 'I know,'" McCoy said. "He said he was looking forward to seeing me play this season. I mean, I really looked up to him. Now I'm just trying to keep his name going.''
Reporter Ira Kaufman contributed to this report.