Pro Football Hall of Famer and former Buccaneer defensive end Lee Roy Selmon, who was rushed to St. Joseph's Hospital on Friday after suffering a stroke at his Tampa home, was showing signs of improvement and responsiveness today, said his older brother, Dewey.
"He's stable and we all have great hope,'' Dewey Selmon said. "He's a fighter. Keep the prayers going.''
A nursing supervisor listed Selmon, 56, in critical condition as of early this afternoon.
Dewey Selmon said he was told the first 48 hours following a stroke are important and a more definitive condition could be known by the end of the weekend.
"Lee Roy knows that a lot of people care about him and are praying for him,'' Dewey Selmon said. "He knows that.''
Selmon, president of the University of South Florida Foundation Partnership for Athletics, had planned to attend USF's game against Notre Dame today at South Bend, Ind.
In tribute, USF players wore a decal of No. 63 – Selmon's retired uniform number with the Bucs – on the back of their helmets against Notre Dame.
"The fans are going to yell so loud that Lee Roy is going to hear them,'' USF president Judy Genshaft said in South Bend.
"Lee Roy was excited about this game and glad we had the opportunity to schedule this game and I said, 'Lee Roy, I couldn't have scheduled this game without Lee Roy Selmon because we probably wouldn't have football without what you did to bring football here,''' USF athletic director Doug Woolard said. "I know what Lee Roy would want our football team to do and that's focus on today and to do the best they possibly can on the field. But it is difficult. I'd be less than honest to tell you different.''
David Lewis, a former Bucs' linebacker, saw Selmon late Friday night in St. Joseph's Hospital's intensive care unit, where Selmon's family had assembled. According to Lewis, Selmon was able to squeeze the hand of his oldest son, Lee Roy Jr., and he recognized family members, including wife Claybra, daughter Brandy and younger son Christopher, along with older brothers Lucious and Dewey, who arrived from Oklahoma.
Selmon was breathing on his own, Lewis said.
"The family is leaning on their faith and nobody has more faith than Lee Roy,'' said Lewis, an assistant football coach at Tampa Catholic High School, who came to the hospital after TC's game on Friday night. "Things like this can turn and they can turn for the best. That's what I'm hoping and praying for.
"He has too much to live for. There's no doubt in my mind that he has achieved his eternal salvation, but I want more time with him. He's my brother. I think he's going to be strong. Dewey is strong. Lee Roy's son is strong. I just want him to keep getting better.''
Selmon served as USF's athletic director from 2001-04. He 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.
Today, Dewey Selmon said their father, Lucious Sr., once had a stroke.
The Tampa Bay area was plunged into a collective state of shock on Friday after learning of Selmon's hospitalization and hearing inaccurate reports of his death.
An external spokesperson for Lee Roy Selmon's Restaurant issued a statement on Friday that expressed "deep and profound sorrow that we learned of our dear friend Lee Roy Selmon's passing this afternoon.'' Less than one hour later, the spokesperson apologized and said the statement had been "prematurely released.''
Former Bucs defensive end Council Rudolph, who was Selmon's teammate with the expansion Bucs in 1976-77, said he refused to believe the initial reports, which were proven incorrect.
"You don't count Lee Roy out,'' Rudolph said. "I knew that wasn't true. There's a reason all this has happened. Only God knows the reason why and there may be a hard road ahead. But don't count that man out.''
Rudolph visited Dewey Selmon at the hospital on Saturday morning. He came away encouraged.
"This would be a really great time for all of Lee Roy's ex-teammates and all the fans to show him some love,'' Rudolph said. "We all know what Lee Roy means to this area. We need him to stay around. I have a lot of hope and a lot of faith that he'll get through this. He means so much to all of us.''
Bucs coach Raheem Morris agreed with Rudolph's assessment.
Morris said Selmon has been an invaluable mentor for second-year defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, a fellow Oklahoma Sooner.
"He's not a big sounding board guy, he's more of a lead-by-example guy,'' Morris said. "You want to bring your young players around and have them meet him to learn how to act and be a professional.
"What he's meant to us here has been unbelievable. Whether we had a 3-13 season or a 10-6 season, it didn't matter. Lee Roy Selmon was a constant here at Buccaneers camp and hopefully he'll be back here shortly. We want to get him back and be a part of this because what he means to our community and NFL history – period – is phenomenal.''
As news of Selmon's condition circulated through the Tampa Bay area, 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, Florida 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 last 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 and Company, the area's convention and visitors bureau, said his organization planned to make Selmon a centerpiece in the area's upcoming pursuit of 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 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.''