A Legend On and Off the Field

The NFL season is about to start and our Sunday Night Football crew is ready to go. I left Tampa yesterday and arrived in Green Bay to prepare for our Thursday night broadcast to open the season.  We have a tremendous game featuring the last two Super Bowl Champions, the New Orleans Saints against the Green Bay Packers.  Green Bay is a great football town and their fans love the Packers. I am always taken back when I come here by the support they give their team.  But this time, I was struck by something different.  You see, I had just come from Tampa where we are still mourning the passing of our only Hall of Fame player, Lee Roy Selmon.  And I couldn’t help but contrast that with the vibes I was getting here about ex-Packer great Brett Favre.

I coached against Brett when he was in his heyday with the Packers–as defensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings and then as head coach of the Bucs we always played Green Bay twice a year.  Favre was an iconic figure here because of his exploits on the field.  He led them to two Super Bowl appearances and one championship.  He brought them back from defeat time and again with great 4th quarter plays.  He played here for 16 years and was unquestionably the most popular Packer player during that time.  However, all that changed in 2008 when he left the team to play for the New York Jets, and then the Minnesota Vikings. Coming here yesterday for the first time since his departure, I was a little stunned to see how many fans’ opinion of Brett had changed.  While they still view him as a great player, he was no longer their hero.

The contrast to how the fans in Tampa let their feelings about Lee Roy Selmon be known couldn’t have been more stark.  Lee Roy was a great player, one of the best defensive linemen ever to play in the NFL.  And while he never led the team to a Super Bowl, he will always be remembered as a hero to the people of the Tampa Bay area.  That’s because of the way he lived his life, how he carried himself and how he impacted the community off the field.  So many people that I talked to over the weekend who had great stories about Lee Roy Selmon were too young to remember watching him play.  But they were impacted by something he did, something he said, or a personal contact he had with them.  Simply put, Lee Roy was a great Christian man, a man of strong character and a very humble leader.

When I went to Tampa in 1996 to be the head coach of the Bucs, I told the team in the first meeting we ever had that our goal was to bring a Super Bowl championship to Tampa.  But if that’s all we did, it would be very short-lived.  We needed to win, but we needed to do it in the right way.  We needed men who would be role models and help make the community a better place to live while we were winning games.  Lee Roy Selmon set the standard for that.  And in the end, that’s what really matters.  Athletic success will soon be forgotten–all you have to do is lose a few games, or decide to play for another team and you’ll find out.  But humbleness, class and dignity are not easily forgotten and I’m grateful to Lee Roy for living his life the way he did to remind us all of just that.