By Pete Dexter
Inside Sports, September 1980
Their people were farmers who had come to eastern Oklahoma from Texas, and they grew up in the black dirt and still skies there and hired out as field hands after their own work was done. And it was not in them to resent the work any more than they could resent the land itself.
Lucious can remember Jessie from the fields when she was seven or eight. He was 10 years older, and helped her because she seemed so small. “We get to the end of a row, the men would help the ladies finish. Then we all turn around and start back down another one. I’d help her out every time, for years and years. And she never had no idea one day she was goin’ to be my wife.”
They married in 1933, when Jessie was 19. The first baby died at birth. He would have been Lucious II. Jessie was pregnant with the second when boll weevils destroyed the cotton crop of eastern Oklahoma.
Lucious heard of work in the other end of the state, and carrying his razor, a toothbrush, and the dinner Jessie had packed, he walked out to the highway and hitchhiked his way west.
On the first day Lucious picked 640 pounds of cottons bolls. Fifteen cents a pound. He wasn’t big, but he worked like two men. The foremen drove them back to the farm in a truck and showed them where to stay for the night. Lucious didn’t sleep. He was alone and the floor hurt his back.
On the second day he picked 460 pounds, and coming back that night the truck went into a ditch and rolled over. Lucious was the only one hurt. “I got cut up and my arm got hurt. Then it turned to gangrene and I didn’t know nobody out there, so I come home.”
Forty-five years later he can remember the look on Jessie’s face when he came through the door. She said, “Oh, Lucious. What in the world?”
It was the first time Lucious Selmon had been inside a hospital. He and Jessie were afraid, and they prayed. Not over what happened—ruined crops, a truck accident, a stillborn baby—but for the hand, for the chance to keep trying. He looks at the crippled hand now. Half of it died, half of it lived. Enough so he could work. He says, “I presume my prayers was answered.”
The next four babies came one every year. Elmer, Charles, Joyce and Chester. Jessie and Lucious waited six years and had two more, both girls. Lucious Selmon was middle-aged before he bought the farm. Forty acres of land and a four-room house on a hill west of Eufaula, Okla. A dirt road ran past the front door, and at night you could hear the cattle trucks out on U.S. 9, a mile and a half away.
Every morning he ate breakfast by an oil lamp, at night he would still be in the pasture, chasing mules. He began the day in pain. It came down front his neck to his shoulder, then into his chest. Work brought it on, and work would make it go away.
Jessie and the children went with him to the fields sometimes—collecting corn or hay, weeding the cotton—and she kept a garden next to the house, and canned most of what they would eat in the winter.
She thought it was born to her, liking to watch things grow. The house was small, the bathroom was outside, but there was always something to eat, a place for everybody to sleep. “I was just happy there,” she says.
After they had settled there were three more babies, Lucious II, Dewey, and Lee Roy, spaced over four years. And later, when people in places like New York and Boston spoke of the Selmons, they would mean these last three children.
As the youngest came, the oldest left home. Lucious started them working when they were five or six, tagging along behind the mules while he plowed the fields. They were big children, chubby, all strong, and Lucious and Jessie’s people had all been big, and in his mind the boys had reached back there to get their size. Especially Lucious II, who caused his parents to worry for the cow.
“Yeah, I was hard on the cow,” he would say later. “I’d get mad at her and throw her on the ground. Momma and Daddy’d tell me I was too rough, then she’d do something that I didn’t think a cow ought to do and I’d grab her and do it again.”
That was when he was 11.
“One day I was tryin’ to get her to move and she did something—I can’t even remember what—and I picked up a stick and threw it at her, and somehow it hit her in the head and knocked an eye out.
“In our family, we don’t measure success by dollars,” Lee Roy says. “Certainly not by football. I’m not special from my brother or sisters.”
“Dewey and Lee Roy were standin’ there, their own eyes about to fall out, too. I made a fist and said, ‘If you tell Daddy.…’ They said, ‘We won’t tell nobody, we won’t tell.’ For five days every time I went down there all I could see was that empty eye socket lookin’ at me. Then one afternoon Daddy came down to the pasture and he looked at her for a long time. ‘Somethin’ wrong with that cow’s eye?’
“I said, ‘Where, Daddy?’
“He said that was a good question. Dewey and Lee Roy looked at me and we all waited. Daddy started to walk away and I said, ‘Daddy, I threw a stick….’”
The farm was seven miles from town, and every other Saturday the family hitched a mule to the wagon and went in to do their shopping. “We’d see kids driving cars, farmers coming in riding those big John Deeres,” Dewey said. For as long as he farmed, Lucious Selmon never used a tractor because he believed mules did a better job.
“We didn’t have electricity then, so when we went in Daddy’d get us a half gallon of ice cream and we’d eat it with wooden spoons right there in the back of the wagon. Momma’d buy a loaf of white bread for Sunday dinner. It was from town, so we thought it was better than what she made at home. We’d even eat the heels. I’m 26 years old now,” Dewey said, “and those Saturdays are still as special as anything I remember.”
The rest of the week—except for Sunday school—was work and school and lessons. The three brothers shared one bicycle. They had each other for friends.
Lucious was the oldest and the strongest. Lee Roy and Dewey watched him to know what to do. Dewey was quiet, always taking things apart to understand them. Lee Roy was happy. Things came natural to Lee Roy, and he shot the calves.
“When the time came to butcher a calf, I always hid,” Dewey said.
“Daddy’d say, ‘Who’s gonna shoot the calf?’ and I’d go into the house. We’d been feeding him three or four months by that time, but Lee Roy could do it. He’d just get it over with.”
A child who can throw a cow on the ground when he’s 11 is going to be noticeable on a junior high school football team when he’s 14.
Lucious II said, “Maybe we were jealous in a way. We felt like we were away from everything. We heard about the things the other kids had done, and we wanted to do them, too. We knew we did work they didn’t. When we went into town, I always watched the people on the street. I’d go home and think that when I grew up I wanted a little office and a secretary to get me coffee.”
From the time they were old enough to understand it, the brothers knew their father was sick, that there was something wrong with his blood pressure. “Daddy, I barely remember him when he was’t sick,” Lucious said. “But you should’ve seen the work he could do. It was almost like Lee Roy and Dewey—hell in the field, but afterwards as gentle as could be.”
In 1954, the family got electricity. They bought a television set. Lucious failed fifth grade. “I told Daddy it might happen, and he said if I got held back he was goin’ to whip me. The folks took education seriously. They never kept any of us at home from school to help get the crops in.
“When I got off the bus that day, I didn’t care if he whipped me or not. I think I wanted him to. I knew I deserved it. I felt like the whole family’d failed fifth grade. I changed clothes and went down to take over for Daddy—he was plowin’ a field. He said, ‘Did you pass fifth grade?’
“I said, ‘No, they held me back.’ He looked at me a long time, then handed me the reins. He said, ‘Go ahead and take these mules, that’s what you’re goin’ be doin’ the rest of your life.’”
And if that was hard, it was hard all the way around. Lucious Selmon was 56 years old, he’d worked all his life, and he was sick. “Lucious was friends with boys who laughed all day long. A whippin’ wouldn’t have done no good. I had to give him a look.”
From that day until the brothers left home, the televislon set was never on during the week, and nobody—even in college—ever came home with less than a B.
“There was never a fight between those boys that I knew of,” Jessie said, “and I would’ve known. There was never nothin’ like that. Some brothers, I seen them hurt each other, but I’m proud my children never did that.” If nothing else ever set the brothers apart, they had always known how to help each other out.
The first Selmon ever to play football in a helmet was Lucious II. Coach Paul Bell spotted him one afternoon at the Booker T. Washington school and called him over.
Paul Bell taught drafting and shop and was coach of the Eufaula High School Ironheads football team. He asked Lucious how old he was. Lucious lied and said 16. There were girls listening. The coach said it was too bad, because by the time he was a junior in high school he’d be too old to play. Lucious followed him to explain about the girls.
The next year, the Eufaula Junior High School Copperheads had a new look. A child who can throw a cow on the ground when he’s 11 is going to be noticeable on a junior high school football team when he’s 14. Two years later, coach Bell got Dewey and Lee Roy. Dewey was 11 months older, but the cutoff dates for entering school fell between their birthdays, and that put them in the same class.
Lucious was a sophomore in high school and already one of the best football players in the state. “I remember the first day they came out,” he said. “They were in eighth grade, both of them were fat and they had those big feet. The only pants they could get on were twice too big. Old, old pants nobody could remember who it was that used to wear them. Then they found Dewey and Lee Roy some antique football shoes big enough to fit their feet, and I remember watching them run sprints, wobbling up and down, those fat hips inside the pants, way behind everybody else on the field. I was so embarrassed, but they stayed together. They wouldn’t leave each other that whole year.”
A year later, Lee Roy and Dewey weren’t fat any more, and by October they were starting on defense for the Ironheads and Eufaula—the smallest school in Class 2-A in Oklahoma—lost one game. They lost one game the next year, too, and the year after that, with Lucious gone to the University of Oklahoma, they lost three. Coach Bell did some shuffling.
“I had four boys on the team about 230, 235 pounds,” he said, “and the rest of them were all 135. I tried makin’ Lee Roy and Dewey linemen on offense—they were linebackers on defense—but it wasn’t gettin’ us anywhere. So one day I just gave in and put everybody big in the backfield and said, ‘Let’s see who can stop us.’”
Watching the movies of those games, you get the feeling the film is somehow running backwards. The offensive huddle breaks, all the wrong people run to the line of scrimmage. Little people. The people in the backfield could be their fathers. Lee Roy is the tailback, number 75. Dewey is a step closer to the line, number 85.
The ball is snapped, the little people disappear, lost under enemy legs. One rolls out of the play and is stepped on. The quarterback gives the ball to Lee Roy. Two hundred and thirty pounds, he runs over a tackle at the line of scrimmage, cuts past a linebacker, carries a defensive back half a dozen yards on his back before another back can get over to help push him out of bounds. He is never close to going down.
In his senior year at tailback for Eufaula High School, Lee Roy Selmon averaged 14 yards a carry. He kicked off and played linebacker. And if there was anything that separated the brothers, it was that there was a grace to Lee Roy that Dewey and Lucious didn’t have, even though they were both as fast, and Lucious was stronger.
“The three boys, I couldn’t pick a favorite,” Bell said. “Every one of them meant something to me. I mean besides football. You could get close to those boys without having to worry that you’d lose your authority. They wouldn’t take advantage of you.
“Lee Roy was always after me to let him do something new. There was a day in scrimmage he decided he wanted to be the quarterback. I said, ‘All right, Lee Roy, let me give you a play.’ I told him I wanted double split ends with a pro slot, fullback in motion and a deep post on the left side. I figured to end it right there.
“He came up to the line of scrimmage, and everybody turned around, waited for him to call the play. He started once, He started again. He said, ‘Hell, you heard him. Everybody but you, you and you out for a pass.’ Then he threw the ball 70 damn yards and the end caught it. That busted up the whole practice.
“l said, ‘That’s all, Lee Roy, I can’t have my people laughin’ in a huddle,’ and he never argued.”
After practice Lee Roy and Dewey would take the bus home and work the farm. They had dinner. They studied. In the morning they went to school early because they had jobs there sweeping floors. When football season ended, there was basketball. Dewey was good. Lee Roy was all-state caliber.
Early spring was busy at home, but later Dewey and Lee Roy would take jobs, or use the mules to plow gardens at five dollars each. Sometimes they were out all day, coming back up the road at dusk, they would see the outline of the house, their mother sewing on the porch, and a sick and tough old man, who would not use a tractor, in the pasture of the yard, bending into his life’s work.
And when the time came to leave that place, they would take that with them.
By 1973, Lucious Selmon was a preseason All-American at Oklahoma. Lee Roy and Dewey were sophomores and they would become All-Americans, too. In the five years the Selmons would play there, Oklahoma would win two national championships and come in second and third. In that time they would lose three games (three others were forfeited).
“The happiest I ever was on a football field was coming into the stadium at Texas in 1973,” Lucious said. “Lee Roy had gotten sick before the season opened. They put him in the hospital with pericarditis—that’s an inflammation of the sac around the heart.
“I can remember gettin’ on the bus in front of the dormitory; going to the first game of the season and leavin’ him standin’ on the steps outside. It didn’t seem right.
“The second game I think they let him dress, but he couldn’t play. Texas was the first game Lee Roy was healthy. The three of us ran out there, everybody was screaming at us—you know how it is with Texas and Oklahoma—and all I could think about was that Dewey and Lee Roy and me were all together.
“Warming up, I went over to Lee Roy and asked him was he scared. He said he was a little—it was his first varsity game—and I told him not to worry. It was just like it always had been. We were playin’ for top ranking in the country, and we blew them out—52-13 or something—but it didn’t feel as good afterwards as it did before, knowing everything was all right again.”
At the end of that season Lucious was taken by the New England Patriots. “If there was 18 rounds that year, I went in the 17th,” he said. The book on him said that he was too short (Lucious is 235 pounds and a shade under six feet) to be a defensive lineman in the NFL. He went to Memphis instead of New England, and played in the World Football League. The league folded the year Lee Roy and Dewey were seniors.
Lee Roy was the first player taken in the ’76 draft, and he went to Tampa Bay, in its first year of existence. He flew out ahead of time for the press conference.
Dewey cut a psychology class waiting for his phone to ring. It didn’t. He was thinking about cutting another class when it finally did. “I said, ‘Hello?’ A voice said, ‘Dewey Selmon? This is Al Davis of the Raiders. You’re our number one pick, and I wanted to call and welcome you to Oakland.’
“I said, ‘That’s wonderful.’ The voice said, ‘It’s not wonderful dumb ass. This is [Rod] Shoate.’ [Shoate was an All-American linebacker at Oklahoma who went to New England.]
“I picked up my books and went to Marriage and the Family and forgot all about it. When I got back that night, the phone rang again, and this time it was Lee Roy. He said I was comin’ down there and we were gonna play together again. Tampa had picked me in the second round. I thought, ‘Shoate?’ But I knew who it was. We’d talked about how it would be, not playin’ together again, and here it was….”
“That was something I didn’t expect,” Lee Roy said. “I knew I was going number one, but when they picked Dewey….I don’t know. We were together again. We didn’t say much about it on the phone. Sometimes we already know what each other are thinkin’.”
As the season began, Lucious settled into the security of a job as a defensive line coach at Oklahoma and stayed there even when teams in both Canada and the NFL invited him to try out. At 29, he still gets calls asking if he’d be interested in playing again.
“I think about it. In a way I’d like to try it as a linebacker. On the other hand, I’d hate to go out now and not make it, have all the kids say, ‘Lucious done got too old.’
“One day last summer I was thinking about playing and went out and ran three miles with Dewey. It was hot and muggy and terrible, and when we got back I sort of lay down on the car. Dewey said, ‘Did you want to run some sprints?’ I said, ‘You go ahead.’ And I lay there and watched him and realized how much I liked being a coach.”
Back in Eufaula, Lucious Sr. had sold his mules and horses and given up farming. Jessie still had her garden, and sometimes he’d help with that. He took walks, sat out on the porch and looked down the road. He saw work that needed to be done.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers opened the new franchise with 26 straight losses. “It got where I dreaded Sundays,” Dewey said. “There was a feeling. You knew you were gonna lose. You lost spirit for the game. The fun was gone. The team was fragmented, everybody fighting for his own life. Something would go wrong, and everybody’d come back saying, ‘I did mine, it wasn’t me.…’”
Lee Roy came to dread supermarkets. “People weren’t rude, but it’s hard going out for milk knowin’ six strangers are goin’ to tell you what went wrong in the third quarter. Then one night Dewey and I were watching Johnny Carson and he said Tampa Bay had just played Samsonite Luggage and lost. I said, ‘Do you believe that?’ and the next thing I knew neither one of us could stop laughing.”
“You assume there are more important things than money. I don’t worry about myself financially. I do worry that I’m no doing my soul justice.”
In that first year, coach John McKay had Dewey at nose guard. Lee Roy played defensive end. Stan Walters of the Eagles, an All-Pro at offensive tackle, remembers playing and having his hands full.
“I kept thinking it wasn’t hard to figure out why this kid went number one,” he said. “He was strong and quick, tackling people all over the field. He could go inside or around, but when he beat you he didn’t try to embarrass you with it. He just got ready for the next play.
“I remember thinking, ‘He thinks he can do it every time.’ He went hard every down, but there was nothing cheap about his game. It’s nice to play against somebody like that.
“I don’t know him personally, but I always imagined Lee Roy’d be a guy you’d want as a teammate. I mean, besides his football. There are people in the league you’d be ashamed to play with. The ones always talking about taking somebody’s head off, killing somebody. They’re the guys who do the head slapping. They take the cheap shots. And when the game’s over you’ve eventually beaten them.
“After his rookie year, I didn’t play Lee Roy again until the playoffs last year, and all I can tell you about that is that he got better.”
In the second year McKay moved Dewey to an inside linebacker, because at 6-foot-1½ and 235 pounds he wasn’t big enough to play on the line. It was a move Dewey welcomed.
“Instead of survival, I could think about the game,” he said. “It was like electric football, figuring things out. I probably wouldn’t be playing now if I were still a down lineman, but then….” He shrugged. “Football takes so much of you.
“See, you begin by assuming there are more important things than football, that there is more to yourself than what you physically see. You assume there are more important things than money. I don’t worry about myself financially. I do worry that I’m no doing my soul justice.
“But football isn’t why I’m here. I’m not sure what the reason is, but it goes beyond that. In the end maybe it’s what you do with what you have. Back in ancient Rome, thousands of people lived and died thinking that the sun died at the end of each day. One of the most advanced civilizations in world history, and they thought the sun died. If that seems stupid now, it’s because the truth is so simple when you know it.
“If they look back 2,000 years from now, we’re goin’ to look stupid, too, for the same reason. My heroes are people like Einstein and Mozart. They were born with a gift, and they have seen a glimpse of perfection. I don’t know what that is, but it might come down to something as simple as a four-room house sitting on a hill, and people inside who love each other.”
With that approach to the game, Dewey moved to inside linebacker and ran into defensive coordinator Tom Bass, a bad-legged poet who spends the evenings before football games looking at Florida sunsets. Bass chose him to run the defense. “We have a rapport,” Bass said. “He has a feeling for what we’re doing, for what I’m thinking. He calls the defense from signals I give him, but he can change it on what he sees.
“The way we play defense is first of all, everybody knows what everybody else is doing. Second, we hit hard and we’re quick. We eliminate mental mistakes because everybody’s smart and we try to keep the other guy off the scoreboard.
“You hear much about percentage of completions, yards per carry, third-down conversions, you forget what you’re doing. Dewey has a sense of perspective.” Bass paused. “He also has a little streak in him….”
“You get Dewey mad,” said David Lewis, who plays one of the outside linebacker sports, “he’ll stay under control, but the hittin’ gets scary. He plays his best ball mad. Makes me wonder what it’d be like if Lee Roy got mad, too, but he never does.”
Bass said, “Dewey isn’t a screamer out there but he plays at what we call a high level of intensity. That means he’ll step on you.”
There are no real screamers on the Tampa defense. “We’re always looking for intelligence in the draft,” McKay said, “and naturally for physical ability. I also look for people who don’t scream. I’m getting to be an old man and I don’t like being around loud guys.”
After losing the first 26 games, Tampa won the last two games of the 1977 season. The game before that, they had almost beaten Chicago. The score was 0-0 at halftime, and Chicago’s rookie tackle Ted Albrecht was sitting in a comer, trying to figure out what had happened.
“I remember the coach came over to me,” he said. “He asked how I was doing. I told him my deepest secrets. I said I never wanted to be buried at sea, I never wanted to get hit in the mouth with a hockey puck, and I didn’t want to go out and play that second half against Lee Roy.
“He said I’d be fine. The first play he went all the way around and got Bob Avellini. Lee Roy is normal size [6-foot-3, 255 pounds], but there is nothing normal about his talent. He is so quick, so strong. There’s a move he makes when he lines up a yard and a half outside you. You try to get back to cut off his route to the quarterback, and then he’ll come inside. It’s a fairly common move in the league, but you’ve got to see him do it to believe it….”
“The thing about Lee Roy is that he has a sense of etiquette out there. He has ethics.”
After that game, the reporters walked into the dressing room and found the Bears celebrating not having been the first team to lose to Tampa. They were shouting in the showers, and there were echoes and towels and all that happy stuff. All except Albrecht, who was in a corner, dazed.
“I studied Lee Roy after that,” he says now. “I’ve played him five times now, and there are ways to attack anybody. I don’t want to give away what I know, but you minimize the damages if you don’t go after him the same way twice in a row.
“The thing about Lee Roy is that he has a sense of etiquette out there. He has ethics. I’ve wanted to say something him him for a long time—maybe just wish him good health, but there hasn’t been the chance.
“During the game he’s never said a word, and the way I have it figured out, if he doesn’t want to talk, I don’t want to talk either. It seems important not to get him upset. After the game, we have to get off the field fast—it’s a team rule. They throw bottles even when we win here. You can lose an eye like that….”
Toward the middle of the ’78 season Dewey dislocated his wrist. In the 14th game of the season, Lee Roy went down with a knee injury that required surgery two days later. Dewey finished the season playing in a cast.
“It was strange,” Dewey said. “In a game, Lee Roy’s just a football player. I can see him there and I know I can gamble. I know he’s as fast as I am, that he can cover what I leave. I watch him come a yard off the line of scrimmage and put all those basketball moves on the tackle, but it feels like I’m playing on the same side as somebody who happens to be in a class by himself as a defensive end.
“Then suddenly he was down and that fast, he was my brother again.”
“With me,” Lee Roy said, “it’s blood out there. Dewey is always my brother, but he will get worked up in a game. I remember one game he ran right up my back. I said, ‘Hey, it’s me.’”
As the season ended, Lucious Sr.’s health continued to deteriorate. The family looked to Lucious II. “Lucious is never perturbed,” Dewey said. “He doesn’t say things in a hurry. He’s logical. I can’t sleep on a situation. I want it solved right away, but Lucious is patient. He takes his time, and he was born with strength.”
Lucious waited. The family waited. Lee Roy’s knee slowly mended. Spring came, and for the first time she could remember, Jessie didn’t keep a garden.
Lee Roy worked half days at an off-season job at First National Bank of Florida, spent the rest of the day, every day, in therapy. Stretching, wights, gradually some running.
In the 16 regular-season games of 1979, Lee Roy Selmon didn’t miss a minute of play because of injury. He made 117 tackles, 11 sacks, 60 pressures. He did that playing defensive end in a 3-4 defense designed to let the linebackers do most of the tackling. At the end of the season, Lee Roy was named the NFL’s defensive player of the year, more than justifying his $220,000 salary, one of the highest among defensive linemen.
Dewey earned considerably less—about $90,000‚ yet without so much attention, Dewey, Cecil Johnson, Richard Wood, and David Lewis were becoming one of the best two or three sets of linebackers in football. And in its fourth year, Tampa rode its defense to the finals of the NFC playoffs, then went flat against Los Angeles and lost.
It’s early June and Lee Roy is just home from work at the bank, a job he takes seriously. The house is on a circle in a quiet section of north Tampa, where two of the other three houses on the circle are for sale.
Brandy, his two-year-old daughter is sitting on his feet, eating a peanut butter sandwich, and you can see something deep and friendly between them. “In our family, we don’t measure success by dollars,” Lee Roy says. “Certainly not by football. I’m not special from my brother or sisters. We all try to be the best we can be. It’s like that on the team, too. We’re 11 people working together. No stars, no leaders. We all lead. Reporters ask if I’m the best this or the best that. I leave that to other people to deal with. I just try to be as good as Lee Roy Selmon can possibly be.”
In two weeks, I have talked to six people who, without being asked, have said they would like their sons to grow up to be like Lee Roy Selmon, and one man who wished his son had grown up to be like Lee Roy. I have talked to three men and a six-year-old girl who have told me Lee Roy, Dewey, and Lucious are the best people they know, although the little girl only knew Lucious. I have talked to nobody with anything bad to say about the Selmons, nobody who is even jealous of Lee Roy. He is modest, honest, patient and handsome. He has no self-destructive habits.
I ask the question. “All right, Lee Roy, what did you do to your neighbors that they’re afraid to live here?” He smiles. The houses for sale are new.
Half an hour later, “The worst thing I do? Let’s see.…” Lee Roy is trying to help but nothing is coming. “Well, I eat too much ice cream….”
Hearing the words ice cream, the baby comes off Claybra’s lap and heads toward the refrigerator. Claybra is Lee Roy’s wife, and without going into it, I will only mention that if you had to go blind tomorrow, she is what you want to be looking at when it happened. She follows the baby into the kitchen, and on the way out of the room she says, “He doesn’t eat that much ice cream.”
Three weeks later, at 8:00 at night, it is 103 degrees in Norman, Okla. Dewey has just run the cross-country course at the university, getting ready now for the two-a-day drills that begin in Tampa in a few weeks, an idea he considers a holdover from the days when people thought the sun died at night.
“There are guys who work out all year,” he says. “The way I feel is that if you can’t take three months off and still come back, you’re too old to play. I need time for my mind and body to do more important things….”
Since the season ended, Dewey has taken a semester’s worth of courses in ancient philosophy, almost finishing the requirements for his master’s degree. He spent one week trying to think of something nobody ever thought of before. He spent three weeks upstairs in his house, putting together a grandfather clock. The clock works, the other didn’t.
“Dewey will be sitting at the dinner table thinking,” his wife Kathryn says. “You can tell because he gets this funny look on his face. And suddenly he’ll look up and say something like, ‘Here’s what I think about clocks,’ or ‘Did you know that the owners can depreciate me on their income tax, but I can’t depreciate myself?’”
“I don’t know anything wonderful to say to kids that are playing organized football. I think they ought to be playing tennis or read a book. You think an eight-year-old boy likes contact?”
Dewey leans over and pats his beat-up mongrel dog on the nose. “As a kid I thought about weird things. People used to say, ‘You’re weird,’ and then I’d think about what weird was.”
In a back bedroom Shannon, his six-month-old daughter, cries, then settles. “The two most important things you have are your feelings and your intellect,” he says. “If you give up any of that for football, you’re a fool.
“They had me down to a peewee football banquet earlier this summer, all these little eight and nine-year-old kids in helmets and shoulder pads. They wanted me to say something wonderful to inspire them. Well, sheesh. I don’t know anything wonderful to say to kids that are playing organized football. I think they ought to be playing tennis or read a book. You think an eight-year-old boy likes contact? Kids ought to be finding out about the simple things in life. They don’t belong in a world where you wear helmets and pads to have fun, and only then if you win.”
He is sitting on the couch in running shorts, sweating, glasses slipped down on his nose from bending over to pet the dog. The meanest Selmon there is.
Earlier in the summer he had driven a truck out to the house on the hill and moved his folks’ furniture to a new house in Oklahoma City. The new house is air-conditioned, a mile from two of the daughters, only 20 miles from Norman. It was the right thing. In Eufaula they were all by themselves. And they are old now, and fragile. It was the right thing, but it sticks going down.
“I was supposed to help with the moving,” Lucious says, “but I got called out of town. I hated to have Dewey do that without me. I know it left him empty.”
He had been sitting alone in his house, waiting for Clarice to get home with the kids, Rae Shawn and Lucious III, who is called “Trey.”
“Just knowin’ the folks are gone from there, I can’t tell you. I’ve been up and down that road all my life, me and Dewey and Lee Roy. A little shack with four rooms, counting the kitchen. All those years, all that work. For as long as I can remember, we were by ourselves out there, but we were never lonesome. Somehow, when this happened, that’s what I was.”
For a moment the only sound in the house is the air conditioner, then the door bell begins to ring. Eleven times before Lucious can get there. He opens the door and smiles. The kid is two years old. The two ladies are carrying groceries up the sidewalk.
“Hello, Trey,” he says, “c’mon in.”
The house sits on a corner lot, two blocks from an elementary school in a new part of town. In the backyard, Dewey is building a fence.
Jessie sits in a green dress and sun glasses. Lucious is wearing a straw hat, his collar buttoned at the top. “The children bought us all this,” he says, “but we got to change everything, you see. We don’t know anybody, and we got to do a lot of things over that we already done.”
Jessie looks out the window. She would plant a garden, but the soil here doesn’t look like it would grow much. Lucious is getting used to opening the door now and seeing a house across the street, and one next to that, and one next to that. At night he will hear a dog barking or a truck out on the highway and think of home. The children and grandchildren come by for visits.
“I wish I had my health,” he says. “I’d be happy if I could be doin’ work.” Lucious shakes his head and smiles at an old man’s joke. Sunday he was shaving for church and suddenly felt too weak to go.
Jessie has taken off her glasses, and for a long moment after he says that, they hold each other’s eyes, until the smile softens, softens, and then is gone. And what was left in their eyes then was the truth—the work is over for us now—and an embrace, because they had done it well.
[Photo Illustration by Elena Scotti/Deadspin/GMG]