Late Sunday afternoon, I noticed that Pro Football Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon had passed way.

The 56-year-old Selmon had suffered a devastating stroke two nights earlier so it wasn’t a totally unexpected development but it was still unnerving.

Not solely due to the tragic circumstances but for the date of Selmon’s passing – Sept. 4.

I never like to hear of any deaths on that day. You see, Sept. 4 is the anniversary of my father’s death.

Selmon is the second high-profile athletic Hall of Famer to die on Sept. 4. The other is baseball Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg in 1986.

In some ways, it is hard to believe Sunday made it eight years since my father, Michael Henry Sullivan Sr., succumbed to Parkinson’s disease.

Other times, it seems much, much longer than eight years.

Perhaps that’s because I no longer want to think about all the visits to his nursing home over a four-year span. Nearly every day off was spent there and I regularly went straight from covering San Diego State football practice to the nursing home hoping he was still awake.

Many times as his illness progressed, he wasn’t awake but I never considered driving there a wasted trip.

It would have been nice to have been in San Diego on Sept. 4 to go by his gravesite and pay my respects but I made due on a beautiful day in which San Diego weather invaded Boise.

Spent the final six hours of Sept. 4 with two of my brothers and their families and the night was simply superb. Particularly touching was when darkness arrived while when I was hanging out with my two awesome nieces in the backyard.

While pushing little Mallory on the swing set, her old sister Isabel told me to look up in the sky. She pointed up toward the brightest star and told me to look up at my dad.

Isabel wasn’t even alive when my father – her grandfather – passed away.

That is something that saddens me. I have three very cool nephews and three very sweet nieces who will grow up without my father being a part of their lives. I am aware that at least one of the nephews gets very sad that he doesn’t know his grandfather.

I do know this – my dad would be so proud of all six of them.

I’m sure the Selmon family can relate. Lee Roy Selmon was a terrific college player at Oklahoma when I was a little kid and was one of the all-time great NFL defensive players while playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Tampa Bay had some awful teams back then but that didn’t stop Selmon from becoming a major star. He is so revered in the area that one of the major freeways is named after him.

It always is a bit hard to handle when players I watched as a kid pass away. It’s even tougher when the player is in their 50s like Selmon or even younger.

I guess it is just easier to accept if the famous ex-athlete is in their 70s – baseball’s Harmon Killebrew dying at age 74 is a recent example – than when someone like football legend Walter Payton dies at age 45.

In 2011, there seems to have been a slew of stunning deaths involving basketball players that remind you anyone can die at anytime.

Lorenzo Charles scored the winning basket in one of the biggest college basketball upsets ever (North Carolina State over powerful Houston in the 1983 NCAA title game) but died while driving a bus at age 47.

Armen Gilliam, a beast on Jerry Tarkanian’s UNLV teams in the 1980s, died of a heart attack while playing basketball at age 47.

Robert “Tractor” Traylor, who played at Michigan in the 1990s, died of a heart attack in a Puerto Rico apartment at age 34.

You can even throw in the mystery of former TCU basketball coach Neil Dougherty dying at age 50 when he went out for a jog. I sat across the table from Dougherty at Mountain West Conference basketball media day asking him questions the middle of last decade.

On and on and on the lists can go – from baseball legend Roberto Clemente dying in a plane crash at age 38 while on a goodwill mission, to Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart being killed by a drunk driver at age 22 just hours after pitching in a game. Another former Angels player, Lyman Bostock, was shot and killed at age 27 while sitting in a car just hours after a game and Cardinals pitcher Darryl Kile died at age 33 of a heart attack in his Chicago hotel room prior to a game.

The 1990 death of Loyola Marymount’s Hank Gathers during a college basketball game, the crazy 1999 plane crash in which golfer Payne Stewart died, the infamous July 4th shooting death of football quarterback Steve McNair in 2009, or the stunning 2000 automobile crash in which Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Thomas was paralyzed and died a few weeks later.

Deaths happen in all walks of life at any time. But I feel them just a bit more when they occur on Sept. 4.

As far as I’m concerned, Selmon’s death makes it three Hall of Famers who have died on Sept. 4.

Oh yeah, I am counting my father as one of the three.


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