A football helmet in a Tampa restaurant symbolizes Carroll, as an alumni group gathers to share their stories
By Jennifer Holton ’12
Nestled among the many football helmets of the Southeastern Conference in Selmon’s Restaurant rests a navy and gold, John Carroll University football helmet autographed by NFL legend Don Shula ’51. It beams with pride.
A short distance away sit several Carroll alumni who gather to honor the restaurant in Tampa, Fla., they frequent monthly with the historic piece of their alma mater.
The restaurant’s owner, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive lineman Lee Roy Selmon, welcomed the addition of the JCU football helmet this past spring. The Blue Streak helmet may have arrived recently, but the JCU alumni have been frequenting Selmon’s for several years and have been meeting monthly in the Tampa area for almost 20. Comprised of six to 20 alumni, the group that meets at Selmon’s began in 1992 when Fr. Michael Lavelle, S.J., took a couple of alumni to lunch. John Breznai ’59 was one of them.
“We have been adding alumni ever since,” Breznai says.
Since the initial lunch outing with Fr. Lavelle in the early ’90s, many Carroll alumni have joined Breznai and others. With alums ranging as far back as the class of 1957 to as recent as 2000, there’s been much to talk about.
“It’s about camaraderie,” Breznai says. “A lot of the older guys have known each other for 50 years, but when we meet, it’s a bunch of people who like each other more than anything else.”
As the group gathers every month at Selmon’s, some reflect on their days at Carroll; others discuss their families and relationships. Nostalgia for the college days at Carroll can be a theme, but mostly the conversation focuses on catching up with others since the last meeting. Pete Pucher ’60, a quarterback for JCU on the University’s first undefeated football team, says his motive is often to listen to the stories others share.
“I enjoy listening to the things that had gone on and hearing about the people I remember,” he says. “There’s a pretty wide range of classes that come to Selmon’s, so it’s good to listen to younger people and compare how they approach things.”
One afternoon, amid conversations about grandchildren and careers, Jim Walsh, Ph.D., a retired Carroll chemistry professor, found himself glancing at the helmets throughout the restaurant and questioning the possibility of a Blue Streak presence beyond their own. He proposed the idea of obtaining a JCU football helmet to the others and contacted Tony DeCarlo ’66G to acquire a helmet from the University. DeCarlo got the helmet and took it to Don Shula to be autographed.
A few weeks later, the helmet arrived, ready to become a permanent part of their meeting place. It was signed “Don Shula, Hall of Fame ’97” on one side and “Go Streaks! ’51” on the other. Selmon joined the group for lunch that afternoon and formally accepted the helmet. Only a few months later on Sept. 4, Selmon passed away from a stroke at age 56.
For Breznai and the others, the helmet’s presence cemented their relationship with the restaurant.
“It’s made us more loyal to Selmon’s,” he says. “We promised we’d go there en masse to watch every televised JCU game.”
The headpiece may seem to be a sure fit among the others, yet there’s one significant difference that makes it a standout: It’s the sole helmet on display not belonging to an NCAA Division I athletics team. John Carroll may not be the biggest name in football at Selmon’s, but the Blue Streaks helmet carries the biggest name in Don Shula, Breznai says.
Ben Milsom ’01, who joins the group at the restaurant, believes the helmet will bring JCU into question.
“When you put a helmet like that among other big-name college helmets, people are going to ask about it,” he says. “People will associate Don Shula with the Miami Dolphins and not necessarily Carroll, so it will make people aware of the University and what Carroll’s mission is about.”
It’s the JCU mission of serving others each alumnus continues to follow – even more than 50 years after graduation for those such as Breznai and Pucher. The group has been participating in community service projects for 18 years, and their largest project, volunteering at the Children’s Cancer Center, has been a part of their group gatherings for more than 10 years.
“We get a bigger turnout for the Children’s Cancer Center than we do for our social events,” Breznai says. “About 25 alums will show up, and we’ll clean, do yard work or electrical work – whatever they need from us.”
The group also meets for other social events throughout the year, like when Breznai hosts a shrimp cookout that draws alumni from all throughout the country. Pucher is impressed by the commitment to John Carroll by Breznai and other men from the class of ’59.
“John keeps it going, and we all say he’s going too far, but with a smile on his face, he says, ‘You can run with it,’ and we do,” he says.
This commitment to Carroll radiates. It’s not only evident in Breznai’s ideas, but in the actions of Pucher, Milsom, and the others who gather around a table at Selmon’s, sometimes catching a glimpse of the blue and gold helmet that reminds them of the people they have met and the stories they can tell about their alma mater.
“Now we have a spot here, and we’re proud of it,” Milsom says. “It’s good to know we have a presence.” JCU