"Ten years ago, defense in the NFL was played by guys who weighed 270 pounds and had no teeth," said Tampa Bay Buccaneer linebacker Dewey Selmon, captain of the defensive unit with the best statistics in the NFL.

"Now, it is played by people like us," proclaimed the proud Buc. "We're the smallest and smallest defense in pro ball.

"Two years ago, when we lost 26 games in a row, everybody laughed and said brain couldn't beat brawn," said Selmon, 26, who is a doctoral candidate in philosophy as well as an All-Pro.

"Now, we're one win away from the Super Bowl. All I hear is silence."

The primary reason the Bucs need only a victory over Los Angeles here Sunday to go to Pasadena is their innovative and invisible defense -- a unit that led the NFL in every category that matters: points allowed, yards allowed, yards allowed per play.

And the 500-pound, two-headed monster that lurks at the heart of that defense is the splendid brother combination of Lee Roy and Dewey Selmon, the men who are the brain and brawn of the destructive group.

It is 225-pound defensive end Lee Roy Selmon, the NFL's defensive player of the year, who is the most valuable and destructive force for the Buccaneer franchise.

However, it is Dewey Selmon, the 245-pound inside linebacker, who, in his analytical second-team All-Pro way, is far more typical of the Tampa Bay team and the radical ideas that underlie its asphyxiating defense.

Dewey Selmon, linebacker, and Tom Bass, defensive coordinator, are the two minds, usually thinking as one, that are at the back of the Bucs' complex cohesion.

The pair of giants -- both bearded, mustachioed and quiet -- would look more at home in a Bohemian tavrn, sipping wine and brooding into the wee hours.

Selmon, who is completing his doctoral work in ancient philosophy at Oklahoma, has eyes and features that seem to move in several directions at once. He makes his frequent gestures with hands that, because of a minor pigment aberration, are almost totally white.

"My hands," he said with a smile, "illustrate how little difference there must really be between the races."

Bass, who was paralyzed by polio for a year -- ending his college football career -- is a 250-pound bear with a shaven bald head, a huge black cigar stuck in his mouth, a white beard and a limp that makes him look like a pirate who has retired to be a Buccaneer.

"If I had to choose between winning the Super Bowl or writing a decent novel," said Bass, who has published two volumes of poetry, "it would be no choice. The Super Bowl would have to go to hell."

The last stage of Bass game plans is to spend Saturday evening with his wife beside the Tampa Bay, barbecuing and looking at the sunset.

"If I had to work 20 hours a day and sleep on a cot in my office to be a good coach," he growled, "I'd chalk it up. Some of my best defensive ideas come when I'm looking at sunsets."

"Philosophy is just a hobby, not a future occupation," said Dewey Selmon. "You can't open up a philosophy factory.

"The only virtue is studying Plato and Socrates is that it tests your character when you have to explain it to other people. I tell them that in a world where the almighty dollar is always out to grab you and twist you, philosophy is a cheap escape.

"Maybe I'd be better off spending my time fishing. But I believe that you can't replace the idea of knowing. I want to know the process by which I've come to my beliefs. I want to be able to say, 'This, to me, is right. And this is why."

"You can't replace the idea of knowing in football, either. The fan mostly watches the great ending of a play, but he seldom sees its creation.

"I see the play on the drawing board. I understand where every player on the field is going on every play, and why.

"Every player on a Bass-coached team understands that. He's got us to the point where it's like there's a web between us. When on moves, we all move."

The idea that unites Dewey Selmon and Bass is a respect for logic. Both believe that it frees them from wasted time and rote learning, while allowing them to see their game entire.

"In a way, there's a relationship between philosophy and football," said Selmon. "In symbolic logic, you say that P entails Q. You learn what that really means.

"For instance, you might think that, 'If the guard pulls, then the halfback must follow,' "But that's the fallacy of 'modus tolus.'

"If the guard pulls, it could still be a sucker play. The guard pulling would be necessary, but not a sufficient, condition to imply an end sweep."

This is anything but idle chatter to the Bucs. From three to five nights every week, they take a two-hour written exam composed by Bass. Folks, it ain't multiple choice.

"When the Philadelphia Eagles are in a left split-wing formation inside their 30-yard line, you're alert for two plays -- one a run and one a pass. What are they? And diagram the responsibilities of every player on both teams," goes just one question from Bass' final exam for a recent game.

The answers are "28 pitch" and "X quick screen," but the trick is in expecting every player to know the jobs of all 22 men on the field.

"Once, the game was 80 percent physical," said Selmon. "Now, it is 60 percent mental.

"When I was in college, the NFL scouting people visited me at Oklahoma, gave me a pencil and said, 'Take this test in 90 minutes.' It was an aptitute test, not football.

"I said, "I'm not applying for an administrative position.'"

The Buccaneers better administer Bass' exams, or else.

"They come back with red marks and scores written all over them the next day," said Selmon. "Bass'll write, 'No, no, no! You're not going to do this in the game, are you?'"

Bass' tests are designed to create less work, not more. "Other teams hand out those huge computer printouts," said Bass. "I use the tests to highlight what I think is important. The computer can't evaluate what is significant."

Bass' tests run from six to 15 typed pages, "depending on how creative I'm feeling," he said.

Remarkably, the Bucs love, rather than hate, them. "Anything that appeals to an athlete's competitiveness will suceed," said Bass. "It is their strongest motivating force.

"Besides, they can see the rewards of playing as an interlocking unit where no one is selfish and players' roles change from week to week, depending on your opponent. There's no greater thrill than having it all come together, as we have several times. It's a true marriage of minds, bodies and reactions. Sometimes, you actually feel that you can will the other offensive team to call the play you want them to."

If gracious, soft-spoken Lee Roy Selmon, the terror at end who is a marketing officer for a bank in the offseason, is the perfect instrument for Bass' tactics, then Lee Roy's brother, Dewey, is the ideal tool to fine-tune problems on the field.

"Dewey and I are on the same wavelength," said Bass. "I call the defenses, but the instant I see a problem developing just before the play, there's Dewey moving everybody around and adjusting at the last instant."

The Selmon brothers are at their peak right now -- Lee Roy, the physical genius, and Dewey, the personification of a brainy Buc. Lee Roy may go on for 10 more years. "He can play forever," said Dewey. "He has the most balanced emotional makeup I've ever seen."

For Dewey, the lure of the NFL is not as strong. "I've questioned, when we were losing, if I should even be here. You give up so much of your life and body for a game.

"A whole generation of pros has arrived who are almost too smart to be held by football. They're drawn between two lives -- their own goals and the consuming life of football.

"The old pros stayed in the game because they loved the camaraderie, the locker room brotherhood. But that's an emotion, strong as it is, that you can grow through.

"Right now, everyone on this team is being held by winning. That is a special experience."

When the Selmons leave football, they know where they will probably go -- back to Eufala, Okla., where their parents raised nine children on a 40-acre farm on which they played their first football with a tin can.

"Like my dad said, "Every frog praises its own pond,'" Dewey said, "but I love Oklahoma. It's good soil. Things grow strong out there."

And good things, like the straight and strong Selmons, have grown from it.