Shorter SpeedWeeks, Better Racing?

From a 21-day stretch known as “SpeedWeeks” the racing at Daytona International Speedway has been condensed down to a few days. NASCAR fans still plan their February vacation around the 500, but the days of comping out in the infield for weeks or parking your multi-million-dollar RV and making new friends around the nightly bonfire are gone. There’s still camping in the infield, and the RV’s are still lined up, but a four-day stretch encompassing the qualifying races on Thursday through the Great American Race on Sunday is about the extent of racing now to kick off the season in Daytona.

“I learned I didn’t have enough race car,” Dale Earnhardt Sr. told me once walking through the garage after a practice 10 days before the 500. “We’ll get it right though. There’s speed out there,” he explained. He and the rest of the NASCAR drivers as well as the truck racers (when that became a thing), the ARCA drivers and the guys in the Busch series spent hours on the track testing and in practice, looking for the right setup.

No more.

Trying to even out the field, NASCAR has limited the amount of time on the track, keeping the big teams from spending time and money to gain an advantage over the field. Most drivers don’t like it.

“We don’t have enough time on the track,” Dale Jr. has said in the past. The two -time Daytona 500 winner is happy to just be driving in 2017, back from missing half of last season with concussion symptoms.

“I’m happy, I’m smiling, I’m back,” he said on media day this week. The newly married driver didn’t rule out a shorter than expected career.

“If I were to win the championship this year, I would consider it,” he said when asked about retirement. That, I’m sure, sent shivers through the NASCAR brass who are presiding over a fragile time in the sport, looking for star power.

Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson is closer to the end of his career than the beginning. Carl Edwards left the sport abruptly to perhaps pursue a political career and young drivers like Ty Dillon and Chase Elliott are just now finding their footing among the loyal fan base.

Without emerging stars in a personality-driven sport, changes to the race formats are what they hope is the first step toward re-capturing some of the magic.

“We’re doing things to make the sport better on television,” Johnson said this week. “If we can get people to watch on TV, they’ll like it and they’ll want to come see us race live.”

The 500 will have two stops this year, one after 60 and another after 120 laps. Points will be awarded for position in the race and they’ll restart.

“Just enough to let fans go to the bathroom and get a commercial break in,” one driver quipped.

FOX and NBC split the season for broadcasts and are counting on increased ratings and fan engagement on other media platforms to re-energize advertisers. If not, fewer races will be on TV, fewer dollars will be flowing into the sport and they’ll have to adapt. From a regional southeastern sport until the ’90’s, NASCAR races now in non-traditional places like New Hampshire and Las Vegas. If they don’t turn the fan decline around, Rockingham and Darlington will be back with prominent spots on the schedule.

One Stop Sports Recovery (Now available to everybody)

If recovery is the new sports science, then it’s no surprise athletic recovery centers are finding their footing in North Florida. With an active population participating in sports across the gamut, the Sports Recovery Annex in San Marco is trying to serve that ever growing group.

“This gives everybody a chance to have the same recovery techniques college and professional athletes have available to them,” said Dr. Anthony Iselborn whose office is adjacent to the Annex. Dr. Iselborn has a long history of work with athletes as a physical therapist, an athletic trainer and a chiropractor. He’s worked with the US Olympic teams and Pan American games squads and has seen how recovery can be beneficial to performing at your best.

“Whether it is a pro football player or a tennis player, they are going out there, beating up their bodies, using muscles, joints. They need to be recovering in between workouts to continue doing what they do.”

“I couldn’t do my job without it,” said Jaguars linebacker Paul Pozluszny who attended the Sports Recovery Annex’s Grand Opening. “I was impressed with the array of tools available to everybody. Usually this kind of treatment is only accessible by college and pro sports teams. It’s awesome that a places like this are starting to develop because people want to work out, stay healthy and be in great shape. This is an added aspect in helping people accomplishing their goals.””

Starting with the latest in cryotherapy equipment, the Sports Recovery Center bills themselves as a “one stop shop” when it comes to getting yourself ready to keep training. Instead of being sore or risking injury, the weekend athlete now can recover like a professional athlete can stay on the field, the court, the track, or on their bike.

As a full-time athletic trainer, Catherine Horita sees serious and not-so-serious athletes on a regular basis. She says this will keep more people training and less rehabbing from an injury. “You go out, work out and the next day you can’t move so you take that day off. That day off turns into a week and you have to start from scratch again. What we are doing is that you go to the gym, do a solid workout or run your mileage, then recover here so the next day you feel great and you can continue.”

Recovery is a niche that’s somewhere between training to get better and going through physical therapy to heal an injury. And while it might seem high end and only good for the serious amateur, weekend or professional athlete, their thought is everybody can benefit.

“It is kind of like upkeep. So this place, the goal is to recover faster so you can get out there and perform again,” the Annex’s General Manage explained. “It’s good for athletes, people who want to work out or just somebody who wants to go for a walk every day.”

It can be fun, beneficial, or even a little painful if you like as I found out. But I can also tell you, it works.

The Case For Boselli In The Hall, And The Process It Entails

For nearly nine hours on Saturday, we debated the merits of two contributors, one senior and 15 “modern era” candidates and their worthiness for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. As my fellow selectors have said, it’s a complicated process. We’re to consider only what happened on the field during the careers of the players eligible. Where the field starts and stops is a debatable question. Statistics help, but if it was just about stats, they could feed them into a computer and let some accountants say who gets in and who doesn’t.

But it’s more than that and that’s why it’s complicated. In my 23rd year on the committee I was asked to present a player to the assembled media for the first time. I was honored to do so with such a talented player to present as Tony Boselli.

I’m including much of what I talked to the committee about here as well as some thoughts on Tony’s chances to eventually be selected to the Hall in the future.

Anytime anybody talks about Boselli and the Hall, the first question, and usually the only question is about the brevity of his career. But the perception is that Tony played a few years but actually he played seven seasons in the league. Ninety-one regular season games plus six starts in the playoffs.

The varying length of seasons, 12 before 1960, 14 from 1961-1977 and 16 since 1977 makes comparing “games played” a good measuring stick.

Players who played about a modern 16-game season more than Boselli who are in the Hall of Fame include:

Lynn Swann 116
Earl Campbell 115
Dwight Stephenson 114
Kellen Winslow 109
Paul Hornung 109

In addition to the two players we discussed on Saturday, Kenny Easley and Terrell Davis, there are 30 players with less than 100 games played are already in the Hall including:

Gale Sayers, Dick Stanfel, Doak Walker, and Cliff Battles.

In terms of performance, Boselli was a dominant player in the era of his career, He shut down celebrated Hall of Famer Bruce Smith, the 1996 Defensive Player of the Year in the ’96 playoffs, holding him to 3 innocuous tackles and no sacks in a 30-27 Jaguars win in Buffalo.

He shut down Jason Taylor on national television on a Monday night, another finalist in 2017 who was elected to the Hall. Taylor said last week, “Boselli beat me down on a Monday night. An epic beat down. Surprising it didn’t knock me into retirement.”

And closed down Derrick Thomas, a story best told by Phil Simms.

“Thomas had 6 sacks the week before for the Chiefs and were facing the Jaguars the following week. I was doing the game for CBS and in the production meeting prior I asked Coughlin how he was going to slow down Derrick Thomas: Double teams, chip him, whatever. Coughlin said, “I’m going to put my guy Tony Boselli over here. They’re going to line up their guy Derrick Thomas, and we will let them go one on one, then we’ll see who wins that battle!” I remember thinking, ‘That’s trouble for Jacksonville. No way is anyone going to match up against Derrick Thomas. As we broadcast the game the next day, Tony Boselli dominated Derrick Thomas from start to finish. For the period he played in, Tony Boselli was as dominating an offensive linemen that I have ever seen.”

That’s just one of the testimonials from former players and coaches who believe Tony belongs in Canton.

The man who drafted and coached him and went on to win two Super Bowls in New York, Tom Coughlin said, “Tony was simply the best offensive tackle in the game throughout his career. I never had to worry that his guy would make a play. Ever.”

Celebrated NFL personnel expert Gil Brandt said, “He’s in that same category with Willie Roaf and Anthony Munoz and Jonathan Ogden and Walter Jones – he’s equal to all those guys. If you put all of those guys up you’d have a hard time deciding who you were going to take number one.”

Many long-time football watchers consider Anthony Munoz the greatest tackle of all-time. Munoz said, “My opinion, after watching Tony Boselli play during his NFL career, is that he is one of the best offensive tackles I have observed.”

And even Willie Roaf, a contemporary of Tony’s and a member of the Hall of Fame said, “I would always watch film of other players at my position. Even though I had two years on him, he was someone I would watch and gauge my game after.”

Perhaps being a good teammate counts in this process, so talking to his teammates, to a man they said he had no peer. Boselli made the guys around him better through his play and work ethic.

I asked Mark Brunell, who said Boselli was easily the best player on the Jaguars, if Boselli was the best football player he’d ever played with. The 19-year veteran and teammate of Boselli for Tony’s entire career said “I wouldn’t say Tony was better than Brett Favre, Reggie White or Drew Brees, but those are the guys he’s in the conversation with.”

He was the sheriff on those teams as well, and its no coincidence that when the Jaguars were relevant when it came to the post season it was during Boselli’s career. They went to the post-season four times in his first five seasons and twice played in the AFC Championship game.

You could call the era Boselli played in the “Golden Age of Tackles” in the NFL. Willie Roaf, Jonathan Ogden, Walter Jones, Orlando Pace, and Tony Boselli. Joe Jacoby is still on the Hall of Fame ballot and his career started in 1981. There might not be another tackle for 10 years who get consideration for the Hall among the current group. Perhaps Joe Thomas and possibly Tyron Smith 15 years from now. So we’re talking about a special time from 1992 when Roaf came into the league and until Pace retired in 2009; all five of their careers were included in that time span. Tony Boselli played from 1995-2002.

Statically, Tony compares favorably with all of those HOF’ers. Gil Brandt’s statistical analysis of sacks allowed, yards rushing and other hard number show Boselli’s as an equal or above those other four.

In terms of accolades, Boselli was All rookie 1995, All Pro three times, 4 if you count the 1996 selection by Sports Illustrated and played in 5 pro bowls. He was named All-Decade first team of the 90’s at Tackle despite only playing five years in the decade and one was his rookie year. He passes the eye test. If you saw him play, you knew you were watching a special talent. Gary Zimmerman was the other All Decade Tackle, Willie Roaf was second team. Every other offensive first-team All Decade Player of the ’90’s we’ve elected to the Hall.

Everybody I talked to from Boselli’s era agreed that he was Hall of Fame material during his playing career. The brevity of his career, 97 games, should be viewed in its perspective. It wasn’t so brief after all. There are now 32 of the 265 players in the Hall who have less than 100 games played.

What’s changed for Tony is the selection of Terrell Davis to the Class of 2017. If the selection committee was willing to look past Davis having played only 78 games it helps Boselli’s chances exponentially.

As I mentioned, it’s a complicated process. In 2018, three players, Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher and Randy Moss are eligible for the first time. Are they all first-ballot Hall of Famers? If so, that will leave two spots for 12 players. In 2019 Ed Reed, Tony Gonzalez and Champ Bailey will be eligible. Sometimes it’s a slotting process, sometimes, as it was this year with LaDanian Tomlinson, the player’s greatness dictates that he be selected as soon as he becomes eligible.

I thought Tony had a 50-50 shot at getting in this year and the fact that he advanced to the final 10 proved me right. But the committee surprised me by selecting Jason Taylor in his first year of eligibility. Tony’s domination of Taylor is one of his credentials for admittance to the Hall. Nobody argues Boselli’s greatness. At some point I believe he’ll be wearing a gold jacket. When that is, as difficult as the process is, as I’ve said, is hard to predict.

Coughlin Says Boselli “Should Be In The Hall Of Fame”

When Tom Coughlin was the Head Coach and General Manger (chief cook and bottle washer too) of the Jaguars in 1995, everybody knew he was going to take Tony Boselli with the franchise’s first draft pick. Coughlin tried to feint, saying he liked a couple of receivers at that spot but even he admits, “Nobody believed me.” Now 22 years later, Boselli is a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“You’re just so proud about reading what his peers said about him,” Tom said at the stadium on Tuesday. “I mean it’s incredible. Willie Roaf and Anthony Munoz, I remember Anthony, a USC guy, telling me from the get-go, Tony Boselli is probably the greatest tackle that ever played on the left side.”

In our first chance to talk to Coughlin in a small setting, he’s is noticeably different than his first go-round here. A bit more jovial, more effusive and even with some self-deprecating humor. He laughed when he recalled Phil Simms’ story about how the Jaguars were going to deal with Derrick Thomas one week after he had recorded six sacks.

“When he asked me the question I said, ‘What do you mean what are we going to do? We’ll put Boselli on Derek Thomas and we’ll see where it goes.’ And that’s the way I felt from day one,” Tom said.

Delayed by a dislocated kneecap suffered in his first training camp, Boselli first played in 1995 in the fourth game of the year against Green Bay.

“They were a good football team,” Coughlin recalled. “And I held him for a little bit in the first quarter and I said, go, and that was the last time I worried about anybody coming off that side. And that’s a true story.”

When the Jaguars medical staff wouldn’t clear Boselli to play because of a shoulder injury after 2001, Coughlin walked down the street to tell Tony in person the team was going to expose him to the expansion draft for the newly formed Houston Texans. (They both lived in Marsh Landing at the time) “To walk down the street unannounced, Saturday,” Coughlin remembered. “Late morning I think it was, ring the doorbell and he comes to the door and I just went and sat on the stoop on the step. He came out and sat down with me. That is not one of my fondest memories.”

Having gone on to coach the New York Giants to two Super Bowl wins, Coughlin worked with Hall of Fame caliber players in New York. So is Boselli the best football player Coughlin ever coached? Is he in that conversation?

“No question, he certainly is. Without a doubt, because he could do so many different things,” Tom said. “He is such a great athlete on top anything else that he does. The real thing was the competiveness in him. He would go out on the field and the look in his eye and the way he could dominate people at times. No matter what you say. No matter what run you pick. ”

A 19-year veteran in the NFL, Mark Brunell was Boselli’s teammate during his entire career. Mark has often joked that he and Tony didn’t get along when the first met because, “Tony thought he was the best player on the team. Which he was,” Mark now says with a laugh. So was Boselli the best football player he ever played with in his career?

“I don’t know that I’d call him a better football player than Reggie White or Brett Favre or Drew Brees,” Mark said this week. “But he’s certainly in that conversation with them.” White and Favre are in the Hall. Brees no doubt get serious consideration after his retirement.

One of the qualifications that comes up for eligibility to the Hall of Fame each year is a player’s ability to make they guys around him better. According to Coughlin, Boselli did that by just being there.

“When you go on the field with somebody of that caliber – and I use the example normally when I’m talking about a quarterback, a great quarterback – but when you go on the field with somebody that good as Boselli and he plays at that level, you’re on that field with him, especially you talk about your interior offensive linemen. You’re looking at this guy thinking, man, I got to play my ever-loving off because if I don’t he’s going to make me look really bad and that’s the way it is.”

His leadership in the locker room is another thing that impressed Coughlin during his career with the Jaguars. Boselli was the enforcer, the leader, the Sheriff among his teammates.

“Oh he was. There’s no doubt and when he said things, they listened,” Coughlin noted. “He understood the game, he grasped it all, he understood the locker room. He knew when to speak and when not to speak, but when he spoke, they listened.”

When asked if “It’s hard to imagine in retrospect that it worked out so well, No. 2 overall, it was the first pick, first in the Pride, maybe best player to ever play here, he was the perfect storm?”

With his newfound humor, Tom laughed and said, “Look who picked him.”

Boselli is one of 15 Modern Era Finalists who will be discussed Saturday in Houston by the Selection Committee. I’m the Jacksonville representative on the Hall of Fame Selection Committee and have been charged with giving the committee a presentation about Tony’s career and his qualifications for the Hall. The announcement of the Class of 2017 for the Hall will be made Saturday night during the NFL Honors show broadcast from Houston.