As noted in this column two weeks ago, 2019 is the third consecutive year former Jaguars Tackle Tony Boselli has been named a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
And for the 24th year, I’ll be the Jacksonville representative on the Selection Committee and again I’m charged with presenting the case for Boselli’s credentials to achieve football immortality.
The process starts with a list of the eligible players and coaches being sent to the forty-eight members of the Selection Committee. This year, that list had 102 names at the start. Fifteen of those players have made it as “finalists” and will be discussed by the Committee this Saturday in Atlanta. Only five “Modern Era” players can be inducted each year.
So it’s a tough road to Canton.
In his career, Boselli played 97 games, including six in the playoffs. Two years ago the Selection Committee seemed to put the “length of career” debate to rest by inducting Kenny Easley with 96 games played and Terrell Davis with 78. Thirty-two of the 273 players in the Hall played less than 100 games.
Tony played in what can be called the “Golden Age of Tackles” in the league. His career overlapped fellow tackles Gary Zimmerman, Willie Roaf, Jonathan Ogden, Walter Jones and Orlando Pace. All five of those players have a place in Canton. The next tackle the Committee discusses might be Cleveland’s Joe Thomas.
Boselli was named to the All-Decade first team of the ‘90’s, despite only playing half the decade. Zimmerman was the other first team tackle. Willie Roaf was second team. Every other offensive first-team All Decade player of the ‘90’s has been elected to the Hall.
In his playing days, Roaf said he was always watched film of Boselli. “Even though I had two years on him,” Roaf explained, “he was someone I would watch and gauge my game after.”
Anthony Munoz, considered the best left tackle to ever play the game, called Boselli “One of the best offensive tackles I have observed.”
Gil Brandt, on the ballot this year as a contributor, believes Boselli was the best of all of those tackles in the Hall.
“He’s as good as any tackle, Jim Parker, Anthony Munoz, any guys you’ve ever been around,” Brandt said this week. “You can’t play the position any better. All of those guys. Ogden, Jones, Pace. If they were all sitting there, I’d take Boselli.”
“It’s not guess work, it’s police work,” Brandt said pointing to the statistical comparison of Boselli to other great tackles. “We’re not comparing him to if ands or buts, we’re comparing him to great players. “I’d ask anybody, ‘What didn’t they like about Tony Boselli?’”
Everybody from Boselli’s era agrees that he was Hall of Fame material during his playing career. He passes the eye test. If you saw him play, you knew you were watching a special player
There’s not much debate that Boselli is the best player to ever wear a Jaguars uniform. His teammate and best friend Mark Brunell, who had a 19-year NFL career with five teams, puts Boselli in some rarefied air.
“I wouldn’t say Tony was better than Brett Favre, Reggie White or Drew Brees,” Brunell said, “but those are the guys he’s in the conversation with.”
Even his former on-field opponents are staunch voices for Boselli’s Hall of Fame candidacy.
Jaguars’ fans will remember Boselli waving Hall of Famer Jason Taylor to the other end of the field on national television.
“Boselli beat me down on a Monday night,” Taylor recalls. “An epic beat down. Surprising it didn’t knock me into retirement.”
“Pass rushing is an art, some people don’t understand that,” Hall of Famer John Randle said. “He had versatility of (Gary) Zimmerman and (Walter) Jones. He was really patient, that’s what makes the great ones. The great ones are there and whatever you want to do, they’re just saying ‘I’m going to wait for you to come to me.’”
“I’d go against Walter Jones in practice (in Seattle) and Gary Zimmerman and Randall McDaniel (in Minnesota). They’re so patient. I watched tape of the week before when he went against Bruce Smith. I watched it and Bruce tried to make him move and Tony was such a strong guy he could absorb him. You had to come at him full bore.”
“He had great feet. Like a great dancer. He never got crossed over, he had the versatility of Willie Roaf, he could take you just with his feet.”
“I like how he was old school. First off, he was so big it was like wrestling with a big bear. When you got into him, you see that in the movies, he would just cover you up like a blanket. I had to take off quick and get to that point on the outside shoulder to try to make him do something. If he beat you there, he’d shove you by. It just didn’t work out. If you got there, he’d just adjust his feet and take you on.”
“He had the mindset. You couldn’t acknowledge he got the best of you. He was a quiet talker. You’d see a DB come up to the line and you could tell Tony was talking to him, telling him to get out of there. He’d try to get you out of your game.”
Former Giants quarterback and current CBS broadcaster Phil Simms remembers Tom Coughlin telling him he was going to put Boselli on Derrick Thomas and he’d handle him.
“I thought that was crazy,” Sims said. “But as we broadcast the game the next day, Tony Boselli dominated Derrick Thomas from start to finish. Tony Boselli was as dominating an offensive lineman that I have ever seen.”
As the first pick in Seattle out of FSU, Hall of Famer Walter Jones said he wore 71 specifically because of Boselli.
“I’ve never told anybody this,” Jones said this week while traveling. “But I went in the equipment room and I told them ‘I want to wear 71.’ I wanted to do it right. I told the people in Seattle I wanted to be what Tony was for the Jaguars: That left tackle they built the franchise around. He set the tone for who we wanted to be. Even how he wore the uniform. I wanted to look like that when they took my picture out there as a left tackle. I watched that matchup he had with Bruce Smith. I wanted to be that guy.”
“If Hall of Famers had a vote, I’d vote for him this year,” Jones added. “If I was starting a team, I’d start with Tony. I know the other offensive linemen on the ballot. They were all great players but I’d start with Tony.”
Gary Zimmerman, the other All-Decade tackle of the ‘90’s said Boselli had the special skills necessary to be at the top of the game.
“My career overlapped Tony only two years but I was always impressed with what a great technician he was,” he said. “He had great, what I call, “flowing feet.” He could always get himself back into position. He had that patience that allowed him to absorb whatever was coming at him.”
Zimmerman then laughed at the current process the goes on all day and culminates with a television show in the evening.
“I feel sorry for those guys now, sitting around waiting for the secret knock. I went skiing.”
And John Randle brought up the unspoken part of Tony’s career.
“The market he was in plays a part,” John admitted. “If he was in a different market, if he was in Philly or New York, everybody would know about Tony. He was up there with the best of them.”
With Champ Bailey, Ed Reed and Tony Gonzalez being hailed as first –ballot selections for the Class of 2019 that would leave two open spots this year for 12 remaining candidates. Boselli is one of four offensive linemen among the finalists. If you do get into “the room,” you have about an eight-eight percent chance of eventually getting into the Hall.
So for Tony, like everybody else, it’s a tough road to Canton.