The HOF Case for Tony Boselli

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.

How The Patriots Do It

In the past eighteen years, the New England Patriots have won sixteen AFC East titles. They haven’t had a losing season. They’ve played in twelve AFC Championship Games including eight in a row from 2011 to 2018—and won eight of them.

How is it that New England has that kind of sustained success that most NFL teams, including the Jaguars, can’t find?

Is it a product of the culture in New England? Bill Belichick? Or is Tom Brady just that good?

We all know the difference between a manager and a leader. A manager pours over schedules and assigns the extra work to their staff. The leader just gets the job done and takes the extra work on themselves. A manager bad-mouths the competition and complains about the past. A leader looks inward for answers and has vision for the future.

That’s how a culture in any organization, including an NFL team gets built.

Do you think Bill Belichick is the first to leave the office every day? Does he worry about the schedule? Say anything about the competition? Dwell on the past?

None of that.

Former Jaguars Fred Taylor and Kyle Brady ended their careers with the Patriots. They both admit the culture in Jacksonville and New England were unique and successful in their own right during their playing careers.

“A high attention to detail,” Brady says he noticed as soon as he got to New England. “Practices were tough. I tell people you were more aware of the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses then they were aware of their own.”

For the Patriots, Taylor says it’s the precision they expect, at all times, from the professional football players in their employ.

“Through precision, and total confidence on game day they’re able to play fast,” he explained this week.

“First time we did 9 on 7, I thought, “What’s this? It’s patty cake, patty cake.’ I was used to real “thud” in that practice period. But it was proper technique, proper pad placement, and proper hand placement. It was a level of precision that everybody understood. They practice that and they’re coached so well to understand the situation during the game.”

Taylor got a real taste of the precision and intensity in New England in his third preseason game with the Patriots.

“We were playing the Redskins and I was the tight end in the formation. I ran a “y hook” on third-and-2 and did a sight read on the SAM linebacker covering me. He was playing outside technique so I made an adjustment that we ran in practice and hooked inside. Tom threw the ball to the outside and it was incomplete. I went to the sideline and he was on me immediately so hard that the QB coach had to get him off me. I sat down on the bench and said to Kevin Faulk, ‘It’s preseason, right?’ And he said, ‘It’s like that here.’”

“Tom later came back and apologized because it was something they discussed in the meeting room the night before with Kevin but not with me. Kevin was a late scratch so I never got the message.”

“It starts with Brady,” Kyle said about his time in New England. “He’s fanatical about winning.”

But it’s not just about the talent at quarterback.

“When I got there they had won three AFC Championships,” the Jaguars tight end said about his 13th, and final year in the NFL with the Patriots. “I expected them to be resting on their laurels. But their work ethic, from the veterans on down was amazing. In the weight room, film study. They have leaders that are dialed into that philosophy.”

But how is it that they can just ramp it up year after year and remain among the elite teams in the league?

“No FA or rookie was going to come in there and change that culture,” Kyle explained. “It was going to change you or you’d be gone. Randy Moss fell into that culture and had unbelievable success. They put his locker right next to Tom’s and it was basically a tutorial every day. He loved it.”

When the Jaguars practiced with the Patriots last year during the preseason in New England, you could see the expectation Patriots players and coaches had of themselves. If there was in incomplete pass during any offensive drill, everybody on that field dropped to the ground and did the number of pushups of the quarterback who threw the pass. Not too many times did they do twelve pushups. But whenever the ball was on the ground, everybody, including Belichick dropped and started doing pushups. If you’re the guy holding the clipboard and the head coach is over there doing pushups, you’re quickly on the ground.

“The intensity part naturally flows,” Fred said about the whole “vibe” around the Patriots. “They have guys who play above the x’s and o’s. Tom is great obviously, a pleasure to share a backfield with him. It flows from Belichick and Tom. Tom is Bill on the field. It’s the perfect situation with both of them. They want to win.”

Both Taylor and Brady agreed that even in winning, the Patriots look forward. Not a lot of celebrating or pats on the back.

“Bill would go over what we did right, then he’d move on,” Fred explained. “They don’t blow you up.”

“This is what we do, we make plays, that’s what expected,” Kyle said of the attitude after wins. “There’s not a lot of verbal praise. But they’d do different things. You’d come in on Monday morning after a win, and you’d walk down the hallway on the way to the locker room by Belichick’s office and they had the big photos on the walls already changed out from yesterday’s win. You’d see yourself scoring or a linebacker making a big hit. I don’t know how they did that but it was pretty cool.”

Playing a nearly perfect game last week against the Chargers; the Patriots put their precision on display. If it was 3rd and 5, the receivers were at least 5 ½ yards downfield. Not 4 ½. They were precise in their planning and their execution.

It’s part of the everyday landscape when reviewing the Patriots success to cite Belichick’s “Do your job!” philosophy. But on the door of their facility it also says, “Ignore the noise.” When it comes to winning football games, nothing outside these doors matters.

Just about any organization can take a lesson from that.

Pro Football Hall the Toughest

This is my 24th year on the Selection Committee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  It’ll be the third straight year I’ve presented Tony Boselli’s case as a candidate for induction into Canton.

This year, 102 former players were nominated for the Class of 2019. That list was sent to the 48 members of the selection committee. Those selectors represent the 32 NFL teams, the Pro Football Writers Association, at-large journalists who cover professional football, and two current members of the Hall. The list has grown with NFL expansion as well as the desire of the Hall’s Board of Directors to include more “national” broadcasters and writers who don’t necessarily cover one team.

When I first joined the committee in 1995 there were thirty-two selectors. At the time, pro football coverage was still dominated by the “legacy” writers and broadcasters of the game. Jack Buck, Will McDonough, Edwin Pope, Tom McEwen, John Steadman and Furman Bisher were all regulars. They were a tight knit group who traveled together, drank together and had definite opinions about who was worthy of induction to the Hall.

There wasn’t really a hierarchy, but certain members provided a little more clout than others. It always helped a candidate if they spoke up on their behalf. And almost always sank their candidacy if a negative opinion was offered.

There’s a confidentiality agreement that goes along with being a member of the Selection Committee, so I’m limited as to what I can say about what happens in those meetings. But I can tell you the meetings are thorough and honest.  And whittling the list down to just five inductees each year is very difficult.

Two things were certain in the early years of my membership: As the new guy I’d get lobbied by some other members to be a part of their cause and Jack Buck would always end the meeting with a hilarious, profane joke.

The average age on the committee was 56 years old in the late nineties. It relied on some statistical analysis, but mostly on the “eye” test: Either a guy was a Hall of Famer or he wasn’t.

Now, the committee is younger, more broadly informed about everything that goes along with pro football and while the “eye” test is still a good gauge, statistics have a larger role in a player’s career and his candidacy for the Hall.

From the 102 on the original list this year, the members of the committee were asked to cut that list to 25, and then to 15 via email. In the vernacular of the committee, they get “into the room.” We’ll meet in Atlanta on Super Bowl Saturday to discuss those fifteen finalists as well as the two contributors and the one senior candidate.

The meeting used to start around 7AM and ended at noon because that’s when the press conference was scheduled for the announcement. Over the years the announcement has been pushed back to accommodate the meeting, and television. They used to serve coffee and pastries before we got going. Now the Hall of Fame staff provides two full meals.

Each player is presented to the committee by the media member from the city where he played the majority of his career. The presentations are supposed to last about 5 minutes.

Once the presentations have ended, a vote is taken to cut from 15 to ten, and then from ten to five. Even after going through the gauntlet to get to the final five, those five are subjected to an up or down vote. Eighty percent approval of the committee is necessary for election to the Hall.

I used to sit at the meetings between Furman Bisher of Atlanta, Tom McEwen of Tampa and Edwin Pope of Miami. Furman loved to talk about golf in North Florida, which courses he liked and what PGA TOUR players he had no use for. He joked that he talked about golf since he didn’t have any Falcons to present to the selectors for the Hall.

I can remember Furman making presentations for Deion Sanders and Claude Humphrey as players who spent parts of their career in Atlanta. By contrast, it seemed that Edwin was up and down in every meeting presenting the numerous Miami Dolphins who had made it into the final fifteen.

Boselli has made the first cut to 10 but has been eliminated in the cut to five twice. Sometimes that means a player has the support of a big part of the committee, other times it doesn’t. Sometimes there’s carry-over, sometimes there isn’t.

Will that matter? No prediction here out of respect for the entire process but I do think Boselli belongs in the Hall based on the criteria presented. With fifteen worthy players, including four offensive linemen on the ballot, for only five spots, the competition, like every year, is very tough.

 

 

The Hammer Podcast, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Episode 40 – Quiet Time Doesn’t Nothing’s Happening

NFL Playoffs bring out the best, and worst in teams. And Clemson will be around as long as Dabo is running the show.

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The Hammer Podcast, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Episode 39 – Culture Change Starts at the Top

As they move into the off-season, the Jaguars are trying to change the locker room culture. They can’t do much before they make a decision on the quarterback.

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Jaguars “Can’t Miss” Offseason

Last week’s column about the Jaguars future elicited the full gamut of responses. From “I agree” to “stop drinking and writing,” fans are clearly passionate about what the team should do going forward. A friend of mine once said, “When the reader agrees with you, they’re brilliant. When they disagree, you’re an idiot.” My favorite was “You make a lot of good points but the p****ed off side of me says fire them all.” Because that’s the emotional sentiment of a large part of the Jaguars fan base.

Either way, the Jaguars offseason moves have started with keeping the top brass and firing four assistant coaches, all in positions that underperformed this year.

It’s an important year for everybody involved with the football side of the Jaguars, from the top down. While Tom Coughlin, Dave Caldwell and Doug Marrone have been given a vote of confidence by Owner Shad Khan, another year like this one and they’re all gone.

It’s not the 5-11 record that’s so galling; it’s how they got there after an appearance in the AFC Championship game the year before. Yes, injuries played a large part in the Jaguars downfall on offense, but did the lack of production on that side of the ball cause so much locker room discord that the team became totally dysfunctional?

There was a screaming match in the locker room between defensive and offensive players following the loss to Houston at home in week seven. It went on for a while; forcing the Jaguars PR staff to push the media back out into the hallway past the normal “cooling off” post-game period.

So does all of what happened this year impact the decision-making in the offseason? If the team’s commitment to Blake Bortles is perceived as a lack of commitment to winning in the locker room, will that force their hand when deciding about what to do at quarterback?

While the player’s pettiness, lack of leadership and inability to handle success contributed to the Jaguars 2018 downfall, Coughlin has to shoulder some of the blame as well. Dave Caldwell is handling the day-to-day operations as General Manager, but nothing is happening without Coughlin’s approval. Same with Marrone. He might be making the calls as the Head Coach but he’s not doing anything without running it by Coughlin first.

“We believe in the player,” is how Coughlin characterized their commitment to Blake and not addressing the quarterback position in the last couple of years outside of Tanner Lee with their sixth round pick in 2018.

I’m not a fan of where you look at who they could have picked instead of whom they did. The draft picks and the free agent signings were made based on what they already had on the team and what they thought would augment their success. You can’t cherry pick in each draft who they might have taken without looking at the whole picture.

The extension given to Bortles colored their decisions across the board and if they think that’s the problem, they only have one year to fix it. If the players on the team don’t believe in Blake, the brass has to know that and make their decisions accordingly.

In his first stint at running the Jaguars, Coughlin had full control, running the personnel and football operations as the head coach and the general manager. Wayne Weaver has said his biggest mistake as Jaguars owner was getting rid of Coughlin but that’s a bit of revisionist history. Nobody was going to buy a ticket to a Tom Coughlin-coached team at the time and Weaver never broached splitting the job up as an idea. Doubtful Coughlin would have gone for it, but eventually he did take the head-coaching job with the Giants, working with General Managers Ernie Acorsi and Jerry Reese. Two Super Bowl victories followed.

As the Jaguars personnel chief this time around, Coughlin’s drafts have been spotty. With the jury still out on Leonard Fournette and Cam Robinson injured, Dede Westbrook appears to be the only emerging star from Tom’s 2017 picks. Taking Taven Bryan with the first pick in 2018 was adding to an already perceived strength on the defensive line. Bryan wasn’t an impact player, as you would expect a first round selection to be, getting his only sack of the year in the season finale at Houston. Perhaps DJ Chark becomes the playmaker the Jaguars need, but that didn’t happen in 2018. Ronnie Harrison, Will Richardson, Leon Jacobs and Logan Cooke could all become regular starters in Jacksonville.

This is a “can’t miss” offseason. As in, the Jaguars “can’t miss” at all across the board in the draft or in free agency. While all decisions will be made based on what they’re going to do at quarterback, their subsequent moves will determine the near future success, or lack of it for the Jaguars. They can’t take any flyers, or have the luxury of adding to an already strong position group. Without immediate impact from the players acquired in this offseason, they’ll have to blow the whole thing up and start over again.