If there’s a need to prove that the Pro Football Hall of Fame is the most difficult Hall to get into, look no further than the Modern-Era Class of 2020.
While Jaguars fans are disappointed and frustrated that Tony Boselli hasn’t gained induction to Canton yet, Steeler fans and Bucs fans feel the same. Boselli was a finalist for the fourth consecutive year. The Steelers Alan Faneca has also been a finalist for four years. And John Lynch has been discussed “in the room” by the Selection Committee seven meetings in a row.
“We’ll go to Tampa and see what happens next year,” Boselli graciously told me after he was informed he wasn’t among the Centennial Class of 2020.
There’s a lot of support for Boselli among the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. He’s been a finalist four years in a row and has made the cut to the final ten in the last three years. The Committee believes he was a great player. But he’s a great player in a crowded field of other great players.
This year there were five spots available for the 15-modern era finalists. Troy Polamalu had one locked up as a “first ballot” inductee. While I don’t think that should be a thing in football based on the process, it’s become a thing and it’s hurt Boselli and other’s chances for enshrinement in Canton.
And next year the numbers are difficult for any of the finalists. Peyton Manning, Charles Woodson and Calvin Johnson will be eligible for the first time. The general mind-set of the committee over the last decade is “this guy can’t wait.”
So if you put those three guys in, that leaves two spots for 12 players. Add Jared Allen to the mix as a first-year eligible and you see what I mean. Not a lot of room for Boselli, Lynch, or Faneca. Add LeRoy Butler, Bryant Young, Richard Seymour, Zach Thomas and the six other finalists from this year and the path to football immortality gets pretty narrow.
“You are elated when the candidate you advocate for gets his gold jacket and dejected when your nominee is turned away,” said Tampa Bay’s Ira Kaufman, a selector since 2005. “You can’t help but feel you could’ve done a better job making their case for a gold jacket.”
Kaufman presented Lynch for the seventh straight year on Saturday and has brought new information to the meeting every year. That can be difficult with only five minutes allotted for a presentation.
“There was a lot of pressure,” Ron Borges, a Hall of Fame Selection Committee member who presented Ty Law for three years said after Law’s selection in 2019. “It’s difficult when you bring someone back multiple times. You have to change your approach in some form or come up with some new-found statistic. But you have to be careful. You don’t want to stray too far from the basic facts you presented before.”
“While the Pro Football Hall of Fame would be the ultimate individual honor, the comments made by people like Jason Taylor, Michael McCrary, Chuck Smith and Bruce Smith as well as several others means so much and I am humbled,” Boselli added.
Those comments were a part of my presentation for Boselli this year. Without a lot of statistical comparison for a tackle, relying on the impression Tony left on his opponents and others of his era who played his position is important. And you can’t find anybody who doesn’t say Boselli wasn’t a great player and Hall of Fame worthy.
Up until this year, Hall of Fame Defensive End Bruce Smith, was reluctant to talk about his matchups with Boselli, but endorsed him just last week.
“He was a stud,” Smith said of Boselli and how he dominated him in their playoff game in Buffalo. “He gave me all I could handle. In that era of football, there was none better.”
Hall of Famers, Walter Jones, Orlando Pace, Jonathan Ogden and Willie Roaf all played in the same era as Boselli and all believe he belongs in the Hall.
“I used to check my game against his every week,” Jones said.
In the five concurrent years Tony played with those other tackles, it was Boselli who was named as the All-Pro 1st Team tackle three consecutive years.
John Hannah, considered the best guard to ever play the game said, “When I watched Tony Boselli play I thought he was the best offensive tackle I ever saw.”
So if everybody thinks he’s fantastic and worthy, why isn’t he in?
While it’s a numbers game as I mentioned earlier, and those numbers are dwindling with Joe Jacoby, Kevin Mawae and Steve Hutchinson no longer on the ballot, there was a log jam among offensive linemen for the past four years.
It’s happened before. We talked about Lynn Swann and John Stallworth for nearly a decade before Swann was selected and Stallworth was enshrined the next year. Same thing with Tim Brown, Andre Reed and Cris Carter. All eventually got in but it took a while.
When matching Boselli’s career against the other finalists, the only knock is his length of service. Boselli played 91 regular season games over seven years and six more in the playoffs.
There are plenty examples of “short careers” among those enshrined in Canton. Terrell Davis played 78 games. Kenny Easley 89. Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, Swann, Kellen Winslow, and Dwight Stephenson all had careers that are considered “short.” But all have gained entrance into the Hall.
For some reason, the confluence of this particular collection of members of the Selection Committee, players who have been finalists, and offensive linemen also on the ballot have so far denied Boselli a spot in Canton.
One friend of mine called it “stupefying.” Some called it “baffling.”
Being in the room and listening to the qualifications of the other finalists, I understand it. I don’t like it, but I understand it. As I’ve said many times, the most frustrating thing about being on the committee are the players I have to leave off every year that I know are deserving of a bust in Canton.
So if Tony wants me back, I’ll go next year to Tampa and see what happens. I know it’s hard on him and nothing disappoints me more than the conversation I’ve had with him the last three years.
It’s tough, which will make it that much more sweet when it happens. And it will.