Of the hurdles players have to overcome for election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, perhaps none is bigger than the jump from “semi-finalist” to “finalist.” And that’s where former Jaguars Tackle Tony Boselli finds himself for the first time in 2017. In his 11th year of eligibility, Boselli is one of 15 finalists for the Hall.
“It’s an incredible honor,” Boselli said when I told him of his move to the final fifteen.
It’s a difficult process to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. At the beginning of our annual meeting, the President of the Hall charges us (the selection committee, of which I’m a member) with the gravity of our decision-making. “When we leave here today,” he seriously intones, “You will have changed some men’s lives forever.”
In a bit of a rarity, nine of the 15 finalists on this year’s ballot are there for the first time. Which means the selection committee, made up of representatives of each team, at- large members and two members of the Hall of Fame, will hear the case for induction for a majority of the finalists for the first time.
Out of a list of around 100 former players who are eligible, the selection committee, by vote, cuts that number down to twenty-five “semi-finalists.” From there, the committee votes for the final fifteen. The 15 finalists are then discussed, one by one, during our annual meeting on Saturday of Super Bowl weekend. Two “contributors” (this year Paul Tagliabue and Jerry Jones) and one senior candidate (Kenny Easley) will also be discussed, individually.
Jacksonville native Safety Brian Dawkins is also among the first-time finalists on this year’s ballot. Dawkins played at Raines and at Clemson before spending 13 years in the NFL with the Eagles and Denver Broncos.
As the Jacksonville representative, I’ll be asked to make the case for Tony, outlining his career statistics and presenting testimonial evidence from his teammates, opponents and coaches. As an at-large selector, Vito Stellino, of the Times-Union and in the Hall himself, will probably also be asked to help present Tony’s case.
You could call the time Boselli played in the league as the “Golden Age of Left Tackles.” Walter Jones, Orlando Pace and Jonathan Ogden along with Tony were dominant and fixtures for their teams. Among those four, only Boselli is not in the Hall. And only for one reason: the brevity of his career.
Because of injury, Tony played in 91 games in the NFL over seven seasons. Three times he played in all 16 games and once 15. He played 13 games his rookie year, starting twelve. Jones played in 180 games. Pace 169 and Ogden 177.
When he was drafted, Jaguars Head Coach Tom Coughlin called Boselli “A corner stone for the franchise for the next ten years.” Once he stepped on the field for good, he was a dominating force, a leader on offense and a commanding presence in the locker room. He was as good a player as you could be at his position. His domination of Jason Taylor, a fellow first time finalist, on national television is legendary. Bruce Smith, a member of the Hall of Fame, was a non-factor in the games when he faced Tony.
There will be a lot of numbers tossed around as the finalists are compared to each other and to current members of the Hall of Fame. To compare Boselli’s 91 games, another Hall of Fame finalist, Terrell Davis, played in 78. Short careers haven’t kept Gayle Sayers (68 games), Dwight Stephenson (87 games) or Lynn Swann (116 games) out of the Hall.
More than anything though, Tony passes the “eye” test. You can talk all the numbers you want, but when you saw Boselli play, you knew he was among the greats. He was a Hall of Fame player.
What are his chances? As a first time finalist, the committee will hear his credentials for the first time whereas we’ll talk about Morten Andersen, Don Coryell and John Lynch for the forth year in a row. The committee will hear the case for Kurt Warner and Terrell Davis for the third time. Terrell Owens, Alan Faneca and Joe Jacoby were finalists last year. Once you make it “into the room” your chances of eventually being selected for the Hall of Fame are around 88 percent. So for Boselli, an eventual spot in the Hall could be in his future. There are no “slam dunk” first time eligible players in 2017 so it’ll be interesting to see what the committee thinks of Boselli in Houston this year.
Here’s the thumbnail from the Hall of Fame of Boselli’s career:
Tackle … 6-7, 324 … Southern California … 1995-2001 Jacksonville Jaguars … Seven seasons, 91 games … Selected by expansion Jaguars as second player overall in 1995 NFL Draft … Quickly became face of the franchise … Sat out rookie training camp with knee injury, saw first action in Week 4 … First career start came following week in franchise’s first victory … Earned All-Rookie honors … Regarded as an elite tackle in the NFL during career … Noted for superb foot speed and agility … Persevered through numerous injuries … Leader of team that led expansion Jaguars to AFC championship game by second season … Anchored offensive line that helped team to four straight playoff appearances with records of 9-7, 11-5, 11-5 and 14-2 from 1996-99 … Picked as team’s Most Valuable Player in 1998 after helping Jaguars to team’s first division title … Voted to five straight Pro Bowls (1997-2001) … Named first-team All-Pro three consecutive seasons … Selected to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1990s despite only playing in half of decade … Suffered severe shoulder injury that ultimately ended career and placed on injured reserve after three games, 2001 … Houston Texans’ first pick of 2002 expansion draft but injury prevented him from playing again … Born April 17, 1972 in Modesto, California.
And here’s the Hall’s summary of Dawkins career:
Safety … 5-11, 200 … Clemson … 1996-2008 Philadelphia Eagles, 2009-2011 Denver Broncos … 16 seasons, 224 games … Drafted in second round (61st overall) by Philadelphia in 1996 draft … Named Eagles’ Defensive MVP five times … Helped Eagles to eight playoff appearances … Started in four NFC championship games, one Super Bowl … First-team All-Pro five seasons (2001, 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2009) … Earned first of nine Pro Bowl nods after 1999 season … First player in NFL history to record a sack, interception, fumble recovery and touchdown catch in same game (vs. Houston Texans, Sept. 29, 2002) … Set Eagles record for most games played … Voted to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 2000s … Intercepted pass in 15 straight seasons … Led Eagles in interceptions back-to-back seasons, 1997-98 … Recorded 37 career interceptions returned for 513 yards and 2 touchdowns … Recorded multiple interceptions in a season 11 times … Pick sixes included 64-yard return vs. Giants, 1997 and 67-yard score vs. Dolphins, 1999 … Averaged nearly 100 tackles per season throughout career … Registered 26 career sacks … Also had 49-yard fumble return for TD, 2001 … Recorded 3 sacks in final season with Broncos to help Denver to division title, 2011 … Born October 13, 1973 in Jacksonville, Florida.