Out of a list of 108 former players and coaches who were eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year, the Selection Committee, by mail vote, cut that number down to twenty-five “semi-finalists.” The Selection Committee has 48 members, one representative for each of the 32 teams and sixteen “at-large” members including two Hall of Fame players, James Lofton and Dan Fouts. This year there are 27 “semifinalists” because of ties. Twenty-five players and two coaches. From there, the committee will vote for the final fifteen. The fifteen, called “finalists” are then discussed, one by one, during our annual meeting on Saturday of Super Bowl weekend in Minnesota. A “contributor” and two senior candidates will also be discussed, and voted on, individually.
Jacksonville natives Safeties Brian Dawkins and LeRoy Butler and former Jaguars tackle Tony Boselli are 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. If he makes the final fifteen, the Philadelphia and Denver representatives again will present the case for Dawkins. He’s a semifinalist for the second straight year and it’ll be a surprise if he’s not a finalist in 2018. Butler spent his entire career with the Packers after starring at Lee and Florida State. He’s a semifinalist for the first time and if he makes the list of finalists, something that’s tough to do the first time you’ve made the semi-final list, it’ll be the Green Bay selector making his case.
As the Jacksonville representative, I’ll be asked to make the case again for Tony if he’s a finalist this year, outlining his career statistics and presenting testimonial evidence from his teammates, opponents and coaches. Boselli was a finalist last year, made the final 10 in the cut-down vote and gained plenty of momentum for the Hall.
“My career hasn’t changed,” Tony joked when he came by Channel 4 Tuesday night. “I’m not going to get any better, the hays in the barn.”
With that, Boselli summed up what many finalists face when they get to the last fifteen year after year but aren’t selected for induction. Of the fifteen, only five can be elected. Their career doesn’t change, only the circumstances of the other nominees. Sometimes it seems like a slotting process but statistically, if a nominee makes it to the finals, they have about an 88.5% chance of eventually being elected to the Hall.
What’s changed this year for Boselli and Dawkins is what happened in 2017. Safety wasn’t a position that the Selection Committee seemed to have a lot of faith in over the past 30 years. But Easley’s induction has broken the ice and along with Dawkins and Butler, John Lynch and Steve Atwater are on this year’s semifinal ballot.
For Tony, the general thought was that his career was too short. But the committee’s inclusion of Easley last year (95 games including playoffs) and Terrell Davis (86 games) show that the Selection Committee doesn’t consider that an impediment for entrance into the Hall.
With the change in the length of the season over the history of the NFL (NFL regular season had 12 games until 1960, 14 games from 1961-1977 and16 games 1978-present) and the expansion of the playoff format, the best comparison of length of career comes from games played rather than years in the league.
Tony Boselli played 91 regular season games and six playoff contests for 97 games played.
Players who played about a year 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 games
There are 30 players with less than 100 games already in the Hall including:
Gale Sayers, Dick Stanfel, Doak Walker, and Cliff Battles.
So the Selection Committee has recognized “greatness” as perhaps the only criteria that matters to be selected for induction to the Hall.
In what can be called the “Golden Age of Tackles” in the NFL, Boselli compares favorably with those of his era. On the All Decade team of the 1990’s Boselli is one of four tackles named along with Willie Roaf, Gary Zimmerman and Richmond Webb. Roaf and Zimmerman are already in the Hall. Roaf said he modeled his game after Boselli’s. Anthony Munoz, a Hall of Famer and considered the best ever at the position says Tony is one of the best tackles ever. Gil Brandt, the super scout, says Boselli is equal to Roaf and Munoz along with Jonathan Ogden and Walter Jones, also Hall of Fame inductees.
It’ll be very interesting this year to see what happens in “the room” on that Saturday in Minnesota. It’s Joe Jacoby’s last year of eligibility as a modern era candidate and as a tackle. He’s been a finalist as well, but he didn’t make the final ten last year and Tony did.
If greatness is the only criteria, Boselli was that on every level as an NFL player. So don’t be surprised if they’re fitting him for a Gold Jacket in 2018.