When you look at candidates for the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s Class of 2022 two things become clear: 1) there are no slam-dunk first-ballot choices, and 2) it’s a golden opportunity for others waiting in line to move forward … with two in particular.
Tony Boselli and LeRoy Butler.
Both enter their 16th years of modern-era eligibility next year, which means the clock is ticking. Modern-era candidates have 20 years of eligibility before moving to –OK, disappearing in -- the senior pool, and good luck there. There’s an enormous list of Hall-of-Fame worthy candidates, with 58 all-decade players in line.
Boselli was all-decade. So was Butler. And both were Top-10 finishers for the Class of 2021. That should make them favorites for election next year, and here’s hoping. They waited long enough. But there are no guarantees, and I offer Boselli as Exhibit A.
The former Jacksonville tackle has been a Top-10 finisher the past five years, which means he’s been a favorite before. And nothing happened. One reason is that he was caught in a gridlock of offensive linemen, battling Kevin Mawae, Alan Faneca and Steve Hutchinson as finalists. But all were elected the past three years, so the coast is clear.
Another reason is durability. Boselli played 91 games before his career was cut short by a botched shoulder injury, and detractors use his relatively short career as ammunition. But they can’t. Not after Terrell Davis and Kenny Easley were enshrined in 2017. Davis played 78 games; Easley 89. Furthermore, 25 percent of all Hall-of-Fame tackles played fewer than 100 games.
“(Boselli) was maybe the best left tackle of his era in an era that had a lot of great left tackles,” former Hall-of-Fame voter Vito Stellino said on this week’s “Eye Test for Two” podcast on fullpressradio.com. “And all his peers support him.”
He has a point. Boselli played in a decade when Orlando Pace, Walter Jones, Jonathan Ogden and Willie Roaf excelled at the left-tackle position. All are in Canton. Boselli is not. But he’s close … and stop if you heard this before.
Because we have.
“I knew four years ago he wasn’t going to make it until 2022,” said Stellino, who covered Boselli for the Florida Times-Union, “because Hutchinson, Faneca and Mawae (were there). He was better than all three of those guys, and he played a more premium position. But there’s a certain segment in the room that will say, ‘Well, he didn’t play long enough.’
“I can see him not making it the last three years. (But) this upcoming year there are no offensive linemen. If he doesn’t make it in 2022, they’re not going to take him regardless.”
Butler is a different story. He was a first-team 1990s’ all-decade safety who wasn’t a semifinalist until 2018 and wasn’t a Hall-of-Fame finalist until two years later. The reason? Beats me. He was named first-team All-Pro four times. He was a starter for a Super Bowl champion. He was the first defensive back to have 20 or more career sacks and 20 more career interceptions. And he invented the Lambeau Leap.
In short, he was a complete safety -- someone who could rush the passer, tackle and cover. According to Stats LLC, Butler in 1995-96 had defensive passer ratings of 39.4 (1995) and 38.9 (1996), with 10 interceptions while surrendering just two TDs.
"He had no weakness," said Hall-of-Fame GM Ron Wolf.
Now here’s the clincher: With this year’s election of senior candidate Drew Pearson, LeRoy Butler is the only first-team all-decade member of the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s not enshrined.
That will help him. So will this: After years of neglect, safeties have the Hall’s attention – with a tidal wave of finalists reaching Canton the past five years. Including seniors, since 2017 there have been 10 pure safeties inducted, with John Lynch (Class of 2021) the latest.
Prior to that, there were seven. Period. In 54 years.
Like Boselli, Butler has no holdover competition in 2022 at safety. Like Boselli, he’s waited long enough. And, like Boselli, he’s beginning to run out of time. Their time for the Pro Football Hall of Fame is now. Here’s hoping they get what they deserve.