Tony Boselli on reaching the Hall of Fame: "Hopefully, this is the year"
Let’s get this out of the way right up front: I’ll be surprised if former Jacksonville tackle Tony Boselli isn’t elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame this Saturday.
Of course, I said that last year, and I was wrong.
But this is Boselli’s fifth consecutive year as a finalist, and he reached the Top 10 the past three. That means he’s on the launching pad for the Class of 2020, which also means he should be a favorite.
Then again, that was true in 2018-19, and look what happened.
But this year is different. Because this year the field is wide open. Seven of the 15 candidates are first-year finalists, and only one -- safety Troy Polamalu – can be considered a front runner. That means those who just missed the cut from 10 to five last year – someone like Tony Boselli – should have an edge.
“Hopefully, this is the year,” Boselli told me. “I’m trying to have positive thoughts.”
That’s not easy when you’re in your 15th year of modern-era eligibility, as Boselli is, and part of a logjam of offensive lineman that barely moved the past two years. I said “barely” because it actually did move last year when former center Kevin Mawae broke through, leaving Boselli and guards Alan Faneca and Steve Hutchinson waiting on 2020.
All were Top 10 choices the past two years, and all are Hall-of-Fame worthy.
But there’s another factor here, and it’s the elephant in the room: Longevity. It’s the issue that kept Boselli from becoming a finalist until 2016, and it’s an issue that is bound to be addressed Saturday when the board of selectors convene.
Once upon a time, relatively short careers were considered impediments to Canton. But they can’t now. Not since Terrell Davis and Kenny Easley were elected.
Easley played in 89 games; Davis in 78. Both careers were ended by injuries, yet both players were enshrined in Canton in 2017. And with their elections, the Hall-of-Fame chances for those with careers short-circuited by injuries – players like Tony Boselli – improved exponentially.
Boselli played in 91 career games, was named to five Pro Bowls, three All-Pro teams and the 1990s’ all-decade squad. Then a persistent shoulder injury forced his retirement at the age of 31.
“I believe I played more games than (Davis) and Kenny Easley as well,” said Boselli. “Then you go back to Dwight Stephenson, and his career ended because of injury … much like mine. I believe I started more games than him, too (he did, 90-87). So there’s precedent.
“As you know I don’t talk about myself much because it’s wildly uncomfortable, but since you’re asking me the other thing is: You mention guys like Jonathan Ogden, Walter Jones, Orlando Pace and Willie Roaf, and that was my era. I was the All-Pro a number of those years against a number of those guys. So, with guys who were in the Hall of Fame while I was playing, I was judged at least equal to … and in some years at a higher level.
“Obviously, I want to be a Hall of Famer – but guys that I respect, guys like Ogden, Willie Roaf, Walter Jones and Orlando Pace … when I hear them talk about the player I was and how they watched me, just as I watched them … that’s something I hold on to. We gauged our games off each other.
“To me, there’s a precedent for longevity. Then when you look at the guys who were my contemporaries and where I ranked when we were all playing together, I hope that’s enough to get me in.”
Where longevity could become a factor is when debates turn to the other offensive linemen up for the Class of 2020 – Faneca and Hutchinson. Faneca played 206 career games and was a six-time first-team All-Pro. Hutchinson played 169 games and was a five-time first-team All-Pro.
Like Boselli, both were all-decade choices.
“The way I look at it is like this,” said Boselli. “We’re all classified as offensive linemen, but Kevin Mawae was a center. Completely different position. He’s asked to do one thing. I’m asked to do another that’s completely different.
“The same with guard. If you look at it, you have Hutchinson – a great guard. And you have Faneca, a great guard. But they played one position, and I played a different one. I played left tackle, and there are different requirements, different tasks for us to do.
“They’re both very deserving. I was a big fan of them when they played … watching them and they success they had when they played. So I hope it’s my turn. I’m older than those guys, so hopefully I get in. I tell you, though, in my perfect world, all three of us get in.”
That’s not likely to happen. I could see two of the three making it, and I’d think that would improve the chances of Boselli, the one tackle vs. two guards. Then again, voters elected two candidates at one position in each of the past three years, including four from two positions in 2018, and chose just one tackle (Pace in 2016) the past five.
“I played in an offensive system where I was asked to block the defensive end by myself,” said Boselli. “We didn’t slide, we didn’t help tackles. I was asked, regardless of whom we were playing, to go block that guy. And my coaching staff and the guys I played with had confidence to put me out on an island against the best pass rushers – several of whom are Hall of Famers – and not even blink doing it. And I had success doing it. I think it speaks for itself.
“The length of my career was not because I didn’t want to play. Got hurt. Didn’t work out. I’m not the first player who’s been hurt and had his career shortened and been in the Hall of Fame. The time that I did it, while short, was at the highest level against the highest competition, and I was asked to do it one on one.”
That is why he’s this close to reaching Canton. Nevertheless, Boselli conceded he doesn’t know what to think about his chances. Where he was elated as a first-time finalist in 2016, he’s not sure how to describe his emotions now after three near misses.
“It’s still a huge thrill when I’m announced as a finalist, don’t get me wrong,” he said. “But there is some 'antsy-ness,' a little bit of anxiety, nerves, excitement -- all of those bundled up into one big ball that sits in my gut waiting on Saturday.”
If he makes it, Boselli becomes the first member of the Jacksonville Jaguars enshrined in Canton. If he doesn’t, he waits on 2021 when Peyton Manning, Charles Woodson, Calvin Johnson and Jared Allen join the queue.
“This is extremely meaningful,” he said of the Hall. “It speaks to who you are as a player, your career and your legacy. You’re part of an elite group of guys who played the game that I love. And that is unbelievable.”
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