Tony Boselli vowed last winter he would be recovered from his knee surgery and back in the starting lineup on opening day. He never promised he'd be back in the Pro Bowl for the fifth consecutive season.
Defining one of the all-time most successful rehabilitations from major knee surgery, Boselli was named as the starting left tackle on the AFC Pro Bowl team today. He was joined on the AFC squad by four-time Pro-Bowler Jimmy Smith, who was selected as a backup wide receiver.
"It's definitely a goal," Boselli said. "Last year we had seven guys on the team; that's because we were winning football games."
"I'm happy for both players. For Tony, it's a tremendous thing, coming off one of the shortest rehabs of an ACL (anterior crucial ligament surgery) in modern time. It's a testimony to his courage because he played nowhere near 100 percent," coach Tom Coughlin said.
Boselli is generally regarded to be the best left tackle in the game, though it's a position that's loaded with stars such as Baltimore's Jonathan Ogden, Denver's Tony Jones and New Orleans' Willie Roaf.
Smith is considered by many to be the best wide receiver in the league, but the combination of the high-profile nature of his position, the small-market size of Jacksonville, and the fact that Smith missed the equivalent of three games due to knee and hamstring injuries, cost Smith a third consecutive starting assignment in the Pro Bowl.
Fan voting accounts for one-third of the total count. The other two-thirds belong to the league's players and coaches. Smith was considerably down the list in the fan ballot, which means the players' and coaches' vote must've been extremely strong for Smith to make up the difference.
"Jacksonville is still a small market. If I was playing for one of the bigger-market teams, I wouldn't be down in the fan voting. The guys who have to game-plan know how tough it is to stop me," Smith said.
Making the Pro Bowl remains a thrill for Smith, who came out of obscurity to become a star late in the 1996 season. Smith was out of football when the Jaguars signed him in 1995.
"This is exciting, to defeat all odds and make the Pro
Bowl. I guess I'm just a good example for players who've had a rough start. Look at R. Jay (Soward). He's had a rough start, but R. Jay tells me over and over that I inspire him," Smith added.
Boselli's toughness inspired his teammates this season. He underwent ankle surgery last winter, too, and early this season he played through great pain and played at something close to his usual performance level, though he was unable to practice during most weeks.
"There were definitely times early in the year that it was very painful and sore, but I never thought I wouldn't make it through," said Boselli, who suffered a torn ACL on Jan. 2 in the regular-season finale and underwent knee reconstruction on Jan. 13.
Boselli accepted the Pro Bowl news graciously, preferring to express his disappointment that running back Fred Taylor was not selected to the AFC team. "I think he's the best back in the league," Boselli said.
Taylor did not complain that he finished sixth in the AFC voting at running back. "Your name carries over from previous years. I understand. It would've been nice if I had made it, but I understand that I missed some games. I have some other thing to play for," Taylor said, referring to contract incentives that do not include making the Pro Bowl.