LOS ANGELES, Calif. – The night was a memorable, emotional one.
And it was oh-so worth the wait.
Tony Boselli on Thursday evening was announced as a member of the 2022 Pro Football Hall of Fame class. The first draft selection in franchise history, and the first player inducted into the Pride of the Jaguars, Boselli became the first player in franchise history elected to the hall.
The franchise's first cornerstone is now its first pro football immortal – and as Boselli celebrated, Jaguars fans celebrated with him.
"I'm happy for them (Jaguars fans); I love that place (Jacksonville)," Boselli said Thursday evening. "Representing the city and the fan base and the organization is important to me.
"It always has been, and this is another opportunity for me to do that."
Boselli was announced as member of the '22 class during the league's NFL Honors event – part of Super Bowl LVI Week. Hall of Fame defensive end Bruce Smith, who Boselli famously played in a playoff game following the 1996 season, made Boselli's announcement.
The Jaguars beat the Bills in that '96 postseason game, with Boselli – then in his second season – largely outplaying the veteran in a 30-27 Jaguars victory.
"That was pretty cool," Boselli said of Smith's participation. "If you notice, he had a red jacket for the Top 100. That's kind of the Hall of Fame of Hall of Famers. I had the opportunity to play against him in big games, playoff games. He was one of the greatest ever.
"That was probably the biggest coming-out game my second year. To have him part of that, it was special. It was pretty cool. It was a neat moment."
Boselli later celebrated the announcement at a dinner at the University of Southern California hosted by Jaguars Owner Shad Khan. Boselli played at USC from 1991-1994. Members of Boselli's family attended along with Jaguars officials, friends and former teammates – including longtime Boselli friend and former Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell.
"You don't get here by yourself," said Boselli, who also mentioned former Jaguars Head Coach Tom Coughlin (1995-2002) and former offensive line coach Mike Maser during his remarks Thursday. "There's a bunch of people in my life that helped me get to this point.
"Part of it's the guys I played with in Jacksonville, the coaches I've had."
While most fan and observers learned of the news Thursday, electees learned in advance – with COVID-19 having forced the Hall to change its longstanding process of informing electees the same day as voting. Boselli learned of his election in January – and his wife, Angi, helped make the moment surprising and memorable.
With Angi having arranged for Boselli to be at a friend's house, a knock came on the friend's door. The friend asked Boselli to answer. When he did, he saw Hall of Fame left tackle Anthony Munoz – a player to whom Boselli was often compared while playing – standing with a gold Hall of Fame jacket surrounded by Angi and Boselli's family.
"It was amazing," Boselli said. "I just sat there and said, 'You've got to be kidding me.' First, I'm in the Hall of Fame. Second, it's Anthony Munoz – who I look up to. And third, I told Angi, 'We have to have a little talk. If you're that good at lying, I have to figure out what else I need to find out about.'
"It was a great moment. It was a great moment."
Boselli then keep the news largely quiet, with the Hall encouraging a surprise element to create interest in Thursday's announcement.
"I did lie to a lot of people," Boselli said with a smile. "That was probably the hardest part. We found out a couple of weeks ago. You have a bunch of people you're close to asking questions. You're trying to make plans. People are asking, 'What are you doing for the Super Bowl?' And you're trying to make up a reason to go to L.A. It was well worth it."
Boselli, who was in his sixth year as a Hall finalist and seventh as a semifinalist, played seven NFL seasons. He made the Pro Bowl from 1996-2000, being named first-team All-Pro from 1997-1999, but his career ended prematurely in 2002 because of shoulder injuries.
"The one thing I would tell anyone who ever played this game: 'Don't take it for granted,''' Boselli said. "If I have any regrets, looking back, I probably took it a little for granted. You think, 'The game's going to be there. I'll go play 15 years and retire when I'm done.'
"This game is unforgiving in that manner. So, enjoy it. You never know when it might be the last time. And it's a great game. I love it."