Boselli takes a look back

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He was afraid of being a bust. Sunday, he'll become the first inductee into the "Pride of the Jaguars."

"It's a huge honor," Tony Boselli said. "I grew up a huge football fan. Last week, at the Redskins game, you look around at the names of the guys in their ring of honor and you think, I'm going to be one of those guys in the city in which I played."

Boselli, the Jaguars' first-ever draft choice and the best left tackle in the game for most of the years of his seven-year career, will be inducted into the Jaguars' ring of honor at halftime of Sunday's game against the New York Jets. His family, friends and several former teammates will be on hand to celebrate the occasion.

In the summer of 1995, however, he had no delusions of grandeur. Boselli's greatest concern was that he might become the next Tony Mandarich.

"Afraid, bothered, anxious to not be a bust," Boselli said of his mindset following a knee injury in the first week of the Jaguars' first training camp. It was a knee injury that would keep him out of action until the fourth game of the regular season, but ESPN went so far as to report that Boselli's knee injury was career-threatening.

Mandarich was the second pick of the 1989 draft. Boselli was the second pick of the '95 draft, the first offensive tackle to be selected that high since Mandarich.

"Everybody anointed Tony Mandarich a bust. I did not want to be a bust. When I hurt my knee, all those fears started inside me," Boselli said.

He ended the worries on a Sunday night in week four of his rookie season, when he entered the game on the Jaguars' third offensive possession, lined up across from Packers defensive end Sean Jones and whipped Jones all night as Boselli would whip every defensive end he faced for the next seven years.

"I was THE pick and I was missing all that (training camp) and I was anxious," Boselli said.

Almost as anxious as he was a season later, for the Jaguars' first-ever playoff game, in Buffalo, where Boselli would be face to face with Bills defensive end Bruce Smith, the NFL's 1996 defensive player of the year.

"I was scared to death going into the game that I was going to get embarrassed. I remember watching tape … no one blocked him," Boselli said of Smith.

Boselli blocked him. He blocked him all day and the Jaguars began their Cinderella playoff run by beating the Bills and ending what had been a playoff dynasty.

It was his coming-out party. The telecast of that game celebrated Boselli as the game's best young offensive tackle.

"Everybody thought I dominated him. Did I dominate him? No, I blocked him. In later years I got after him more physically. I just wanted to make sure we didn't lose the game," Boselli said.

The Jaguars scored the greatest upset in playoff history the following week and cruised into the AFC title game in New England as the conference's young team on the rise. The Carolina Panthers were the NFC's version, as both '95 expansion teams found themselves in their respective conference title games.

New England beat the Jaguars, however, as safety Willie Clay ended the Jaguars' attempt to send the game into overtime by intercepting a Mark Brunell pass in the end zone.

"I was disappointed but I thought we'd be back next year. I thought we'd be there every year. I'm probably more disappointed about '96 now than I was in '96. Most people don't get those chances. It's really hard to get there," Boselli said.

He thought there would be other days. What he didn't realize is that it would be the only day. The next time the Jaguars made it to the AFC title game was in the 1999 season, but Boselli had sustained a season-ending knee injury in the final regular-season game.

"It was hard to get excited. Once you get hurt, you're not part of the team," he said.

Those are some of the snapshots of Boselli's Jaguars career. The final snapshot was in Seattle on Oct. 7, 2001. Boselli was playing with two aching shoulders that were screaming for surgery. He struggled through the first half and into the third quarter, when he could go no longer. He left the huddle, head down, and jogged to the sideline at Husky Stadium.

He thought there would be other days. What he didn't realize was that this would be the last day.

"I thought I'd be back next year. I had surgery on both shoulders and I was told by the doctors I'd be back for training camp, for sure," Boselli recalled.

That winter, his Jaguars career ended and, for all intents and purposes, so did his life as a professional football player. The Jaguars offered him to the Houston Texans in the 2002 expansion draft, the Texans claimed Boselli and his massive salary cap hit, and so began the end of the first era in Jaguars football history.

Coach Tom Coughlin knocked on Boselli's front door on a Saturday morning in January. "He asked me to come outside and talk to him. I walked back inside and asked Angi, 'How do you feel about living in Houston?'" Boselli said.

"I re-structured (contract) too many times. I got mad at the organization. I was extremely disappointed I was leaving this city. I was pretty bitter about it for awhile," Boselli said.

Boselli got a call from Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver shortly after Boselli announced his retirement in July of 2003. Weaver asked Boselli if he'd be willing to go through the procedure of retiring a Jaguar.

"I was still mad. I said, 'I'll think about it and get back to you.' I never got back to him," Boselli said.

Not until early in 2005, when Boselli let it be known he'd like to take Weaver up on his offer. It was that decision that began the formation of the ring of honor idea, which will be punctuated this Sunday when Boselli claims another franchise first.

The ceremony will have a little intrigue to it. Last week, prior to the Jaguars' game against the Redskins, Boselli said on his radio show that his friendship with Mark Brunell would cause him to root for the Redskins. It was a regrettable remark born of the bond between the two. Boselli wanted to express his support for his friend, the player he protected on football fields across America.

"Mark Brunell is my best friend. I'm not a Redskins fan. I'm a Jaguars fan. This is my team. This is the only situation I can think of, unless my kids played for another team, that I wouldn't be rooting for the Jaguars. I probably should've just lied," Boselli said.

Probably.

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