When Tony Boselli stood in front of the crowd last week at the Team Teal event at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, his voice began to rise as he discussed his passion for the Jaguars franchise. If his shoulder and knees weren't aching from years of playing football, you would think he was ready to take on a rushing defensive end.
Excuse Boselli for being a "homer," but that is what happens when you are the first-ever draft choice of the franchise in 1995. He not only played seven seasons with the Jaguars, but he made Jacksonville his home. He was sent to Houston in 2002 as part of the expansion draft, but the move didn't change his outlook on the city.
Following his retirement, he and his wife, Angi, were faced with a decision as to where they would raise their family. They initially moved to Nashville but returned to Jacksonville in November 2005.
Since he returned to the Sunshine State, Boselli has become heavily involved in the community, reigniting the Boselli Foundation and staying around sports by co-hosting a popular morning all-sports radio talk show.
Boselli sat down with jaguars.com this week to discuss Team Teal (myteamteal.com), a long-term initiative to renew interest in the franchise.
You haven't played a game for the Jaguars in eight years, but you would never know by hearing you talk recently about your newest project, Team Teal. Why is this city so important to you?
It's my home. We moved back here for a lot of reasons. The friendships, the church and business opportunities were all a big part of it, but the Jaguars organization was also a part of that. I feel like I have ownership in this franchise in a sense of its importance to Jacksonville.
You were pretty passionate last week discussing the perception across the country of the city. It was easy to tell that it bothers you.
I want to see it succeed so badly. It bothers me a lot when I travel and hear people talk poorly about the city and about the franchise. A lot of times it's perception-driven, not knowing all the facts. These people are like my family so it's like someone talking bad about your family. I can make fun of my family. I can make fun of my city and my team, but I love them; but when someone from outside does that, it bothers me.
Even though you haven't played a game for the Jaguars since 2001, it's not uncommon to see Boselli jerseys on Sunday at the stadium. How has this love affair with the fans evolved over time?
It started because I was the first pick. This place was just crazy. They were so excited to get a team. That's where it started and I was fortunate enough to have a good career and have success. That kind of fostered it and it grew even more. I think one of the things people here love is people who make this home. Jacksonville people love their own people. I made this home; I didn't leave in the offseason when I was playing here. This is where I raised my family. I fell in love with the city and with everything we have done with my foundation, it has kind of contributed to it. When we came back it just continued, which was nice.
You have a million things you could be doing instead of volunteering to help renew interest in this franchise. Who convinced you that this was the right thing to do?
I was asked to consider doing it by Touchdown Jacksonville; Ed Burr, Carl Cannon and Rick Catlett at the time. They asked if I would be interested in doing it. Honestly, at the time, I didn't know if I wanted to put anything else on my plate. I have my foundation, a business I just started and we just opened a Jacksonville office, not to mention the five kids and wife. Plus the occasional golf game.
Of course, you eventually said yes. Why?
This is as important to me as anything, the success of this franchise and us as a city supporting this team and the Weaver family. Maybe it's a little bit of a selfish thing for me and maybe it should be for fans as well. What this franchise means to the city and what it has done over the last 15 years is immeasurable, in my opinion. Forget what happens on the field. I thought Gene Frenette (Times-Union) did a good job last weekend explaining it, the charities that have benefitted, the business growth. They are not directly related to the Jaguars being here but there is an indirect correlation… It is so important for this team to be successful here. I truly believe it's a great market and a great place to live. I think the NFL and the Jaguars can succeed in a big way in this market.
You are already a big part of the franchise being the only player in the Pride of the Jaguars.
It's probably the biggest honor I have ever had in sports, with Mr. Weaver and the organization putting my name on the stadium. That is huge. What I did to earn that is over. I can't go back and ever prove I deserved that or go and get more accolades because of football. While that was important, it's over and this is the next challenge. I can do something and we can do something as a city and fan base about the blackouts. This is extremely important to me. I can't do anything about my name being up there; that's over. The fun part is attacking challenges and seeing if you can overcome them.
Describe your relationship with owner Wayne Weaver.
I had a good relationship with Mr. Weaver when I played here. When I got put on the expansion list and left, I was upset. I didn't like it. You're a player and you get emotional, you don't look at the big picture. I still don't like the fact that I had to leave, but I understood it. There is a business aspect to the NFL with the teams. Because of a lot of different situations, it worked for the team. It was the best move. When I moved back, he reached out to me and talked about the Pride of the Jaguars. By that time a couple of years had passed and I had gotten over it. I thought, 'this is my team and it's the city I love.' Our relationship has grown since then and he has been a supporter of my foundation. We have had business talks and discussed the team, the city and all the different things that go on in the community. Our relationship has changed from a player-owner to him still being someone I look up to. There is still a little bit of that player side, but it's more business talk and all kinds of big picture issues.
There is a perception that the Jaguars haven't been successful on the field compared to other teams. Since the franchise's inaugural season in 1995, the Jaguars are tied for the 10th-most wins in the NFL. That is well above average.
You look at the success we had early and some people think we got spoiled. The fans were pouring in early and we lost some fans when we were losing due to attrition. This is a smaller market and people may have even overbought early. The size of the stadium (75,000) is too big for this market. The NFL and the Weavers have done a great job of making it around 65,000 seats which is a very good size stadium for this market. The perception that we haven't had a successful franchise isn't fair. Part of that has been some of the struggles of late. We missed on a number of first round picks which end up being the face of your franchise. People love stars, people that have success, and they can buy their jerseys. Those are usually your first-rounders. Rashean (Mathis) had a couple of nice years and is still a very nice player. If you really look at it, since Jimmy (Smith), Mark (Brunell) and Fred Taylor left, Maurice Jones-Drew is the only superstar player at a skill position that the fans have gotten excited about. It's going to change because Gene Smith has done a great job and is starting to get some really good players and good guys.
Do you get the feeling that Maurice Jones-Drew has the ability to take the next step as a superstar athlete in this city?
As a player, he hasn't reached that level yet but the first opportunity he had to be that player he performed. This is the first year Maurice had ever been asked to be the superstar and he was. He's done all that he can and he gets it off the field. He gives back, giving not only his money which is great, but he's taken his time, appeared at places and reached out to people in the community. He's trying to make a difference. I think as a player you have a responsibility to do that. Guys can argue that they are only here to play football. Okay, you get paid a lot of money to be a part of the community and you need to give back. I'm not just talking about money. People want to get to know you. Go spend time with people and Maurice does that. He gets it. I hope he continues to stay healthy and get better, which I know he will. He's one of the best players in the NFL and you need those types of guys on your team to win but to also get people excited.
Did you read Vic Ketchman's column last week about Team Teal? He implied that this is similar to a Save the Whales or Save the Planet type campaign.
I read it and I love Vic. I don't know if it's a last-ditch effort. People ask me, 'Is this a critical offseason?' I don't know if I want to say critical because it then appears it's the end of the world if it doesn't go perfect. But it's very important. You could nitpick there, but there are different connotations to the words. I think it's very important that we have success and sell tickets. I said it today on the radio and I believe it; the ball is in the fans' court. It's in our court including me. My marketing and advertising company stepped up and bought tickets. Gene Smith, Mr. Weaver and Jack Del Rio have a responsibility in this. They need to do their job and I believe they will, but the fans need to come out and support the team. The small, medium size and large businesses need to go buy tickets and fill that place up. Show that we are going to do our part and trust and hope that they do their part.
You have talked about the negative connotation that goes with blackouts.
The city of Jacksonville needs to have the games on every Sunday. There are people who can't afford tickets. There are Jaguars fans that have lost their jobs or because of tough working environments can't go to the game. I want them to be able to see the game. It also sends a huge message to the rest of the country and the rest of the NFL that we are an NFL market. We can support this team. TV revenue is a big part of the pie when you are talking to the NFL. The games need to be on TV. That is very important. It affects the other owners and Commissioner Goodell if we are not doing our part. It's important that we get that done. The other thing is that if you want to change the perception of Jacksonville a little bit and this team around the league, don't have any blackouts so everyone is not talking about that we can't support the team. That perception hurts us. I tell people that the sad thing is that we are judged as a city by how many tickets we sell, whether you like it or not.
How much time are you spending on the project? I know you have other things going on with your radio show and your business.
We're all volunteers. It's a lot more than what I thought it was going to be at the beginning. We're going to have Team Teal team captain events at least once a month. I'm on the phone a lot talking to different corporations, getting them involved, coming down here working with Bill Prescott and the different people in the organization. We want to make sure we serve the fans and that we're doing our part in this Team Teal. All of this stuff has to be coordinated. We have one paid staff member and the rest of us are all volunteers so you enlist a lot people. It is time-consuming, but what I find it does more than anything is consume my thoughts. I'm thinking about it all the time. How can we do this? We are going to make it.