By Clark Judge
Tony Boselli wasn't just the best offensive lineman in the history of the Jacksonville Jaguars. He was the best player in the history of the Jacksonville Jaguars and one of the best offensive tackles anywhere.
Though he appeared in only 91 games in seven seasons with the Jags, he was such a force that he was chosen to five Pro Bowls, three All-Pro teams and named as one of the four tackles on the 1990's all-decade second team. Despite that resume, Boselli has never once been discussed as a Hall of Fame finalist.
"It is what it is, and there's nothing I can do," said Boselli. "But I don't fully understand it."
Neither do I.
It's not only that Tony Boselli isn't in Canton; it's that his name almost never is connected to Hall-of-Fame buzz. The guy not only hasn't been chosen as one of 15 Hall-of-Fame finalists; he hasn't been chosen as one of the Hall's 25 semifinalists, for crying out loud. And while that seems odd/incomprehensible/downright ludicrous, consider this: Five of the second-teamers on that 1990's all-decade offense are in the Hall, and a sixth – quarterback Brett Favre – is a slam dunk for induction next year.
So what's the deal? Simple: Longevity. Boselli didn't have it, and longevity is keeping too many qualified players out of the Hall of Fame.
I know, I know, Gale Sayers made it after five productive years with the Bears, and Dwight Stephenson made it after eight seasons with Miami. But they're the exceptions. The rule is guys more like, oh, say a Terrell Davis whose career was cut short after four star-studded seasons with Denver … or a Kenny Easley, considered as one of the greatest safeties ever but who was forced to retire after seven years in the NFL.
At least Davis qualified as a Hall-of-Fame finalist. He made it into the room last year. But Easley? Nope. His only hope for a ticket to Canton now is through the seniors committee.
"I understand longevity plays a role," said Boselli. "And it plays a greater role depending on whether you're really good or great. But from my standpoint … and I hate to do this … but when I listen to the draft and hear people say, 'He's not Tony Boselli' or 'all-decade team' it seems like a lot of people view me as one of the best to play the position. And if you're the best at what you do doesn't that have to mean something?"
So let's go back to Stephenson. He was the best center of his time, so, yes, that meant something. He's in the Hall of Fame. But while he played longer than Boselli, he had fewer starts (87 to Boselli's 90) and was chosen to just as many Pro Bowls. But Stephenson played in two Super Bowls. Boselli played in none, though he did make it to two conference championship games. And Stephenson played in a big market, which shouldn't mean anything … but sometimes does. Boselli did not.
So Stephenson is in, and Boselli is not … and, sorry, that's not right. Tony Boselli was a dominant, overpowering blocker who was one of the game's best at his position, and isn't that what the Hall of Fame is supposed to be all about? I mean, he joined Hall-of-Famers Gary Zimmerman and Willie Roaf (as well as Miami's Richmond Webb) as one of four tackles named to the all-decade teams of the 1990s. Don't tell me he wasn't as good as the others.
Because he was. Yet he can't get a sniff from Canton, and I don't get it.
Tony Boselli is right. If you're the best at what you do … if you're a measuring stick for others that follow … if you're recognized by your peers as the best of the best … shouldn't that count for something? Yeah, well, explain that to Boselli. He's still waiting to be a finalist.
"What I told myself from the beginning," said Boselli, "is that I will never campaign for myself for the Hall of Fame. I played the game. My career was what it was, and it speaks for itself. And my career ended because I was hurt. I don't think about it except when it comes Hall-of-Fame season, and people start asking me about it. And, truth be told, when I see some of the names it's a little puzzling I'm not included.
"But I tell people all the time that it bothers my wife, my family and my close friend's way more than me. If one day I get into the Hall of Fame and go to Canton it will be a great honor. But I will be more excited for my wife and kids and family and friends than I will be for myself. Tony Boselli's life will be just fine if it doesn't happen."