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View from the O-Zone: A strong case


JACKSONVILLE – The original pride is getting close to the big stage. Really close.

And good for Tony Boselli. It's deserved.

Before we discuss just how much the best player in Jaguars history deserves the honor that should await him next month, let's review what he said Tuesday.

"It changes a little bit, because up to this point your career is never really debated among the guys who decide. … I never let myself even go down the path too far, because there are a lot of different stages to the process and you sit back and let the process happen – and where it goes, so be it.

"But now, you're one of 15 guys in a room that they're going to talk about and debate whether your career is worthy of being in the Hall of Fame. That's pretty danged close to getting there, so now it seems a little more real.

"We'll see what happens."

This was Tuesday evening, shortly after Boselli was named one of 15 modern-era finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2017. Hall voters will debate the finalists and vote for enshrinement in Houston on February 4, the day before Super Bowl LI is played in the same city.

Considering the following quote most closely: "That's pretty danged close to getting there, so now it seems a little more real."

So true. It's getting danged close to real.

After 11 years eligibility, after a long time when it seemed he might never get this close, Boselli is closer than ever to the enshrinement he deserves.

It's taken too long to get this close. And Boselli should be in the Hall of Fame.

Make no mistake about either of those things.

Some reading this may be too young to remember Boselli's playing career. Some may have forgotten his level of dominance. Many surely think of him as the guy on Jaguars broadcasts, on commercials around town, on local radio. It's easy to forget the guy was a really good football player.

Scratch that. The guy was great.

He was, in the opinion of many, the best left tackle of his generation. That makes him the best left tackle of the NFL's Golden Age of left tackles.

Yes, as good as Willie Roaf. And Orlando Pace. And Jonathan Ogden. Perhaps better than any of them.

There is no legitimate conversation about the great players to play left tackle that doesn't include the kid who the Jaguars selected No. 2 overall in the 1995 NFL Draft who grew into a cornerstone of the franchise for seven seasons after that.

That last part is the argument against, of course – the only argument against.

That's because those seven seasons – 1995-2001 – were the entirety of an NFL career cut far too short. Boselli missed the 1999 postseason with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. And after he returned to start 16 games and make the Pro Bowl the following season, shoulder issues shortened his 2001 season.

He was made eligible for the expansion draft by the cap-strapped Jaguars in the 2002 offseason, and the Houston Texans selected him. He never played for the Texans. His shoulders wouldn't allow it.

So, that was it, and because of that, the argument against Boselli is he simply didn't play long enough, didn't establish enough of a body of work.

That's a bad argument.

It's a bad argument because other Hall of Famers whose careers burned bright before being snuffed out are in the Hall of Fame. Gale Sayers. Dwight Stephenson. It's likely Terrell Davis will get in, perhaps in this class. None have longevity. All are deservedly in the Hall. But forget the other names.

The best argument for Boselli is … Boselli. His has a Hall of Fame body of work. Five Pro Bowl appearances. Three Associated Press All-Pro selections. A place on the 1990s All-Decade team – the only offensive player on that team not yet enshrined.

The guess here is Boselli gets in – perhaps not this year, but soon. The reason is also there in the quote at the beginning of this story: "They're going to talk about and debate whether your career is worthy of being in the Hall of Fame…"

Boselli's right on that. Before, his was a name mentioned occasionally in Hall conversation. Now, in the coming weeks, the 48 Hall-of-Fame voters for the first time will really examine Boselli's credentials. They'll go through the process of really talking to players who played against him, to executives and coaches who game-planned and studied him.

Some players' careers don't hold up to that sort of light.

Boselli's should hold up fine – in fact, his case should improve. He was that good.

There's no guarantee Boselli gets in, of course. It's a tough process, and not every worthy candidate gets in every year. Class sizes are limited, and if he doesn't get in this year that won't mean someone who did get in got in cheaply. All of the final 15 candidates are Hall-worthy.

But here's hoping the original pride does reach the big stage in Houston next month. If he does, good for him. It's deserved. Actually … scratch that. It's overdue.

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