MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – New year, new approach.
When he first neared football immortality, Tony Boselli took a glad-to-be-involved mindset. The next two years, he overthought and overanalyzed – maybe even obsessed. As his fourth go-round for the Pro Football Hall of Fame nears, the original Pride of the Jaguars member is thinking differently.
"No matter how I approach it – if I'm positive or negative – the voters are going to decide," said Boselli, who is in Miami covering Super Bowl LIV for Westwood One Radio and who will learn his Hall fate sometime mid-Saturday afternoon. "So, I might as well be positive this week and enjoy the week instead of being miserable, going back and forth and trying to figure out what's going to happen."
So, your approach is …
He smiled and shrugged a shoulder. "I'm getting in," he said.
Here's hoping this approach works.
A couple of reasons for that sentiment. One is it would just be cool to see a player who has meant so much to the Jaguars – and who had his career cut so frustratingly short – get the honor. Another is it would mean a great deal to the franchise, the city and its fans.
Well, the third is he deserves it – and that's the best reason of all.
The extent to which Boselli deserves enshrinement has become clearer in recent weeks, with a slew of former opponents praising the player who many consider the best left tackle of the 1990s and one the best of all-time.
There's former Seattle Seahawks and Baltimore Ravens defensive end Michael McCray: "There were only three tackles: Jonathan Ogden, Willie Roaf and Boselli. That was it. The rest of them were just tackles."
There's former Miami Dolphins and Hall of Fame defensive end Jason Taylor: "Let me not mince words here: Tony Boselli wore me out. In fact, if they didn't turn out the lights, he would still be kicking my ass."
There's even Hall of Fame defensive end Bruce Smith, perhaps the greatest pass rusher of his era: "Tony's a stud. He gave me all that I could handle. That's for sure. I'm pulling for Tony. I understand the dynamics of the voting process and him having a short career. His body of work wasn't necessary complete, but while he was healthy during that era of football, there was none better."
The first aforementioned player, McCrary, was the opponent Boselli most respected. The second – Taylor – was a player Boselli famously handled on a high-profile 1998 Monday Night victory that remains of the most memorable games in Jaguars history.
The third, Smith, was of course one of the best pass-rushers in NFL history. He also was the player Boselli manhandled in a 1996 Jaguars playoff victory that first established Boselli as elite. Smith's above quote, obtained by jaguars.com's Ashlyn Sullivan at the Pro Bowl last week, marks the first time Smith has publicly praised Boselli. And make no mistake:
The quotes matter to Boselli. He knows from experience he can't control Saturday's vote. Forty-eight people – 46 media members and two former players – must pare 15 modern-era candidates to five enshrinees. How tough is that process? Boselli said he and a friend recently removed his name and tried to pare the other 14 down to five. They couldn't agree. So, yes: The process is tough. But whatever Saturday's outcome, those quotes are real.
"These are guys I played against basically saying, 'He's a Hall of Famer,''' Boselli said. "It meant a ton because those are my peers. Those are guys that know. Those are guys I played against. They were on the field. They battled with me and they were great players on their own right.
"What else am I supposed to do? How that plays with the voters and everything else …
"We'll wait and see."
What will happen Saturday? The thought here – and the thought among multiple voters – is this may be his best opportunity yet. His lack of career longevity seems less of an issue for many Hall voters now than in the past, and the only '20 modern-era candidate remotely considered a lock is former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu – and even he's no lock. Considering Boselli has been so close, making the Top 10 the past three years, he has a real chance.
Still, every Hall vote is different. And there remain two very good offensive line candidates other than Boselli: guards Steve Hutchinson and Alan Faneca. Most voters this week said they believe all three linemen deserve to be enshrined and will be enshrined eventually.
That means it might be Boselli's year. Or, it might not. Which is why he's taking the different approach of staying positive – and avoiding Hall conversation as much as possible.
Not that it's entirely avoidable. The subject arose this week when Boselli was speaking with San Francisco 49ers General Manager John Lynch, a former Denver Broncos and Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety. This is Lynch's seventh year as a Hall finalist.
"We were like, 'Here we go again,''' Boselli said with a laugh.
Boselli indeed will be on Hall watch again Saturday. Here's hoping his approach works – for many reasons. But mostly because he deserves it. It's long past time.