JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – When Tom Coughlin was the Head Coach and General Manger (chief cook and bottle washer too) of the Jaguars in 1995, everybody knew he was going to take Tony Boselli with the franchise’s first draft pick. Coughlin tried to feint, saying he liked a couple of receivers at that spot but even he admits, “Nobody believed me.” Now 22 years later, Boselli is a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“You’re just so proud about reading what his peers said about him,” Tom said at the stadium on Tuesday. “I mean it’s incredible. Willie Roaf and Anthony Munoz, I remember Anthony, a USC guy, telling me from the get-go, Tony Boselli is probably the greatest tackle that ever played on the left side.“
In our first chance to talk to Coughlin in a small setting, he’s is noticeably different than his first go-round here. A bit more jovial, more effusive and even with some self-deprecating humor. He laughed when he recalled Phil Simms’ story about how the Jaguars were going to deal with Derrick Thomas one week after he had recorded six sacks.
“When he asked me the question I said, ‘What do you mean what are we going to do? We’ll put Boselli on Derek Thomas and we’ll see where it goes.’ And that’s the way I felt from day one,” Tom said.
Delayed by a dislocated kneecap suffered in his first training camp, Boselli first played in 1995 in the fourth game of the year against Green Bay.
“They were a good football team,” Coughlin recalled. “And I held him for a little bit in the first quarter and I said, go, and that was the last time I worried about anybody coming off that side. And that’s a true story.”
When the Jaguars medical staff wouldn’t clear Boselli to play because of a shoulder injury after 2001, Coughlin walked down the street to tell Tony in person the team was going to expose him to the expansion draft for the newly formed Houston Texans. (They both lived in Marsh Landing at the time)
“To walk down the street unannounced, Saturday,” Coughlin remembered. “Late morning I think it was, ring the doorbell and he comes to the door and I just went and sat on the stoop on the step. He came out and sat down with me. That is not one of my fondest memories.”
Having gone on to coach the New York Giants to two Super Bowl wins, Coughlin worked with Hall of Fame caliber players in New York. So is Boselli the best football player Coughlin ever coached? Is he in that conversation?
“No question, he certainly is. Without a doubt, because he could do so many different things,” Tom said. “He is such a great athlete on top anything else that he does. The real thing was the competiveness in him. He would go out on the field and the look in his eye and the way he could dominate people at times. No matter what you say. No matter what run you pick. “
A 19-year veteran in the NFL, Mark Brunell was Boselli’s teammate during his entire career. Mark has often joked that he and Tony didn’t get along when the first met because, “Tony thought he was the best player on the team. Which he was,” Mark now says with a laugh. So was Boselli the best football player he ever played with in his career?
“I don’t know that I’d call him a better football player than Reggie White or Brett Favre or Drew Brees,” Mark said this week. “But he’s certainly in that conversation with them.” White and Favre are in the Hall. Brees no doubt get serious consideration after his retirement.
One of the qualifications that comes up for eligibility to the Hall of Fame each year is a player’s ability to make they guys around him better. According to Coughlin, Boselli did that by just being there.
“When you go on the field with somebody of that caliber – and I use the example normally when I’m talking about a quarterback, a great quarterback – but when you go on the field with somebody that good as Boselli and he plays at that level, you’re on that field with him, especially you talk about your interior offensive linemen. You’re looking at this guy thinking, man, I got to play my ever-loving off because if I don’t he’s going to make me look really bad and that’s the way it is.”
His leadership in the locker room is another thing that impressed Coughlin during his career with the Jaguars. Boselli was the enforcer, the leader, the Sheriff among his teammates.
“Oh he was. There’s no doubt and when he said things, they listened,” Coughlin noted. “He understood the game, he grasped it all, he understood the locker room. He knew when to speak and when not to speak, but when he spoke, they listened.”
When asked if “It’s hard to imagine in retrospect that it worked out so well, No. 2 overall, it was the first pick, first in the Pride, maybe best player to ever play here, he was the perfect storm?”
With his newfound humor, Tom laughed and said, “Look who picked him.”
Boselli is one of 15 Modern Era Finalists who will be discussed Saturday in Houston by the Selection Committee. I’m the Jacksonville representative on the Hall of Fame Selection Committee and have been charged with giving the committee a presentation about Tony’s career and his qualifications for the Hall. The announcement of the Class of 2017 for the Hall will be made Saturday night during the NFL Honors show broadcast from Houston.