JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Tony Boselli goes back and forth, a blend of cautious optimism and downright doubt.
He’s been in this position — a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame — three times before. Each of those times, it’s ended in disappointment. But maybe, just maybe, 2020 is the year that Boselli finally gets the hall of fame call.
We’ll find out Saturday afternoon.
Boselli, the Jaguars’ left tackle from 1995 to 2001, and former Lee High School safety Leroy Butler are among the 15 finalists for the Class of 2020. Raines High product Harold Carmichael was elected as a member of the Centennial class two weeks ago. Charlton County, Ga. product Champ Bailey was elected last year and Raines graduate Brian Dawkins went in during the Class of 2018.
The question in Jacksonville now — is it finally Tony’s time?
“I think every year is a little bit different. Year 1, you’re just excited and so the whole thing is exciting, not really any nerves because you don’t know what to expect. You’re kind of just happy to be there, part of the group,” Boselli said. “And then each year progressively it gets more stressful, at least for me. Because each year, you get told by more people, ‘this is the year you’re going to make it.’ And you’re like, ‘I hope so.’ Can you get in the room and vote?”
Boselli, the player voted as the best in Jaguars history by the media before the franchise’s 25th season, has long been the most visible. He was the No. 2 overall selection of Jacksonville’s expansion team in 1995 out of USC and became the left tackle immediately.
He was a five-time Pro Bowl selection and three-time All-Pro and played in the AFC championship game in 1996. The only criticism of Boselli is longevity.
Had Boselli played longer in the NFL, he’d have likely been a first-ballot-type-of hall selection. But injuries limited Boselli to 97 career games over seven seasons and ultimately ended his career after being taken by the Texans in the 2002 expansion draft. He never played a game with Houston.
That Boselli finds him on the doorstep of a bronze bust in Canton, Ohio is, by his own admission, stunning. He got a pinch of that earlier this year when ESPN named Boselli one of the top 150 college football players of all time. Boselli, a two-time All-American with the Trojans, was 144th.
“I played the game because I loved it,” he said. “I had no expectation to go [and play] Division I college football. When I was a kid going to high school, I didn’t make the varsity as a sophomore. Started my junior year and then my senior, but my sole goal was to make the varsity high school football team. That was my dream. And so now, to sit here today to see my name on the list of the 150 greatest college football players, it’s like ... amazing.”
The Pro Football Hall of Fame would be another.
After being a finalist three times before, Boselli said that he’s tried to safeguard himself mentally.
Boselli has gone back and forth often.
Sometimes, he allows himself to think about getting a knock on his hotel door Saturday to let him know that he’s a hall of famer. Others, Boselli doesn’t allow himself to think that it’s real. He tries to prepare himself for a miss to lessen the sting if an election doesn’t come. Boselli said that his wife, Angi, has reminded him to try and be positive.
“I’ve spent all my energy, and this is so negative, I should be saying I’m going to make. Get ready for it. Be excited,” he said. “Instead what I’ve done, is say, ‘OK, I hope I make it.’ And if I do, I can’t imagine. I’m sure I’ll be emotional, who knows. I can’t even comprehend the honor that it will be, in the hall of fame, which is the greatest of the greats.
“But what I’ve done is, I protect myself. Downplay it. Get ready not to make it. Because that’s the only thing I’ve experienced. I don’t want to put any negative mojo on the whole thing [this year]. My wife said, ‘be positive, it’ll help you maybe get in.’ So, I don’t know if that works or not.”
Along with Boselli and Butler, who starred with the Packers, are 13 other finalists. Receivers Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt and Reggie Wayne, linebackers Sam Mills and Zach Thomas, safeties Steve Atwater, John Lynch and Troy Polamalu, running back Edgerrin James and defensive linemen Richard Seymour and Bryant Young. Alan Faneca and Steve Hutchinson join Boselli as offensive linemen finalists.
The 15 finalists will be trimmed to 10, and then the 10 to no more than five. A player must receive 80% of the vote from the 48 voters to be elected to the hall of fame.
Lynch has been a finalist seven times and Faneca has been in this position five times. Boselli, Bruce and James are next as four-time finalists.
“Only five guys are going to be happy at the end of it,” Boselli said.
Maybe even him.