JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Is this really it?
The Jacksonville area has two finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame — Jaguars left tackle Tony Boselli and Packers safety LeRoy Butler — which will be revealed on Thursday night during the NFL Honors show.
Both Boselli and Butler have been down this path before only to end up with no enshrinement.
Boselli has been in the group 15 finalists each of the last six years. This is Butler’s third time in the final 15. He played for coach Corky Rogers at Lee High School and went on to play in college at Florida State.
But making the cut to the final five who earn enshrinement has eluded both men.
That could change, at least for one of them, this week. On paper, this class has far fewer surefire, no-doubt-about-it Hall of Fame candidates. Boselli’s candidacy has been stuck in recent years. Butler has been in the mix, too, albeit not as long as Boselli. So there’s a good chance that one of them break through and earn their gold jacket.
What’s changed this year from previous ones? Competition.
Boselli is one of just two offensive linemen candidates on the ballot this year (Willie Anderson is the other). Butler is one of just two defensive backs in the final 15 (Ronde Barber is the other).
At least one defensive back has been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame every year since 2017. If that trend continues, Butler would seem to have the edge over Barber, a former Buccaneers star who is a finalist for the second time. There’s a similar principle with Boselli. At least one offensive lineman has made the Hall since 2018, although that inductee (Green Bay’s Jerry Kramer) made it through the seniors committee.
In previous years, the competition for one of the final five spots has been significantly more challenging than it is now.
Last year, first-time candidates Calvin Johnson, Peyton Manning and Charles Woodson were locks. In 2020, Edgerrin James, Steve Hutchinson and Troy Polamalu were the headliners.
The 2019 class was loaded, with Tony Gonzalez, Charlton County High School product Champ Bailey and Ed Reed among the major headliners and sure bets to reach Canton.
Joining Boselli and Butler on the final ballot are: defensive lineman Jared Allen, offensive lineman Willie Anderson, defensive back Ronde Barber, receiver Torry Holt, linebacker Sam Mills, defensive lineman Richard Seymour, linebacker Zach Thomas, receiver Reggie Wayne, linebacker Patrick Willis and defensive lineman Bryant Young.
Wide receiver Andre Johnson, linebacker DeMarcus Ware and returner Devin Hester are among the 15 finalists and all in their first year of eligibility.
Had Boselli’s career in the NFL been longer, he’d have likely been a first-ballot pick.
Boselli was a five-time Pro Bowl selection and a three-time All-Pro. Shoulder injuries cut his career short, which remains the biggest knock on Boselli’s candidacy.
Boselli played 91 regular season games and six in the playoffs with Jacksonville. He was left unprotected by the team in the 2002 expansion draft and was picked No. 1 overall by the Texans. Boselli never played a down with Houston and retired that year.
Butler spent 12 seasons in the NFL, all with the Packers. He was a four-time Pro Bowl selection. Butler had 38 career interceptions and forced 13 fumbles. He had 721 tackles and was inducted into the Packers hall of fame in 2007.