Boselli enjoys the journey to Canton

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Tony Boselli’s smile radiated as he strolled through the lobby of the Delano Hotel in Las Vegas, absolutely, entirely without a doubt radiated like the heat up and off the nearby Strip.

“That’s Tony Boselli,” said one member of a USC delegation, who were huddled around wide receiver Drake London. The soon-to-be-inducted member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame acknowledged them as he walked past what was his past and into a conversation about the Jaguars and Jacksonville, which long ago became his future.

“It’s been crazy,” he said of the whirlwind that’s been his life since the announcement in Los Angeles in February. “You go through the process, and I did for a long time, and you hope it happens and you think it’s going to happen and when it does happen it’s like ‘holy cow!’ Being a part of that group, the Hall of Fame and the history of the game I love is truly amazing and humbling. It’s been fun, it’s been a lot of fun and it’s really interesting now to get introduced as a Hall of Famer and I have to tell you that’s different. Different but awesome.”

The Jaguars first-ever draft pick is not surprisingly the first member of the franchise to be elevated to Hall of Fame status. Tom Coughlin’s pursuit of Boselli (OT 1995-2001) began in the fall of 1994 when the then-expansion coach put his coaches and scouts through the draft process even though they weren’t picking until 1995. He saw the potential on the college tape and at USC’s 1995 Pro Day and on every Sunday for Boselli’s entire career.

“His will to win, his will to prepare and his desire to compete was at the very highest level,” explained Coughlin, whose time with Hall of Famers Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson from his days with the Giants gave him a good measuring stick. “He had everything else, the height, the length, the feet, the strength and technique but it was all of those things in combination with his desire to win on every play that made Tony Boselli not only a great football player but a cornerstone on which we could build an entire franchise.”

There is a strong sense of nostalgia among those who lived those first six seasons and Boselli has heard from many former teammates, which has been a consistent source of gratitude for him the last few months.

“It’s been great,” he said. “It’s been amazing. We had a great locker room and great guys, and they were so supportive throughout the entire process even when I didn’t make it, they were so very supportive. I love the guys I played with and hopefully a number of them will be able to join us in Canton in August so we can celebrate together.”

Boselli and the Jaguars are planning a very special celebration in Canton in August and on Legends Weekend in Jacksonville in October. Boselli’s impact on the field and in the community both while he was playing and since returning to North Florida in 2006 has turned what was a very strong bond between player and fans into the kind of relationship that takes you back to Bart Starr in Green Bay, Joe Greene in Pittsburgh and all the old Colts in Baltimore. It’s a relationship that Boselli treasures.

“I wish my shoulder would have let me keep playing; I would have loved to play seven or eight more years in Jacksonville,” he said. “Jacksonville is our home. I love this city. It’s where my kids feel at home and the people are simply amazing to us. We’re just so blessed to have been drafted by the Jaguars and to have played in North Florida. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I can’t imagine being a part of any other franchise.”

Boselli is special, and not just as a player. Not every first-round draft pick turns out to be a Hall of Fame player and a Hall of Fame quality person who builds his life and his family in a city and gives back something equal to what was given of him. He is the best left tackle this game has ever seen, and the chances of drafting another like him are infinitesimally small. Finding another player who as a person who means as much to Jacksonville and to North Florida seems equally remote.

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