When the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars made their first draft pick in team history, it wasn't one to sell jerseys. They drafted an offensive lineman.
With the second overall pick in 1995 they took offensive tackle Tony Boselli out of USC. And it turns out, the Jaguars are still selling his jersey.
Boselli went from the first pick in Jaguars history to the first Pro Football Hall of Famer in team history. His candidacy was debated for years, mostly because his health failed him. He played just 91 career games over seven seasons. A shoulder injury finally forced him into retirement.
On his sixth time as a Hall of Fame finalist, Boselli finally got the call. The Jaguars get one of their own in Canton.
Tony Boselli had a fantastic peak
Boselli's Hall of Fame case wasn't an easy one. One key argument in his favor ended up adding to the controversy.
Those who wanted Boselli in the Hall of Fame would point at a 1996 wild-card playoff game between the Jaguars and Buffalo Bills. Boselli, then in his second season and coming off his first of five straight Pro Bowls, was matched up against NFL defensive player of the year Bruce Smith. Smith had a quiet day with no sacks and the Jaguars beat the Bills. They'd go on to the AFC championship game in just their second year.
This year Smith questioned why Boselli would make the Hall of Fame based on a performance against him and said it "sets a horrible precedent." Smith said Boselli was "a formidable opponent during his brief career, but I find it difficult to compare the totality of his body of work with those of the NFL’s greatest left tackles." Smith argued that Boselli mostly blocked for left-handed quarterback Mark Brunell, so he wasn't protecting Brunell's blind side. Smith backpedaled later and told the Associated Press he and Boselli weren't at odds, that he merely disliked Boselli's campaign pitting a Hall of Famer against a HOF hopeful.
But the Smith ordeal was illuminating in a couple ways. Boselli did have a complicated Hall of Fame resume. But at his peak, he was good enough to shut down Smith, the only player in NFL history with 200 official sacks.
Short-term dominance won out.
Boselli's career cut short
Boselli was a prototype left tackle. He was 6-7, 324 pounds and light on his feet. He was a great player. The Jaguars say he allowed just 15.5 sacks in seven seasons.
Had Boselli played longer, his Hall of Fame debate would have been shorter. He was clearly on that path when the shoulder injury ended his career. He played in just three games for the Jaguars in 2001, then was the first pick of the Houston Texans in their expansion draft. Boselli never played for the Texans due to the shoulder.
The length of his career is why he was a six-time finalist, and not inducted sooner.
"I knew the big elephant in the room was the length of my career," Boselli told the Jaguars' site. "That was the thing being debated back and forth. That was hard because it was something I couldn't control. I also knew I had played more games than other Hall of Famers. I get the debate, but that was always hard."
The debate doesn't matter anymore. Boselli will be immortalized in the Hall of Fame. It's a big moment for the Jaguars too and Boselli understands that responsibility, just like he grasped the importance of being the first pick in team history.
"It's a big deal to me. I'm honored to be the first representative of the Jaguars in the Hall of Fame," Boselli said, according to Jaguars.com. "It's humbling. I will do my best to represent the Jaguars and the city of Jacksonville every day."