KUSA—It was the Big Mac and Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese that brought Tony Boselli to Boulder, Colorado.
A family McDonald’s franchise to be exact.
It was a five-year run as the best left tackle in the National Football League for the upstart Jacksonville Jaguars that has brought Boselli to the brink of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“I trust the process, I trust the guys voting,’’ Boselli said in a phone interview Tuesday with 9News. “You know what, people get on those guys sometimes but what a thankless job. Whenever someone says something to me, I say: ‘Here’s the 15, who shouldn’t make it?’ It’s a tough job they have.’’
Somewhat serendipitously converted from quarterback to left tackle by Boulder Fairview High School coach Sam Pagano after his first week of varsity practice, Boselli is among the 15 modern-era Pro Football Hall of Fame finalists for a second consecutive year.
The Hall of Fame vote will be held Saturday in the Twin Cities-area with five of the 15 modern-era candidates elected.
Boselli has taken an unusually slow-then-sudden path to the finals. The first nine years he was eligible for the Hall, Boselli didn’t even make the cutdown to the 25 semifinalists. Most likely he was overlooked because he had relatively short career of six healthy seasons, eight NFL years total.
But perhaps because the left tackle position has become so increasingly invaluable – every team needs one; few have him -- Boselli’s dominant play when he was healthy was worth closer examination. He not only became one of the 25 semifinalists last year, he leaped to the round of 15 finalists. And he not only became a finalist, he made the first cut to the top 10 vote-getters.
With Seattle safety Kenny Easley getting inducted as a senior candidate last year even though he played just seven seasons and 89 games, and with Broncos running back Terrell Davis receiving the nod even though he had just four healthy seasons and 79 games, Boselli’s 91 games, three first-team All Pro selections and five Pro Bowls more than qualify for a bronze bust.
“I think it definitely helps,’’ Boselli said. “My career was the same length of those guys. Both great players. And we’ll see what happens. The Hall of Fame is the biggest individual honor any of us could have. Obviously, the biggest thing is to win a Super Bowl.’’
Boselli didn’t get to the Super Bowl with Jacksonville but he got close. Oh, how Broncos fans remember how close he got.
Boselli was born in the Central Valley city of Modesto, California. In 1974, when he was 2, he was moved with his family to Colorado where his father, Tony Sr., started up a McDonald’s franchise in the Denver-area with his brother Bud Boselli. Uncle Bud has since passed away but the Bosellis now have 14 McDonald’s franchises in the greater Denver-area.
As a kid, Tony Boselli Jr. worked various jobs at McDonald’s then as a landscaper at a convent. And he grew up loving football and the Broncos.
“I loved growing up in Colorado,’’ Boselli said. “Boulder was such a great place to grow up in, going to Fairview. I got to play for Sam Pagano. I was very fortunate to have great family and great coaches.
“Sam Pagano was instrumental in the type of football player I became. No. 1, he moved me to offensive line. I wanted to play quarterback. He said, ‘You’re not a quarterback, you’re an offensive lineman.’’’
Tony Boselli Sr. was not happy when his son was shifted from glamour to grinder. Was Tony Jr. bummed?
“Was I bummed? I don’t know. I had so much respect for Sam Pagano and I loved football, I just wanted to play,’’ Boselli said. “I didn’t dream of becoming an offensive lineman. But I respected him, and I was afraid of him. He’s the head coach. When coach Pagano said you’re going to move, I said, “OK. You’re the boss.’’ I never thought twice about it.
“I’m sure thankful for Sam. He saw something in me to think I could be a good offensive lineman.’’
Coach Pagano remembers how it went down.
“I ran the Mile High Football Camp and that summer we had Vinny Testaverde as our quarterback instructor,’’ said Pagano, whose son Chuck just finished up a six-year run as the Indianapolis Colts’ head coach while another son, John, is about to enter his 23rd season as an NFL coach. “He wanted to be another Vinny Testaverde, and he did all the drills and he wanted to be a quarterback.''
At Fairview, Sam Pagano had coached Chris Foote, who became a center for USC, the Colts, New York Giants, Minnesota Vikings and USFL. Pagano had also coached Kevin Call, an offensive tackle for Colorado State and the Colts.
“I said Tony, you’re a better athlete than those two,’’ Pagano said. “I’m not saying you’re going to be better than those two. But you can dunk the basketball. You’ve got great feet. You’ll make a great tackle. I said, ‘You’ll make a million dollars.’ Then, it was like, a million dollars?
“He was great for us but I think when he really developed was when he got to USC. We didn’t pass block, we did a lot of run blocking but you could see the potential. And then at SC they really developed him. He got so physical and tough. He had so much confidence in pass protect.’’
A three-time All American for Larry Smith and John Robinson at USC, Boselli was the first-ever draft pick of the expansion Jaguars in 1995, No. 2 overall.
The greatest two moments of Boselli’s career came in his second season of 1996. First, the underdog Jaguars defeated the Buffalo Bills in a first-round playoff game at Buffalo, a game in which Boselli thoroughly dominated Hall of Fame right end Bruce Smith.
And second, the even greater underdog Jaguars upset the Broncos in a second-round playoff game at Mile High Stadium.
“That was my favorite team growing up,’’ Boselli said. “I still have family there. As a little kid, going to Mile High Stadium and watching the Broncos play for as long as I can remember -- that was a dream to play in that stadium. It was a dream to play in a Broncos uniform. The next best thing was to be able to play against them and beat them.
“To be able to do that – and they were the best team in football that year -- and beat them that was probably my favorite game.’’
Tony Boselli does not need his bronze bust in Canton to feel good about his life. Left tackle is brutal on a human’s shoulders and Boselli’s left shoulder went out early in the 2001 season.
“The left shoulder stopped working,’’ Boselli said. “It was great while it lasted and I love the game and love being around it as much as I can now.’’
Boselli's life, meanwhile, shifted to busy. He and his wife Angi, his college sweetheart, settled in Jacksonville and raised five kids. Tony helped former Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell coach his two sons in high school.
Andrew Boselli is an interior offensive lineman for Florida State entering redshirt sophomore season. Adam Boselli is a tight end at North Carolina State.
Tony got involved in several business ventures – “some worked, some didn’t,’’ he said – and now serves as the Jaguars’ radio color commentator and a color commentator for Westwood One on national radio NFL broadcasts.
He is in Minneapolis this week where he will be a radio sideline reporter for the Super Bowl for a second consecutive year.
And there is his large family, foundation that he and his wife run for Jacksonville, and a health care company, CareDox, which provides immunizations, flu shots and physicals to school kids grade K-12. The company is growing.
His dad, stepmom, siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews still live in Colorado. Mom lives in Jacksonville. There will be nerve-wrecking excitement among the Bosellis come Saturday, when the 48-member Hall of Fame voting committee picks five modern-era finalists – while also considering senior nominees Jerry Kramer and Robert Brazile, and contributor Bobby Beathard for what should be rubber-stamp approval.
The other 10 modern-era finalists will be left to try again next year. Sometimes, those who finish six through 10 on the modern-era ballot one year make up the five who are elected the next. That won’t be completely the case this year as there is a strong, first-year class led by Baltimore middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who is a gimme for election. Brian Urlacher and Randy Moss might also make it in their first year of eligibility.
“My thought is every year you’re going to have a strong class,’’ Boselli said. “If you make it to the finals, I could make an argument for every guy. Obviously, with guys like Ray Lewis and Randy Moss and Brian Urlacher and Steve Hutchinson coming up for the first time, all great players.
“And then guys who have been there, Kevin Mawae and (Alan) Faneca, Joe Jacoby, John Lynch and Brian Dawkins. I mean, you’re talking about iconic players. I don’t think it will be any easier next year or the year after that or any year.’’
Boselli is a unique candidate because he wasn’t good for a long time but great for a relatively short while. His election, though, would not be setting precedence. Great for a short period is still great.