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Bruce Smith questions Tony Boselli’s Hall of Fame credentials

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Hall of Fame defensive end Bruce Smith is upset that supporters of offensive tackle Tony Boselli are using Boselli’s dominating performance against Smith in a playoff game as one of the reasons Boselli has been elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The NFL’s career sack leader also intimated that Boselli doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame because of the length of his career and the fact that Boselli played with a left-handed quarterback and didn’t have to protect the blind side.

“A large part of the campaign to promote Tony Boselli into the Hall of Fame seems to hyper focus on a single successful performance he had against me in a 1996 playoff game,” Smith said in a statement posted on his official Instagram account. “On the one hand, I’m quite flattered to be considered the gold standard by which another player’s game can be measured to determine his qualification into the HOF. But on a more serious level, I and other HOFers believe it sets a horrible precedent to negatively zero in on a standing member of the Hall’s play in order to validate the candidacy of a nominee.”

Boselli dominated Smith in the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 30-27 upset of the Buffalo Bills in an AFC wild-card game on Dec. 28, 1996. Smith was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year that season after racking up 13.5 sacks and 90 tackles, but he managed just three tackles and two quarterback pressures in the game in Buffalo.

But Smith said using that game as an argument for Boselli’s inclusion into the Hall of Fame is “underhanded tactics.”

“The HOF is an exclusive fraternity that follows a tacit code of conduct which fosters respect and brotherhood between its members,” Smith said in his statement. “Given the opportunity, any Hall of Famer could use his credentials to boast about his dominance over another member, but such behavior is deemed inappropriate because of the friction and discord it could create within the group. Maintaining harmony and goodwill in the HOF is paramount, and it is precisely why player campaigns have historically been presented respectfully and thoughtfully, allowing the candidate’s stats and complete body of work to speak resoundingly for itself.

“Resorting to underhanded tactics, like targeting a HOFer and hyping a one game matchup to bolster a nominee’s merit as some of Tony’s supporters have done, undermines the integrity of the Hall’s election process. It also invites otherwise unnecessary commentary and scrutiny around that candidate’s worthiness of becoming a member of the HOF.”

Boselli went to five Pro Bowls, was named first-team All-Pro three times, was a member of the NFL 1990s All-Decade Team and allowed only 15.5 sacks in 91 career games, but it was his performance against Smith that day that earned him national recognition as one of the best players of his era.

“I have the utmost respect for Bruce Smith,” Boselli told ESPN. “He’s one of the greatest players to ever play the game and is one of several men I competed against during my career. I played the games I played, and they’re all on tape for anyone to watch. My career ending early because of a shoulder injury has been much discussed. I don’t have much to add on that.”

Smith also said the length of Boselli’s career, which ran from 1995 to 2001, means it doesn’t measure up against some of the game’s best left tackles such as Anthony Munoz, Willie Roaf and Walter Jones. The fact that Boselli played with a left-handed quarterback also is a mark against him, Smith said.

“In Jacksonville, Leon Searcy bore the arduous task of protecting Mark Brunell’s blind side, while Tony benefited from protecting the extremely talented, mobile left handed quarterback,” Smith said. “During my nineteen years in the NFL several outstanding LTs, such as Bruce Armstrong, Richmond Webb and Will Wolford, all had stellar games against me. Perhaps they too would be wise to build HOF campaigns highlight that fact.”

Smith, by the way, was the person who introduced Boselli as part of the Hall of Fame’s class of 2022 at the NFL Honors on Feb. 10. Munoz, who is regarded as the best left tackle in NFL history, has consistently supported Boselli as a Hall of Famer, telling a Jacksonville radio station in 2020 that Boselli “deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. … And people keep pointing to the career; it wasn’t long. No, but he was the best when he played.”

Boselli will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Aug. 6 at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio, along with wide receiver Cliff Branch, safety LeRoy Butler, official Art McNally, linebacker Sam Mills, defensive end/defensive tackle Richard Seymour, coach Dick Vermeil and defensive tackle/defensive end Bryant Young.