USC great ‘Little Tony’ Boselli set to enter Hall of Fame

Big Tony and Little Tony, that’s what they all called them.

The nicknames seemed a bit silly when “Little” Tony Boselli sprouted and wouldn’t stop growing, evolving into the best left tackle in college football while he was at USC, then the No. 2 overall draft pick, the one 6-foot, 7, 335-pound game for the Jacksonville Jaguars and — as of Saturday — that club’s only player enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Meanwhile, Big Tony was 6ft and 185lbs – Little Tony passed him at age 13 – yet was as tall as anyone in his son’s life.

“He was a great dad,” said Little Tony. “He was involved in the right way. He wasn’t the little league dad trying to convince the coach by yelling at the coach or anything. But he went to every game and was just super supportive and he only gave you a critique when you asked for it.”

Big Tony was a self-made man, working his way up from a McDonald’s executive to a store owner to someone who owned nearly two dozen Colorado franchises before selling them with intentions of retiring. These dreams of floating gently into the sunset of his life didn’t last long.

A month after handing his business over to his daughter in the summer of 2020, he was diagnosed with stage four melanoma that had metastasized to the liver, lungs and brain. He was 71.

Four years in a row, his son Canton had grown closer, but in the selection process ahead of four Super Bowls, the fateful Hall of Fame knock never happened. His father rode with him this emotional rollercoaster, the joy of reaching the final, the hope that this would be the year, and the disappointment of just missing out.

Never has that heartbreak been more acute than in early 2021, when — just as the clock was running out in his father’s life — Boselli was turned away yet again.

Tony Boselli Jr. and his father on his father's 70th birthday golf trip to Ireland in 2019.

Tony Boselli Jr. and his father on his father’s 70th birthday golf trip to Ireland in 2019.

(Courtesy of the Boselli family)

“When I got the call that I wasn’t inducted into the Hall of Fame in my fifth year, I remember it was a different emotion,” he said. “The first thought that came to mind was that my dad probably won’t make it through the year. And if I make it next year, he won’t be here.

“He had gotten to a point where the treatment wasn’t working. We hoped for the best. We were hoping for a miracle, but that was the first thing that went through my mind.”

Tony Boselli Sr. died on May 31 of this year after moving back to Colorado from Jacksonville to spend his final days in his home state. He saw his son’s injury-cut but spectacular career — seven seasons, five Pro Bowls, three All-Pro selections — but he wouldn’t be there for the bronze bust.

“What was special about my father was that he was always available,” says the younger Boselli, who grew up in Boulder. “We played pickup basketball almost every day during basketball season when he came home from work.

“During football season, we would be in the backyard playing touch football with my friends or siblings. It was all year round. Then in the summer we spent all day every day at the reservoir because we had a ski boat. My father was always about family.”

That made it so difficult in January, when Boselli received the news that he had finally made it into the Hall of Fame. He was able to share the moment and joy with everyone but Big Tony. It was both beautiful and bittersweet.

Former USC All American Tony Boselli makes his way to the sidelines to watch the Trojans at the Coliseum.

Former USC All American Tony Boselli makes his way to the sidelines to watch the Trojans at the Coliseum.

(Jose Marin/Cal Sport Media via Associated Press)

His friends and family planned a reception for him at USC’s Heritage Hall. People flew in from everywhere. College teammates and the pros were there. Former Trojans coach John Robinson was there. family in abundance. There was food and drinks.

“I coached three Hall of Fame linemen — Anthony Munoz, Jackie Slater and Tony Boselli,” said Robinson, who coached both USC and the Rams. “They were all kind of the same in terms of the potential they had. Tony had wonderful size, speed, balance and he was a mean SOB.

After the festive dinner, they dimmed the lights. His wife Angi had a highlight video of his career made.

“So this video starts playing and they and the Jaguars had gone through and had a lot of people I’d played with and ex-coaches and they all said nice things about me,” Boselli said. “Some of my friends made fun of me and told jokes.”

And then …

“All of a sudden, on the very last video, my dad pops up on the screen,” he said. “At the time I had no idea they filmed him. And there is my father. And he starts talking about me and how proud he is of me.”

Angi, who met her future husband while they were at USC together, had the foresight to interview her father-in-law for the day Boselli would eventually come to Canton.

“I’m sitting there and I couldn’t see it,” Boselli said. “I just put my head in my hands. I’ve heard probably 10% of it. I was just overwhelmed that my wife and good friends had thought of it. And there is this video of my father.”

As of this week, he hasn’t been able to bring himself to watch the video. He’s planning privately on Friday night, the night before he’s drafted.

“My family jokes with me that they’ve never seen me cry,” Boselli said. “I’m not a super emotional person. But I knew I couldn’t see that video and if I was asked to speak I wouldn’t be able to get through it. I only remember being overwhelmed.

“The only thing I remember is how proud he was of me. And for a son to hear that from your father, I mean, what else do you need? Outside of “I love you”. It’s like, check those boxes, I’m fine. It doesn’t really matter, anything else.”

Boselli doesn’t usually wear a watch, but he will wear one of his father’s favorite watches when he delivers his speech on Saturday. He expects to blow off steam at the start of the talk – invitees are limited to eight minutes – before thanking his family towards the end.

“I had to give my father’s eulogy when he died,” he said. “That was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I only had to stop once. I choked a few times, but only once did I really have to pause because I couldn’t get through it without just falling apart. So I’ll take my time. I’ll take it slow and try to keep my composure.”

It’s a big task. Little Tony is there. USC great ‘Little Tony’ Boselli set to enter Hall of Fame

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