JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The moment he saw his father’s face and heard his voice, Tony Boselli dropped his head into his hands.
“I was in no … I wasn’t ready to go there at that moment in front of everybody,” he said.
The first draft pick in Jacksonville Jaguars history kept his head down as everyone else in the room watched the giant screen and listened as Tony Boselli Sr. talked about how tough his son was as a player, how hard he worked and how proud he was of the man he had become.
Those were words that “Little Tony” had heard often from “Big Tony.” This time, however, it was hard for Little Tony to listen, because his father had died nine months earlier. Hearing his dad’s voice at this moment, in a room full of family, friends and colleagues, while celebrating the fact he would be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was just too much.
So Little Tony blocked most of it out.
“It was emotional,” Boselli said. “It caught me by surprise. I didn’t even know how to react. … I think about my dad and not being there, and you kind of reflect, and those are moments of looking back on the fond memories, a little bit of sadness that he’s not here to experience it with me. But those are good moments.
“Those are special moments because it means someone important in your life, even if they’re not there, cares about you, and you can think back on the great memories that you had and how that individual, in this case my dad, helped me get to where I was.”
Big Tony’s appearance capped a 24-minute congratulatory video that played at the end of a Feb. 10 celebration at USC, Boselli’s alma mater.
Little Tony still hasn’t finished watching it.
Family is everything for the Bosellis
Athletics were a big part of the Boselli household in Boulder, Colorado. Water skiing, snow skiing, basketball, football, softball, tubing … whatever. And Big Tony, despite working long hours managing a fast-food restaurant, was always part of it.
What he instilled in his three children — Little Tony, Jennifer and Michael — was a competitiveness that infiltrated everything they did. Hauling a sibling or a friend on a tube behind the family’s boat? You had to see how fast you could knock them off. Two-on-two football in the backyard at halftime of Denver Broncos games? Buckle your (imaginary) chin strap, because it’s going to get rough.
And the kids ate it up.
“We’re super competitive. Every single one of us,” Jennifer said. “So even if it was a pickup game of basketball on the garage, people were playing hard because no one wanted to lose ever because there was bragging rights. … That’s just the way it was in our family, and everyone bought into that.”
Sometimes things got — arguably — too competitive. Like the 11-on-11 Thanksgiving Day tackle football games with the extended family. Big Tony finished one with a broken nose and another with a torn ACL.
“He was one really tough character. He was tough in all sports and everything that he did.”
Tony Boselli Sr. on Tony Boselli Jr.
Boselli loved that his father always made time for him and his siblings and said he’ll always cherish those moments, which invariably seemed to revolve around sports.
“He’d come home from work every day and we’d do something in the backyard,” Boselli said. “And my favorite was either football or basketball. We played one-on-one [basketball] until I was in high school, and we would go in the backyard and play catch. It was never a situation where I would work on offensive line drills. I didn’t want to be an offensive lineman at that age. I wanted to be a quarterback or a linebacker.”
Before that could happen, however, Boselli had to start playing organized football. The minimum age to play Pop Warner football in Boulder was 10, but 9-year-old Little Tony wanted to play so badly that Big Tony told a little white lie.
“I wanted to put the pads on. And so my dad, we went to the place, the rec center, and we signed up and [the person registering players] goes, ‘How old’s your son?’ ” Boselli remembered. “[Big Tony] goes, ‘He’s 10.’ Made up a birthdate and everything so that I could play football.”
“I would like to share with him how proud I am of what he’s accomplished throughout his years of football … [and] being a man.”
Big Tony on Little Tony
For Big Tony, family was everything. If Little Tony went somewhere, he took his younger siblings. Spending time together and creating traditions that continue to this day was important.
“When we go out to our beach house in California, and we used to do that as a vacation all the time, he always made sure every morning we all woke up together as a family and walked down and got doughnuts from the same doughnut shop,” Michael said. “And then at nighttime after dinner we always walk down the boardwalk and all have ice cream together. Still to this day when we all go out there as a family, no matter if it’s all of us as a group or just individual families, we all do that still as a family.”
Even when the kids grew and married and moved — Little Tony to USC and then Jacksonville when the Jaguars selected him second overall in 1995 — the family vacations continued.
Until Big Tony was too sick with cancer to go.
Making Big Tony’s congratulatory video
Angi Boselli’s heart broke.
Not because her husband told her in early 2021 that he hadn’t made the Hall of Fame after his fifth time as a finalist, but because his father was sick and unlikely to be around if Boselli eventually did make it.
“Oh, I was devastated,” Angi said. “I know I teared up. And like I said, it was an instant, ‘Oh yes he will.’ “
That’s when Angi decided she had to get her father-in-law on video for her husband. She enlisted family friends Eric and Kay Murphy to help with the logistics of setting up the video shoot. There was just one minor problem: convincing Big Tony to do it.
“He has done a lot more than just play football to get to this position. He is truly a great man.”
Big Tony on Little Tony
“The tricky part was convincing his dad we were doing this for everybody,” Angi said. “We were making a video, and he would not have agreed to it had he known that we were trying to get his final thoughts or that we thought that he may not make it. His dad was a fighter. He was really believing that all of his cancer treatments were going to work.
“When he did the video, it was under the pretense we were getting coach [Tom] Coughlin, a bunch of ex-players, a bunch of friends. In fact, we did do that, but [Big] Tony’s video was the first one shot. And the rest all came organically.”
The video was shot at Big Tony’s Jacksonville Beach condo. Eric Murphy did the interview, and members of the Jaguars video/production team filmed it. They shot it in late April 2021.
On May 31, the cancer that had been ravaging Big Tony’s body for years took its final toll.
‘Angi, you need to turn this off. It’s so embarrassing.’
It was a bittersweet moment for Little Tony when Hall of Fame offensive tackle Anthony Munoz knocked on the door to the Murphy’s home to tell him he would be inducted.
Angi and several high-ranking Jaguars officials knew Boselli had gotten into the Hall of Fame, and they helped organize a party at USC after the Feb. 10 announcement. Nearly 100 people attended. There was a cocktail hour and a dinner, and when dessert hit the table, the congratulatory video started to play on a giant screen.
Boselli had trouble with it pretty much as soon as it started. He was uncomfortable with all the praise from former coaches, teammates, members of the Jaguars organization, family and friends.
And then it rolled past 10 minutes. Then 15.
“He went over to me, and he was like, ‘Angi, you need to turn this off. It’s so embarrassing,'” Angi said. “And I said, ‘Honey, the Jaguars put this together for you, and they’re all watching. Shape up and watch the video.’ I had to get on him.”
Her husband grumpily sat back down at a table that included former Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell and his wife, Stacy, former Jaguars coach Gus Bradley and his wife, Michaela, former Jaguars offensive lineman Jeff Novak and his wife, Kim, and Jaguars owner Shad Khan.
Then it happened.
Even six months later, Angi got emotional when she described the moment her father-in-law came up on the screen.
“That was probably the sweetest part,” she said. “Tony is very stoic. Very stoic. He doesn’t cry. He did his dad’s eulogy, and he did get choked up slightly, but honestly he made it through the eulogy very beautifully.
“He is just a very strong human being, so to watch him sort of crumble when he saw it … uhhh.”
Her husband wasn’t the only one. Jennifer and Michael also felt the gut punch of seeing their father.
“To hear him again and to see that, it was hard, but it was awesome,” Michael said. “I sat there and stared and just cried and had a big ol’ smile on my face. I took that opportunity to enjoy seeing him one more time.”
That’s something Little Tony hasn’t yet done.
But he will soon. He said he will sit down and watch his dad’s part in the video just before the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony Saturday at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio.
“I’m probably not the best at handling those type of emotions,” Boselli said. “I’ve always joked that I’ve probably got some hidden room locked away in my brain that I just put all those uncomfortable emotions into. But I’m going to do it, there’s no doubt about that.
“At this point, I kind of want to make that the thing I watch before I [am inducted into the Hall of Fame]. Because I want that memory, the picture of my dad, and his words kind of ingrained in my mind as I go to Canton, because he’s only going to be there in spirit.”