Who knows why legendary NFL pass rusher Bruce Smith inexplicably decided less than two months before Tony Boselli’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame to disparage his election into Canton, but it has to rank among the all-time examples of poor sportsmanship.
For reasons only known to Smith – the all-time NFL leader with 200 sacks for the Buffalo Bills and Washington, and who competed directly against the Jaguars’ left tackle in the 1990s – he went on his Instagram account Monday night and used incredibly puzzling verbiage to explain why Boselli didn’t belong in the Hall of Fame.
The crux of Smith’s point was his flawed perception that Boselli largely got into the Hall of Fame based on winning a head-to-head matchup with Smith in the 1996 playoffs, not on his overall body of work, which was limited to 91 games (1995-2001) due to career-ending shoulder injuries.
“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 wrote in his statement, referring to the Jaguars’ 30-27 AFC wild-card playoff win at Buffalo. “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 the qualification into the HOF.
“But on a more serious level, I and other HOFers believe it sets a terrible precedent to negatively zero in on a standing member of the Hall’s play in order to validate the candidacy of a nominee.”
Exactly who are these “other HOFers” that believe Boselli made it into Canton on his sixth year as a finalist based on one game? Beyond the head-scratching motive for Smith to denigrate a fellow Hall of Famer, he employs highly suspect judgment to make the case for why Boselli doesn’t belong in Canton.
Smith essentially called out both Boselli and his supporters on the mistaken premise that the Jaguars tackle’s performance against Buffalo in that playoff game was a major impetus for his eventual Hall of Fame selection.
Many words come to mind to describe the tenor of Smith’s message directed at Boselli: despicable, naïve, repugnant, astonishing, unseemly and classless.
LeRoy Butler: ‘Why rain on his parade?’
Just read the most incredulous part of Smith’s statement, which says: “The HOF is an exclusive fraternity that follows a tacit code of conduct which fosters respect and brotherhood between its members. 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.”
Hey, Bruce, isn’t this out-of-left-field rip job on Boselli’s Hall of Fame worthiness a prime example of not fostering brotherhood and respect among the members?
Are you not creating friction and discord within the Hall of Fame by issuing such a profoundly baseless statement about Boselli?
If maintaining harmony and goodwill among the Hall of Fame group is “paramount,” how does accusing Boselli supporters of “underhanded tactics” and the process by which he was elected accomplish that?
No doubt, Smith went off the rails with this posting. He jumped the shark with his convoluted thought process.
“I bet I had 20 people who called me that were pissed off (about Smith’s statement),” said Jacksonville native and former Green Bay Packers safety LeRoy Butler, who is being inducted with Boselli in the Class of 2022. “There’s a decorum you’re supposed to have when you’re a Hall of Famer. It’s embarrassing because Tony’s a great guy and doesn’t deserve that. Why rain on his parade?
“(Smith) was stepping on his own message. Damn, how can someone wake up one day and just do that?”
HOF voters ridicule Smith
Let’s also remember Smith was the first to publicly announce Boselli for enshrinement at the NFL Honors program, adding further to his stunning Instagram post. That prompted Butler to say: “So when he was being nice to Tony, was he being fake?”
Butler was hardly the only person with Hall of Fame connections that were totally bewildered by Smith minimizing Boselli’s enshrinement credentials.
Rick Gosselin, a distinguished NFL writer and Hall of Fame voter from Dallas, as well as the statistical gatekeeper of all inducted players, said: “I don’t know what triggered this in the middle of June. The whole thing is so disappointing and petty. I don’t know what Bruce [Smith] is thinking.
“It doesn’t matter how Tony got there. The committee decided he was worthy of a jacket and a bust.”
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John McClain, the recently retired NFL columnist/writer from the Houston Chronicle and a 27-year voting member, took umbrage with Smith’s insinuation that voters put Boselli in Canton largely on one playoff matchup against the league’s all-time sack leader.
“I don’t remember Bruce Smith’s name being mentioned in our Zoom meeting on the Class of 2022,” said McClain. “Maybe I was in the restroom.
“Tony deserves (being inducted). It was about time we put him in. The only reason he didn’t get in before was the longevity issue. When he was healthy, he was the best in the game (at the tackle position).”
Jacksonville’s lone Hall of Fame voter, retired WJXT-Channel 4 sports anchor Sam Kouvaris, was also miffed that Smith suggested Boselli’s election happened largely due to winning matchups against him. He added the Boselli resume also includes success against Hall of Famers Derrick Thomas and Jason Taylor, plus Boselli distinguished himself in a golden era of left tackles that included Jonathan Ogden, Walter Jones, Orlando Pace and Willie Roaf. All of them have busts in Canton.
“It’s a little self-aggrandizing (for Smith) to point out that he’s in the Hall of Fame “because he beat me,’ ” Kouvaris said. “It’s certainly not how Tony performed in one game.
“Bruce has always had a prickly, quirky personality. The only way you have to quantify how guys performed is how they played against other great players.”
Boselli takes high road
It’s a credit to Boselli, who is unquestionably miffed Smith created this unnecessary firestorm, that he took the high road and didn’t add to the unjustified drama.
Boselli told ESPN he had the “utmost respect” for Smith, acknowledged he’s among the NFL’s greatest players and that the games he played are “all on tape for anyone to watch,” but didn’t add anything further. Boselli later told the Florida Times-Union via text he didn’t want to say anything else on the matter.
Hall of Fame president Jim Porter stayed above the fray in his statement to the Times-Union, saying: “The Hall of Fame supports the decisions its Selection Committee makes, and those voters have determined that Bruce and Tony are among the 362 greatest to play, coach or contribute to the game. The Hall celebrates and preserves each enshrinee’s legacy.”
Hopefully, this social media rant by one Hall of Famer against another blows over quickly. Boselli, who planned to start crafting his Hall of Fame speech Wednesday on a flight to London to promote the Jaguars’ game against the Denver Broncos, doesn’t deserve to have any awkwardness accompanying his Aug. 6 induction and celebratory weekend.
“(Smith) had to have known this would cause some smoke,” said Butler. “You don’t put together a statement like that without thinking it through. There’s only 362 of us. You would think they’d stick together. We’re all on the same team.
“I’m disappointed. I would hope that Bruce would apologize and let’s move on from it.”
Boselli is richly deserving of a heartfelt apology from Smith. For a Hall of Fame pass-rusher who has been properly honored for his accomplishments, this was one sad sack of a move.
Gene Frenette is a sports columnist at the Florida Times-Union, follow him on Twitter @genefrenette. You can reach him via email at Gfrenette@jacksonville.com and via phone: (904) 359-4540.