CANTON, Ohio — Jaguars fans were disappointed over the 27-11 loss in Thursday’s Hall of Fame preseason game against the Las Vegas Raiders.
But less than 48 hours later, the black-and-teal faithful took a measure of pride with an impressive turnout for Tony Boselli’s HOF induction.
They came in noticeably big numbers to support Boselli, wearing their No. 71 jerseys both past and present. They also showed some financial wallop by buying up every Tony hat and jersey the HOF had in its supply.
"Definitely, the Jaguars were the most visible team presence this year," said HOF spokesman Rich Desrosiers.
Before the Hall of Fame game even kicked off, Boselli’s five kids were dismayed they couldn’t find any of their father’s gear to purchase as souvenirs. That didn’t happen with merchandise of the other four players enshrined in Canton.
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“I knew the fans would be awesome,” Boselli said after his HOF induction. “I got one bone to pick with the Hall of Fame. They ran out of gear. What did you expect? It’s Jaguars’ fans, these people are crazy.
“Plus, I got a big family. Two days ago, my kids went to go buy some and there was no gear left. My kids said, ‘Dad, what happened?’ Well, Jags fans got here.”
They came in significant numbers — estimated around 1,500-2,000 in a crowd of 11,484 — and brought the noise at various portions of Boselli’s speech that ran over 11 minutes.
When Tony mentioned early he was “the first Jacksonville Jaguar to be in the Hall of Fame,” it elicited one of the loudest cheers of the day, though not as boisterous as the standing ovation Bryant Young received when he got emotional talking about his son passing away from cancer.
The presence of Jaguars fans, including many in section 123 at Tom Benson Stadium who needed little prompting to get a “Tony, Tony, Tony!” chant going before the ceremony, provided some buzz for a HOF induction in which there were no NFL superstars honored.
Going into the Hall also gave Boselli ammunition to defend Jaguars fans, who have remained steadfastly loyal despite the team’s poor record over the last decade.
“Listen, this is a great fan base,” said Boselli. “Jacksonville is a great football town, I don’t care what anyone says. You show me another city that will run through the seasons that we’ve had, which I believe is changing with [first-year coach] Doug Pederson, and I think [quarterback] Trevor Lawrence is the real deal.
“Forget about the future. But you talk about these fans and what they’ve endured and what they’ve gone through and how they stand by this organization and their players, and they stood by me since 1995. Never a doubt in my mind that they’d come in full force. They dominated this weekend, and it was great to see.”
Jaguars’ loyalty, marital compromise
Ian Lotts, a former Jacksonville resident now living in Indianapolis, forewarned his wife, April, several years ago that if Boselli ever went into the Hall of Fame, he’d get in his car and make the 300-mile drive to be there.
So Lotts came with his father, Rich, a former Navy minister at Mayport, for the Jaguars’ game and HOF ceremony, then had to hurry back home to avoid any marital strife.
Since Saturday was Ian’s sixth anniversary, the 40-year-old husband had to make sure he struck the right balance between his loyalty for the Jaguars and his spouse. Ian was banking on getting home in time to take April to a late Saturday dinner.
“My love for football came with the arrival of the Jaguars because I didn’t have a team to call my own,” said Lotts, wearing a “Duval Til We Die” hat. “There’s only one first and Tony’s the first Jaguar in the Hall, so I wasn’t going to miss that.
“I just have to book it home right after the induction ceremony so I don’t get divorced.”
Another Jaguars fan who grew up in Jacksonville and now lives in another AFC South rival city, Nashville, is Vic Torres.
He brought his two kids, 21-year-old Chandler and 15-year-old Haley to the Hall of Fame exhibit Friday, while his wife stayed busy visiting friends in Canton.
When the announcement came down in February that Boselli made the HOF, Torres screamed so loud for joy at the television screen that Haley ran into the room and said, "What’s going on?"
The next day, Vic told Chandler the family would make the eight-hour drive to Canton for Boselli’s induction.
Torres, a 1995 Westside High (Forrest) graduate, knows the financial costs to him won’t stop with the gas, hotel and food expenses incurred on the trip to northeast Ohio.
“In a marriage, you negotiate vacations,” said Torres, a software engineering manager. “I’ll probably have to go on a ton of Disney trips [with his wife] to get this one.”
Few hard-core Jaguars fans are as dedicated as Bryan Olive, an Uber driver who shows up at both home and road games dressed in a hard hat and overalls, with the numbers seven and one on each pant leg.
Olive, known as “Jaxeman” to many Jaguars fans, flew up to Canton with his good friend, Rodney Poole. As they toured the Hall of Fame with the Torres family, Poole donned a jersey with the number 95 and his nickname “Just Rodney” stitched on the back.
“I said I wouldn’t set foot in the Hall of Fame until a Jaguar got in and I won’t go to a Super Bowl without the Jaguars in it,” Olive said. “This is like a once-in-a-lifetime thing. It’s like one percent of one percent of the players make it here.
“I was literally in tears when Tony got in. I was so excited that I tried to call five people to share the joy and nobody answered. I finally reached Rodney [Poole]. For us to finally get this [Hall of Fame] recognition is unbelievable.”
Olive, a season-ticket holder for six years, goes the extra mile to support his team. He has attended 13 road games the past three seasons, taking immense pride in being a Jaguars’ ambassador.
“It’s an adrenaline rush for me, getting to mingle with other NFL fans,” said Olive. “Other teams have almost 90 years of tradition. We’ve got 27 years. I want to build the next generation of [Jaguars] fans.”
Dusty Reid, a lifelong Binghamton, N.Y. resident, became a Jaguars’ fan at age 5 after his father, a Miami Dolphins fan, and his older brother, a Buffalo Bills fan, compelled him to pick an NFL team. He was watching the Jaguars on television in their 1995 expansion season, fell in love with them and has never looked back.
“I saw the awesome teal colors and the giant cat and said, ‘I want to root for them,’ “ said Reid, sporting a Trevor Lawrence jersey while touring the Hall of Fame. “It was so exciting that second year in the playoffs [in 1996] when we beat my brother’s team in Buffalo.”
Reid, 33, who recently went back to college to study computer science, couldn’t find anybody to make the 400-mile trip with him, so he did his best to cut down on expenses. He drove an extra 75 miles south of Canton and found a Days Inn that charged just $59 a night plus tax and fees.
Boselli fan connection a factor
No matter the level of financial challenge, it was apparent Jaguars’ fans couldn’t resist the double incentive of attending a game and finally seeing Boselli give the team a presence in Canton.
“We don’t get enough good recognition, so this is something we had to come to,” said Patrick Crews, a Jacksonville native who moved to Cleveland in 2017. “I’ve been waiting five years to experience this.”
The time and monetary sacrifices Jaguars fans made to get to Canton wasn’t lost on Boselli. He mentioned it repeatedly when talking about his HOF experience.
Boselli hammered home the point again Saturday night during a celebration speech to 300 guests, a swanky affair at an upscale farmhouse that was the visionary creation of Shanna Khan, daughter of the Jaguars’ owner.
Boselli couldn’t thank people enough for showing up. He also went on Twitter several days ago and posted his gratitude, saying: “It means the world to me & my family that so many people would spend their money & take their precious time to come celebrate this awesome moment with me. I love Jags fans! #DUUUVAL”
For Jim and Marion Feeser, who have been season ticket-holders since the franchise inception in 1995, this was their first road trip since watching the Jaguars play the San Francisco 49ers in London in 2013.
Both were wearing teal Boselli T-shirts that listed his career accomplishments on the back.
“We made the trip because of Tony,” said Marion. “He’s been a wonderful team player and person in the community and continues to be that way.”
The Jaguars franchise finally has its first Hall of Fame inductee. It was a victory many of its fans didn’t want to miss.
Gfrenette@jacksonville.com: (904) 359-4540
Gene Frenette Sports columnist at Florida Times-Union, follow him on Twitter @genefrenette
This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Tony Boselli gets Jaguars fan support in Canton Hall of Fame induction