CANTON, Ohio (AP) — Tony Boselli looked out at all the teal-colored jerseys in the crowd and screamed: “Duuuuval!”
Finally, the Jacksonville Jaguars have a player in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Boselli, the first pick in Jaguars history after being a three-time All-American at USC, was among eight members of the Class of 2022 enshrined Saturday at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.
“I thank God for football and I thank God for the people of Jacksonville,” Boselli said before shouting the fans’ rallying cry, the name of their county.
The Jaguars played the Las Vegas Raiders in the NFL preseason opener Thursday night, so No. 71 Boselli jerseys filled the seats.
A five-time Pro Bowl selection and three-time All-Pro left tackle in seven seasons in Jacksonville, Boselli saw his career cut short by injuries. But his dominant performance earned him a gold jacket.
“It’s a profound honor,” Boselli said.
The class inducted Saturday included to others with significant Southern California connections.
Coach Dick Vermeil was an assistant with the Los Angeles Rams from 1969-73 and was head coach a year at UCLA in 1974 before going on to win a Super Bowl as head coach of the St. Louis Rams. Wide receiver Cliff Branch played 14 seasons with the Raiders, winning three Super Bowls. He played on Los Angeles Raiders teams from 1982 to 1985.
Linebacker Sam Mills, defensive back LeRoy Butler, defensive linemen Bryant Young and Richard Seymour and longtime head of officiating Art McNally joined Boselli, Vermeil and Branch in a class of guys who waited several years — some decades — to get the call.
Young delivered the most emotional speech when he broke down honoring his son, Colby, who died of pediatric cancer at age 15 in 2016.
“We assured Colby we would keep his memory alive and we would continue speaking his name,” Young said. “Colby, you live long in our hearts.”
Young, who excelled at defensive tackle in an era filled with talented players at the position, had 89 1/2 sacks and earned four Pro Bowl selections in a 14-year career spent entirely with the San Francisco 49ers.
Vermeil gave the longest speech, blowing past the 8-minute limit by 15. The former Philadelphia Eagles, St. Louis Rams and Kansas City Chiefs coach seemed to thank everyone who helped him reach the stage.
He credited players for his success and specifically pointed out fellow Hall of Famers Kurt Warner and Isaac Bruce, who were on Vermeil’s “Greatest Show on Turf” Super Bowl championship team in St. Louis.
“Gosh darn, I just wish I had time to go through everyone,” Vermeil said.
And then he did, anyway.
Vermeil wrapped up the ceremonies. Butler kicked everything off.
The four-time All-Pro safety leaped in with the same enthusiasm he celebrated big plays at Lambeau Field.
“DJ Khaled said it best: ‘God did,‘” Butler began, referencing the song. “When you play for the Green Bay Packers, a lot of doors open up. When you win a Super Bowl, more doors open up. When you’re picked for the Hall of Fame, football heaven opens up. It’s rare company.”
Butler drew cheers from Jaguars fans in attendance to see Boselli’s induction when he mentioned growing up in Jacksonville.
“Thank you, Duval,” Butler said. “My mom, growing up in poverty, she made us think rich every day because it’s not about what you have on or what you have, it’s how you act.”
Butler helped restore Green Bay’s glory days during a 12-year career. His versatility as a safety set the standard for a new wave at the position and earned him a spot on the league’s All-Decade team of the 1990s.
Butler originated the “Lambeau Leap” and had a key sack in Green Bay’s Super Bowl victory over New England. He fell just short of becoming the first player in league history to finish his career with 40 interceptions and 20 sacks.
Mills, the 5-foot-9 linebacker nicknamed “Field Mouse” during his 12-year career with the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers, and Branch were inducted posthumously. An inspirational figure, Mills overcame tremendous odds to even reach the NFL.
Mills played Division III college football and was not drafted. He was cut by the Cleveland Browns and Toronto Argonauts of the CFL and began his professional career with the USFL’s Philadelphia Stars. Jim Mora, who coached the Stars, brought him to New Orleans in 1986 and Mills never looked back.
“He was told he wasn’t good enough to play college football or big enough to play professional football and at the age of 27, he wasn’t young enough to play in the NFL and yet here we are today celebrating,” said Melanie Mills, Sam’s widow.
Mills became an assistant coach with the Panthers after his retirement. He was diagnosed with intestinal cancer before the 2003 season but kept coaching during his treatment and made what is known as his “Keep pounding” speech on the eve of the club’s Super Bowl matchup with New England at the end of that season.
Mills died in April 2005 at age 45. His “Keep pounding” remains the Panthers’ tag line.
Branch, who died just over three years at age 71 of natural causes, was one of the best deep threats of his era with some of his biggest performances coming on the game’s biggest stages, helping the Raiders win three Super Bowls.
Branch made the first of his three straight All-Pro teams in his first season as a starter in 1974 and scored 67 touchdowns through the air.
“Clifford was delayed. He was not denied,” said his sister and presenter, Elaine Anderson.
In a year with no first-ballot candidates, the inductees endured long waits to make the Hall.
Defensive tackle Richard Seymour didn’t wait too long to taste success in the NFL. He was part of three Super Bowl championship teams in his first four seasons with the New England Patriots.
Seymour pointed out the defensive stalwarts on those teams but didn’t mention Tom Brady by name.
“We had a young quarterback, but we made it work,” Seymour said, drawing chuckles from the crowd.
Seymour had 57 1/2 career sacks in 12 seasons, the first eight in New England before finishing his career with the Oakland Raiders.
“I’m overwhelmed with humility because it’s not about what this says about me but what it says about we and what we can do together,” he said. “I’m overwhelmed with gratitude because I didn’t get here alone. None of us did. None of us could have.”
The 42-year-old Seymour choked up thanking his wife, Tanya.
“Football is what I do, but family is who I am,” he said. “Thank you for everything you added to my life. This day belongs to my family. Scripture teaches your riches are in your family.”
Seymour called his three children his “greatest joy.”
“Of everything I accomplished, there’s no greater honor than being your dad,” he said.
Seymour praised Patriots owner Robert Kraft and former Raiders owner Al Davis and his son, Mark Davis.
He credited his success to the lessons he learned from Patriots coach Bill Belichick: work hard, be meticulous in your preparation, support your teammates and respect your opponents.
“This wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for Coach Belichick,” Seymour said.
McNally gave a video speech after he was inducted as a contributor.