McCrary vs. Boselli: It's a respect thing

November 14, 1999|By Ken Rosenthal

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The rivalry wouldn't cut it in the WWF, and it's an anomaly in today's NFL.

No staring, no posing, no taunting. No name-calling, no finger-pointing, no trash-talking.

Just respect.

Just two warriors staging 578-pound collisions on snap after snap, then acknowledging each other's passion and skill when it is all over.

They actually had breakfast at the Pro Bowl, Michael McCrary and Tony Boselli did. They actually share a mutual admiration, one as genuine as it is rare.

McCrary: "He just loves to play the game. It's obvious just watching him on film. Every snap, he goes hard."

Boselli: "The difference between Mike and the rest of them is his relentless attitude. He's nonstop. Every time we play, it's a physical battle."

Two Pro Bowl players, two throwback attitudes, one hellacious matchup.

McCrary and Boselli have met five times the last three seasons. Round 6 is today at ALLTEL Stadium. Round 7 is in two weeks at PSINet Stadium.

In this corner, McCrary, one of the game's top defensive ends, a 6-foot-4, 260-pound spinning top who has recorded 39 sacks in his past 46 games.

In that corner, Boselli, one of the game's top left tackles, a 6-foot-7, 318-pound thumper who has allowed only nine sacks in 4 1/2 NFL seasons and none in six playoff games.

McCrary recorded a sack against Boselli while playing for Seattle on Dec. 15, 1996. He also had one against Jacksonville last season, but Jaguars' coaches did not charge it to Boselli.

The fact that Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell is left-handed is an advantage for Boselli -- Brunell can see McCrary coming, as opposed to right-handed quarterbacks who must deal with him from their blind side.

The Jaguars also give Boselli help, chipping at McCrary with running backs and other linemen. But the one-on-one drama is real, and Boselli has repeatedly acknowledged McCrary as his most difficult opponent.

In Sports Illustrated's 1999 NFL preview, the magazine related a conversation between Boselli and Forrest Gregg, the Hall of Fame tackle from the Green Bay Packers.

"Gino Marchetti was the best I ever faced, because he would make you work so darn hard," Gregg said. "I'd be so tired after playing him that I couldn't move for a day."

Replied Boselli: "There is a guy like that today in Baltimore, Michael McCrary, who just keeps coming. I try to throw him on the ground and lie on top of him just to tire him out."

McCrary smiled at the compliment.

"He's a tough guy, too," McCrary said. "It's fun going against him. Even if you don't have a lot of success, it's fun going against somebody who loves the game as much as you do, who has the same desire to come at you every play."

Boselli got a glimpse of McCrary's nonstop motor during Pro Bowl practices -- McCrary wore his helmet at times, even though the practices were walk-throughs.

Ravens offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, who has jokingly described McCrary as "a pain in the butt," told Boselli that he should be grateful he has to face the defender only twice a season, not every day in practice.

Then came the McCrary-Boselli breakfast, in which the antagonists wore napkins instead of pads and used their hands to take apart the menu, not each other.

"It's interesting going against somebody who gives you some trouble, then sitting there and talking during peacetime," McCrary said.

"But it was fun. It was fun practicing against him. Even though we were just walking through, I still was trying to get some keys off him, find some weaknesses for when I played against him."

Did Boselli give away anything?

"No, he didn't," McCrary said, smiling.

In the opinion of Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, Boselli's best attribute is his athleticism. McCrary is quicker than most defensive tackles, Lewis said. But Boselli is agile enough to stay with him.

McCrary has a different view.

"A lot of people are athletic, but he's a very aggressive player," McCrary said. "He's got the aggressiveness of Zeus [former Raven Orlando Brown] and the technique and athletic ability of an Ogden. He has more of a defensive mentality, in terms of going after it."

McCrary and middle linebacker Ray Lewis personify that mentality for the NFL's second-ranked defense. And not surprisingly, McCrary employs that mentality in his approach to Boselli.

"You keep banging and banging, and maybe he'll miss a jam," McCrary said. "To keep going after him is the only way to have success."

It is the only way he knows, and the only way Boselli knows.

Two Pro Bowl players, two throwback attitudes, one hellacious matchup.

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