Note: This article originally appeared in the Sport Digest on 31 January 2017. It has been republished to coincide with this evening’s induction of the Pro Football Hall of Fame 2017 class.
Sculptor Blair Buswell, the United States Sports Academy’s 1990 Sport Artist of the Year, continues to capture the gestures, moods and expressions of football’s most famous figures in busts featured at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
As the official sculptor for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Buswell has sculpted busts of nearly 100 of the Hall’s inductees over the last 33 years. This year, Buswell sculpted four of the eight inductees including Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre, Oakland Raiders quarterback Kenny Stabler, longtime San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. and Tony Dungy, who coached the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts.
Hall of Fame inductees are selected on the day before the Super Bowl each year and Buswell meets with each of them the following day. During the meeting, Buswell takes photos and measurements and schedules a time to meet with them individually in the spring. Sometimes the honorees come to his studio in Utah, but other times he travels to their home and spends a day with them.
When he meets the honorees, Buswell brings a clay mock-up with him and adds the finishing touches on each sculpture after he spends time with the honoree.
“I do some of the work before I go, but when I’m with them I try to capture the unique qualities that you don’t see in a photo,” Buswell said. “I make them pose for me and I try to capture them in a way that represents the way they played the game. When their wife and kids are around, they like to give their input, too.”
When Buswell visited Mississippi this spring, Favre and his wife Deanna disagreed with how the bust should portray the quarterback, who was known for his tough demeanor and “gunslinger” attitude on the field. Favre asked the sculptor to give him an “intense” look, but Deanna disagreed, saying the bust should be smiling because Favre loved to play the game. Ultimately, Buswell gave the bust a more intense expression.
While some sculptors prefer to work using just a photo of their subject, Buswell said meeting and spending time with the athletes gives him a better perspective.
“And it wouldn’t be as fun if I didn’t get to meet them,” he said. “It has been great to go to their homes and spend the day talking football and life with these guys. It has been a special experience.”
When Buswell visited Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw before his 1989 Hall of Fame induction, the pair took a break from posing and sculpting to throw the football in Bradshaw’s yard.
“I’ve never had someone throw a football to me the way he did,” Buswell said. “It was really something.”
Buswell said this year’s Hall of Fame class was also special because of a previous connection he made with DeBartolo Jr. Buswell, a former running back at Brigham Young University (BYU), met former 49ers head coach Bill Walsh when Walsh was the featured speaker at Buswell’s BYU senior football banquet. At the banquet, Buswell was recognized for his play on the field as well as his work as a sculptor in the school’s art department.
After the banquet, Walsh asked Buswell to create a sculpture of the coach and DeBartolo Jr. to commemorate the 49ers recent Super Bowl win. When the work was complete, Walsh brought Buswell with him to Ohio to present DeBartolo Jr. with a copy of the sculpture. During that meeting, Buswell told DeBartolo Jr. about his dream of becoming a sculptor for the NFL.
Soon after the conversation that day, Buswell said DeBartolo Jr. arranged for him to get the job as the lead sculptor at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“And 34 years later, I got to sculpt a bust for the man who made that call,” Buswell said. “My career came full circle and it was a very cool moment.”
Buswell’s next assignment is a full size sculpture of longtime New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson which will be placed at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium on the grounds of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The sculptor has also been commissioned to do additional work on a wagon train monument in downtown Omaha, Neb. The first phase of the work – a full size wagon train the size of one city block – took 10 years to complete. The additional work will include sculpting life size Native Americans and mountain men to accompany the wagon train piece.
One of Buswell’s pieces – a bust of United States Sports Academy founder and President Emeritus Dr. Thomas P. Rosandich – can be seen at the Academy’s American Sport Art Museum & Archives (ASAMA) in Daphne, Ala.
The United States Sports Academy is an independent, non-profit, accredited, special mission sports university created to serve the nation and world with programs in instruction, research and service. The role of the Academy is to prepare men and women for careers in the profession of sports.
Founded in 1984, ASAMA is dedicated to the preservation of sports art, history, and literature. The ASAMA collection is composed of more than 1,700 works of sport art across a variety of media, including paintings, sculptures, assemblages, prints and photographs. The museum is open free to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays. For more information, go to www.asama.org.
The Academy is based in Daphne, Ala. For more information, call (251) 626-3303 or visit www.ussa.edu.
By Eric Mann
Eric Mann is the communications assistant at the United States Sports Academy.