Honoring Lofton, Gillman Was First

James Lofton headed to the Hall of Fame later this year met with Blair Buswell in preparation for enshrinement. Fans best know Buswell as the sculptor of the busts that reside in Canton. He produces the visuals fans recall when they hear of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

One of the greatest minds of modern football orchestrated the marriage of Buswell to the NFL. Bill Walsh discovered Buswell in 1982 at a banquet at BYU where Buswell's art was on display. Walsh had been seeking a gift for Edward DeBartolo Jr.

Walsh commissioned Buswell to produce a sculpture of the two 49er executives together. So pleased with his copy, Walsh flew Buswell to Youngstown to present the work to DeBartolo. Walsh then contacted officials at the Hall, recommending they consider the young artist.

"I did one (bust) for the first two years, then two to three ever since," Buswell said. "It put me on the map. I have some national awards, and that brought legitimacy to what I'm trying to do. It was a good thing for both of us."

Buswell's first piece was the bust of Sid Gillman, the former San Diego Charger coach. When Buswell crafted a standard tie on Gillman's bust, the soon-to-be inductee cringed.

"He told me he didn't own one of those kinds of ties," Buswell said. "He got a bow tie, tied one, and that's what we went with."

Buswell is so accomplished these days that he chooses which Hall of Famers he will sculpt. Each year, he flies to Hawaii, site of the Pro Bowl, where the new enshrinees congregate for the first time.

"I think it sets us apart from some of the other halls of fame," said Buswell, who played college football with Young, Jim McMahon and Marc Wilson, among others, at Brigham Young University. "The busts are really unique."

He meets each man, gauging the enshrinee's interest in his bust. He takes their picture, measures their facial features, then insists on spending a day or two with them in their home.

"I would rather go cross country to (sculpt) someone who wants me there and who thinks his likeness is important," Buswell said, "than go next door to someone who doesn't care."

Posing sessions can last several hours.

Some work better than others. The busts of Tom Landry and Dan Dierdorf are considered two of his best works.

Others don't go as well.

Buswell remembers his session with O.J. Simpson, Class of 1985.

"At that point, I was not going to Hawaii to take measurements," he said. "I was going with a standard, life-size head."

Simpson's head, however, is larger in proportion to his body.

"Instead of working on his likeness and expressions, it seems all I was doing was adding clay," Buswell said. "I almost needed to have a session again, but I did the best I could. That's one I'd like to do again."

Then there was Al Davis, Class of 1992, the irascible owner of the Raiders. Buswell spent 10 hours at team headquarters waiting for Davis, but he was granted just 30 minutes with the reclusive enshrinee.

"When I got there, he let me know he did not want to have anything to do with it," he said. "If it didn't look like him, it reflects on me. I stuck around ... got as much as I could."

Ten years later, the 46-year-old Buswell is the standard by which most sculptors are judged. He has done life-sized statues of Oscar Robertson, Jack Nicklaus and Charlton Heston. Recently, the city of Omaha, Neb., commissioned him to sculpt a bronze, block-long, wagon train that will commemorate where the frontier began. Each wagon will be 50 to 60 feet long, and the pioneers will be 6 or 7 feet tall. It will take him and another artist 10 years to complete.

"It's my Mount Rushmore," he said.

Class of 2003 members Marcus Allen and James Lofton are the only ones he will sculpt this year.

He hopes to continue producing busts as long as possible, with an eye toward sculpting Young, his ex-BYU teammate.

"All the great quarterbacks are coming up," said Buswell, alluding to Dan Marino, John Elway and Young. "I love to sculpt the running backs and linebackers. I really relate to that."

SD Super Chargers Top Stories