OF all the all-stars in town for the 2002 Pro Bowl, none will see their achievements stand the test of time like Blair Buswell.
Buswells no bust in
the Hall of Fame
Buswell? Who does he play for?
No, don't bother scanning your roster, you won't find him anywhere. He's not this year's unknown stick of special teams dynamite (that would be Ian Gold -- Ian Gold? -- of Denver).
But Buswell has been to the Pro Bowl before, several times, in fact. And his accomplishments already adorn the hallowed halls of Canton, Ohio. He's an all-star worthy of the Hall of Fame.
It all started two decades ago, when Buswell was winding up a career as a running back at BYU. Bill Walsh, just beginning his legend at San Francisco, was the guest speaker at the year-end banquet, and Walsh, as everyone knows, can spot talent when he sees it.
The coach was impressed upon hearing about Buswell's skill as an art student and decided to give the kid a shot. Soon, 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo was in on the act, commissioning private pieces, and when he saw how they turned out, he was on the phone to the Hall of Fame.
"You need to see this guy's work," DeBartolo said.
And that's how it happened. Since then Buswell has been sculpting busts, those heads of stone that adorn the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He meets each new class at the Pro Bowl, as he did again this year, talks to them, photographs them, measures their skulls.
"This guy is going to make a sculpture of my head!" a bewildered Dan Hampton said. "It's amazing. He knocks on the door and says, 'Can I come in?' What's that under your arm? 'I've got your head under my arm.' He took about 10 minutes measuring all of our craniums.
"It took a little longer on me."
This is Buswell's favorite part of the job, meeting his subjects, getting to know them, connecting with them, inviting family members in to critique the sculpture, having wives insist on every detail just right. Often he'll go to the inductee's homes to work, between now and the August induction ceremony, and have the neighbors come in and laugh.
TEX SCHRAMM GROWLED and grumbled at first, then took to the process so much, "they had to boot me out," Buswell said.
Canton-area natives Larry Csonka and Dan Dierdorf were even more meticulous than most, with the busts to be on display in their hometown.
Some want to be smiling. Terry Bradshaw received a few more strands of hair.
"Alan Page said, 'What am I going to do with a life-size head of myself?' " Buswell suggested keeping the extra copy around the house and adorning it with hats and eyeglasses.
In 1990, the United States Sports Academy named Buswell the nation's top sports artist, the only sculptor ever to receive the honor. He's also created the Doak Walker Award trophy, and several full statues, and Old West art. The pro football work only enforced his instinct to know his subjects, and put their personality in stone.
"It was my first job right out of college," Buswell said. "That added instant credibility to what I do."
Hall of Fame credibility.
Kalani Simpson's column runs Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org