It takes a special kind of talent to draw the owner of the world’s most valuable sports franchise to northern Utah County.
But, sure enough, iconic Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones recently ventured from Big D to the Pleasant Grove studio of Mormon sculptor/former BYU football player Blair Buswell.
Jones’ visit with the lifelong Mormon was really not that unusual.
Buswell has held court with a “who’s-who” of pro football legends. Since 1983, the returned missionary has sculpted the likenesses of almost 100 inductees to the NFL’s Pro Football Hall of Fame. His subjects have included Jerry Rice, John Elway, Bill Parcells and Brett Favre. This year he crafted the bronze busts of 2017 inductees Jones and Super Bowl MVP quarterback Kurt Warner.
His many portrait busts are on permanent display at the Hall’s museum in Canton, Ohio.
Buswell returned again to Canton last week to witness the Aug. 5 unveiling of his bronzes at the Hall of Fames’s annual induction ceremony. As the HOF’s lead sculptor, he also helped direct the development of the busts of the five other 2017 inductees crafted by fellow Utah artist Ben Hammond and Texan Scott Myers.
“This year was a lot of fun because we stayed in the same hotel as the ‘Gold Jackets’ — the returning HOF inductees,” he told the Church News. “I was able to catch up with a lot of the guys I had worked with in the past.”
The North Ogden native enjoyed a busy week at the Hall of Fame. On Aug. 3, he participated in the unveiling ceremony of his 8-foot-tall statue of New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson. Overlooking the field at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, the statue pays tribute to the venerable NFL/NBA owner who helped build the facility.
Buswell begins working on his HOF sculptures each year immediately after the new class of inductees are announced. He spends time with each of his subjects — often, as with Jones and Warner, in his Pleasant Grove studio.
It’s a chance to take facial measurements, peruse game photos and get to know the inductee. It’s a collaborative effort. Buswell and his subjects work together to determine the ideal age, hairstyle and expression for each HOF bust.
“I don’t want (an inductee) to leave until he is comfortable with what I’m doing,” he said.
Talking football during the consultation is a fail-safe icebreaker. “It helps to have common ground,” said the one-time college running back, who played at BYU from 1979-81.
Buswell has good memories working with all of his HOF subjects — but two are extra special: former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo, who helped him land his job at the NFL Hall of Fame, and his old Cougar teammate, Steve Young.
Latter-day Saints need not travel to Canton to enjoy Buswell’s work. His life-size bust of President Thomas S. Monson is on display in the Conference Center’s “Hall of Prophets.” He also sculpted the Hall’s bust of President Harold B. Lee.
A member of the Mountainville 2nd Ward, Alpine Utah West Stake, Buswell and his wife, Julie, are the parents of three children.
His artwork stretches far beyond the NFL and Mormon subjects — including monuments to film icon Charlton Heston, golf’s Jack Nicklaus and Yankee great Mickey Mantle.
But, he said, one legend is missing from his commission “wishlist”: BYU football coach LaVell Edwards.
Buswell said he wants few things more — on both a professional and personal level — than to use his sculpting talent to pay tribute to his late coach and friend.
“I hope it happens,” he said.