It was early May when Randy Moss hopped on a plane to Utah and eventually found himself seated across from Blair Buswell.
The former Vikings wide receiver was exactly three months away from enshrinement night for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the man who ranks second all-time with 156 career receiving touchdowns was ready for a long and exhausting day at Buswell’s studio in Pleasant Grove.
The goal was to sculpt, shape and mold as much clay as Buswell needed in order to prepare the player’s bust to celebrate one of the biggest nights of Moss’ life.
But it didn’t take long for Moss to lighten the mood with Buswell, the primary sculptor of player busts for the Hall of Fame.
“He pulls out a picture of him with this big Afro,” Buswell recalled in mid-July. “And he said, ‘Mr. Buswell, what do you think of this?’
“I’m just going ‘You know, I want to be alive by the time this is over. Be kind with me here.’ ” Buswell added with a hearty laugh.
Sometime Saturday evening in Canton, Ohio, Moss will be up on stage after his son, Thaddeus, serves as his presenter for the Hall of Fame. Father and son will then remove a cloth and reveal the bust for the world to see.
Football fans all over the world won’t see the Afro though, because Moss instead chose cornrows for his hairstyle.
The final bust will be the result of hours upon hours of strenuous work by Buswell, who usually does three or four of them for the Hall of Fame each year. (Besides Moss, he also crafted the busts for Terrell Owens and Ray Lewis this year.)
The process began on Feb. 5 in Minneapolis, a day after Super Bowl LII and two days after Moss was announced as a member of the 2018 Hall of Fame Class.
“People think I have the inside track of who is going to get in, but I find out when everybody else does,” Buswell said. “The Super Bowl is on Sunday, and the staff for the Hall and I spend the day with them on Monday. That is when I met Randy. I was there and took his mugshots and measurements so I could get the bust started.
“I have a little chart and I fill it out — the width of his cheek bones, length of his nose, how big his head is — all that stuff,” Buswell added. “I fill out this chart and then I go home to get pictures of each inductee as a player. Then I get [the clay] started from those pictures and measurements. Everything is in the right place and the right size according to those measurements.”
But there is no expression on the clay, at least not until Buswell meets with the player. He and Moss met for the posing session on May 4, and Buswell got to work.
“When he got here, I have a big bulletin board full of his pictures of him as a player — headshots, without a helmet on, through all different angles,” Buswell said. “Then I say ‘OK, where do you want to go with this? Do you want to have a concentration on the game? Do you want to be smiling? Do you want to be ‘displeasant’? Where do you want to be in this age range? What expression do you want? What hair-do do you want?’
“We had a good time with that,” Buswell said.
The Hall of Fame does not allow accessories on busts, so items such as hats, bandannas, skull caps, nose strips, eye-black or earrings are prohibited.
But all of the input comes from the player, with Buswell making changes as the clay is flying.
“I tell them that I don’t want them to leave until they are comfortable with what I am doing,” Buswell said. “I am not going to finish it that day, but I will do a lot of things and get to a place where he is comfortable with the direction I am going.
“It will still be a surprise on the other end when he actually pulls the cloth off right before he gives his induction speech,” Buswell added. “But I don’t want any shock or surprise on that day.”
The 61-year-old Buswell has been employed by the Hall of Fame for 35 years and has sculpted around 100 busts.
Buswell played football and was an art student at BYU when he worked on a sculpture of himself with teammates Jim McMahon and Danny Ainge. The piece was presented at an awards banquet where 49ers coach Bill Walsh — a future Hall of Famer himself — was the guest speaker.
Impressed by Buswell’s artwork, Walsh introduced himself after the banquet. One thing led to another, and Buswell was employed by the Hall of Fame soon after.
“It has been great,” Buswell said. “I have been pinching myself for a long time.”
Moss isn’t the first Vikings Hall of Famer to have Buswell craft his bust. The artist also sculpted the likenesses of Carl Eller, Alan Page, Bud Grant, Ron Yary and Cris Carter over the years.
“I have enjoyed all of the Vikings I have done,” Buswell said. “I am in a great place where I need their help to do what I do, to do it right and get to know them. It wouldn’t be as much fun to sculpt the Hall of Fame bust if I was doing them off of pictures and never got to meet them.
“More than that, I wouldn’t be able to do as good a job. I cherish that time together and their input and to get to know them,” Buswell added. “That is the main thing. It is more to me than getting the nose and the ears in the right place; I am trying to capture the essence or the expression that feels like them.”
Buswell said in mid-July that the bust was in the final stages of getting dipped in bronze and readied for its big night.
Buswell will be in attendance during the ceremonies, beaming with pride as the world sees the work he has carefully and meticulously crafted.
“They are my kids,” Buswell said with a laugh about his artwork. “I am always excited to see how they turn out at the end because it is a long process to do it right.”
Want more?: Buswell will be featured on Sunday, Aug. 5 on ESPN’s “E:60” series. The episode is scheduled for 8 a.m. (CT).