The choice of Bill Walsh as a Hall of Fame coach, after he guided the San Francisco 49ers to three Super Bowl victories in 10 seasons, was a foregone conclusion. What most people don't know is that his bust — our bust, really — was, in so many ways, the final piece of a poignant circle of symmetry.
Walsh, fortuitously, was the guest speaker at the BYU Cougar Club's sports banquet in 1982. On display were some of my early sculptures; Walsh particularly enjoyed the likeness of BYU basketball star Danny Ainge. I was in the audience that night and the coach asked me to create a sculpture of himself and 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo to honor their breakthrough victory earlier that year in Super Bowl XVI. I was only 22 years old, but I couldn't say no.
I was terrified. I had never rented a car, never checked by myself into a hotel before, but Walsh flew me from Utah to DeBartolo's business headquarters in Youngstown, Ohio. Earlier, I had shared my fears with a cousin. Don't worry, she told me, they'll be as much in awe of what you do as you are of them. And that's precisely what happened.
People said DeBartolo would never pose for me, but the energetic owner walked in at the appointed time with a can of Coke and stayed for more than an hour. The half life-size sculpture turned out well.
It was good for my confidence. I was in awe of their talent and ability, but it made me realize I did have something to bring to the party. That experience opened up so many doors for me.
The biggest one was about 50 miles from DeBartolo's office to the southwest in Canton. Walsh and DeBartolo enthusiastically recommended me to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and a year later, 1983, I produced my first bronze, coach Sid Gillman. A decade later, I found myself measuring the face of Walsh, my original subject and patron.
I attended Walsh's induction ceremony — my first and last appearance until this year when I will be reunited with Steve Young — and thanked Walsh and DeBartolo for the opportunity. Walsh congratulated me for my effort. He wears the timeless face of a wise leader. That's what he was to the 49ers and to me, personally.