The biggest problem in Blair Buswell’s life over the past six months has been the gap in Michael Strahan’s teeth. For three decades, Buswell has been the chief sculptor of the busts given to players inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He has completed eighty-seven in all, including four of this year’s seven-man class (he limits himself to no more than a quartet each year, for quality’s sake; an assistant picks up the remainder), but until Strahan he had never dealt with a gap. “I presented a unique challenge, ’cause I told him I wanted to smile,” the former Giants defensive end and N.F.L. single-season sack leader, now known more broadly as a daytime-talk-show host, said recently. Strahan’s logic was simple: “If I close my mouth, people won’t know who it is.”

Buswell, who is fifty-seven, works from a studio in Salt Lake City. He wears rimless spectacles and has a covering of short white hair from crown to chin, as though Mrs. Claus had persuaded Santa to keep things neat this year. He played college football, at Brigham Young University. He was also a promising art student, so the team doctor designed a pair of special pads to protect his hands. They didn’t get much use: in one season, Buswell, a running back, carried the ball just once, for two yards.

Prior to Buswell’s hiring by the Hall, in 1983, the busts were molded by his predecessor, Jack Worthington, using photos and the player’s hat size. (Try getting Bronko Nagurski to sit with a plaster mask on his face.) But “ ‘seven and three-quarters’ doesn’t tell me much about a guy’s nose,” Buswell said last week. On the recommendation of Merlin Olsen, a lineman who greeted the unveiling of his bust, in 1982, with the question, “Who’s that?,” Buswell began insisting on in-person modelling sessions with each inductee. He meets his subjects at the Super Bowl, where he takes some initial measurements, then returns to his studio and begins shaping a clay model, referring occasionally to a board covered with photos of each player from different angles and at different ages. He then follows up with a private session, either in the player’s home or at the studio. This two-step process started after 1985, when he spent his lone meeting with O. J. Simpson adding more and more layers of clay to his model, having underestimated the size of Simpson’s head. During the modelling sessions, wives are often more critical than their husbands: when the former quarterback Steve Young’s wife saw his bust, she said that Buswell was being kind to her husband’s ears, to which Young protested, “It’s supposed to be a better you than you.”