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Behind the making of Sam Mills' Hall of Fame bust

The sculptor was inspired by Mills' on-field demeanor.

CANTON, Ohio — Besides the speeches, the unveiling of the inductee busts has become an integral piece of Hall of Fame weekend. 

It marks an immortalizing of the game's greats right before our – and their – very eyes.

“I have to push myself to make sure beyond just looking like them, but breathe some life into it,” sculptor Ben Hammond said. “So when people walk by, they're like, 'Oh, wow, that is that individual!' That's what I try to do.”

Hammond has been a professional sculptor for 20 years, working on all sorts of pieces. But every year since 2007, he spends about two months creating Hall of Fame busts for three inductees in every class.

“They seem to be as impressed with what I make out of clay as I am of their prowess on the field,” Hammond said.

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Out of his Utah studio, Hammond creates the works of art from clay. He spends hours with the future Hall of Famers, making sure to get every detail just right before the busts are bronzed.

“The reason I like to do portraits out of water-based clay is because it lends itself really well," Hammond shared. "It's really malleable to begin with. So I can move big shapes around, and it gets harder and harder as it dries out.”

Recently, Hammond has designed busts for Ty Law, Alan Faneca, Champ Bailey, Jason Taylor, Brian Urlacher and many more.

Because Hammond couldn’t sit down with Sam Mills, who died in 2005, he had to rely on those who knew him best.

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Fellow members of the 2022 class and contemporaries Richard Seymour and Tony Boselli provided feedback.

Then, Hall of Fame kicker Morten Andersen, Mills’ teammate in New Orleans, made sure an important detail was not trimmed.

“Morten said, 'You got the pencil mustache,'” Hammond said. “So yeah, made sure I got that skinny mustache on that upper lip.”

But most important was Melanie Mills, Sam’s widow.

Melanie asked Hammond to make sure Sam’s expression for the bust was as intense as he was on the field.

“He was a go-getter out on the field," Hammond said. "He was tenacious. So it kind of went from a soft expression back to a much more intense one. So, of the busts I sculpted this year, he definitely has the most intense, focused look.”

Contact Nick Carboni at ncarboni@wcnc.com and follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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