There isn’t a proverbial wall Steve Hutchinson wouldn’t run through, if necessary, for his newest teammates at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
But even one of the greatest guards in NFL history wasn’t comfortable with the thought of having to battle coronavirus for 3,300 miles over 48 hours as he traveled from his home in Nashville to American Fork, Utah, and back for his bronze bust sitting with sculptor Ben Hammond.
“I rescheduled my trip at least twice because I would have rather gone out there and done it in person,” the former Vikings standout said by phone Monday. “And if this coronavirus ordeal hadn’t happened, I would have been out there [Monday and Tuesday]. No questions asked. I guess everyone is having to alter how they do everything nowadays.”
Hutchinson canceled Monday’s travel plans and did the first of three virtual sittings with Hammond. According to Hammond, all 12 living members of the Hall’s 20-member Centennial class have or are expected to do virtual sittings.
“Typically, when guys come sit for us or we go to them, it takes six to 10 hours,” said Hammond, one of three Hall of Fame sculptors — along with Texan Scott Myers and Blair Buswell, Hammond’s acclaimed mentor and a 37-year veteran of creating Hall of Fame busts from his studio in Pleasant Grove, Utah.
“Eight to 10 hours is ideal. It makes for a long day, but it makes a big difference in trying to get that likeness just right. Doing it virtual isn’t ideal, but it’s definitely doable. And I don’t expect anybody to travel with all that’s going on.”
Hutchinson originally had a direct flight to Salt Lake City. He was going to fly out early, rent a car, drive 90 minutes to Hammond’s studio, do the sitting and catch a flight home the same day.
“Then I got an e-mail from Delta that my flights were canceled,” Hutchinson said. “Then the only way to get there was through Atlanta. One of the busiest airports in the world. And taking the little train between terminals and all that. Throw in having to stay in a hotel and … to me, it’s just too many unnecessary steps. I just didn’t feel comfortable.”
Still, Hutchinson was reluctant to ask out of doing it in person.
“I didn’t want to be that guy,” he said. “I didn’t want to be the one person who didn’t want to do it and be difficult.”
He knew the sculptors had done many posthumous busts over the years. And this year, for example, Hammond had only seven photos to work with in creating a bust for Mac Speedie, who died in 1993.
“And I’m not sure who will be doing Duke Slater’s bust,” said Hammond, referring to one of the NFL’s black pioneers from the 1920s. “I got like only four pictures of him on my computer.”
Hutchinson called the Hall of Fame to see if any of the living members had done any sittings in person.
“They said some had done virtual sittings,” Hutchinson said. “At that point, I was like, ‘There you go.’
“The [first] virtual sitting was good. We talked about the expression we wanted, the hair. Went through some sideline photos from back when I was playing. And then Ben did a lot of screen grabs from every conceivable angle. Had me sit real close to the camera. Looking for my imperfections, I guess.”
Getting the look
Notorious for his scowl back in the day, Hutchinson laughed when asked if he made sure to tell Hammond not to put a smile on clay Hutch’s face.
“No smile,” he said. “We went with a more stoic look. When I saw it [Monday], it wasn’t done yet, but if you looked at it, you’d already definitely say, ‘That looks like Hutch back in the day.’ It’s amazing what they’re able to do.”
Current-day Hutch is 75 pounds lighter and has a distinctly slimmer face. But things like that don’t distract what Hammond is looking for when he conducts his sittings.
“That’s not as hard as people think because the thing that doesn’t change is from about your teeth up,” Hammond said. “I did Harold Carmichael, who’s considerably older now. And with someone like Hutch, I’m just adding some weight to mostly his neck and his jaw.
“Really, when guys sit for me, I’m just trying to wrap my head around their head. You try to capture their personality as you sit and visit with them. And normally we’re able to take an 360-degree HD video all the way around, underneath, over the top.”
Nothing about being in the Hall’s Class of 2020 has been normal for Hutchinson since about the time he left Miami the day after the Super Bowl.
On Feb. 1, the day before the Super Bowl, he heard his named called in his third year of eligibility. He celebrated with his wife, Landyn, and kids, Lilly and Luke.
“The next morning, the day of the Super Bowl, [Buswell] came with these big calipers and measured my skull, the distance between my eyes, my nose, everything,” Hutchinson said. “That’s how they start the process for the bust.”
Hutchinson and his classmates were introduced at the Super Bowl. A month later, everything would begin to change for the Class of 2020 and the world.
“It’s strange because in a way it really hasn’t sunk in because we haven’t been out as a Hall of Fame class yet,” Hutchinson said. “There’s a big golf event in Chicago they normally have for the Hall of Fame in June. I want to do all that stuff. But that’s already been canceled.”
Two enshrinement ceremonies are scheduled in Canton, Ohio, this year. The first one, which includes Hutchinson, is Aug. 8. The second one is Sept. 18. Of course, whether they go on as planned is anyone’s guess at this point.
“They’ve told us there are contingencies in place,” Hutchinson said. “It could be moved back this year. It could happen next year. I don’t know how that would work with the Centennial class and then another new class next year. It would be like Mardi Gras in Canton.”
Hutchinson said no matter what happens, he is thankful that he doesn’t have to go through the voting process ever again.
“If the ceremony gets pushed back, it’s understandable,” he said. “But it’s disheartening at the same time. You waited so long for this. I totally understand.
“But, selfishly, it’s been such a goal of mine, I want the jacket, I want the bronze bust and I kind of want to wear that big old ring around.”