There seems to be this relationship Wally Buono has with The Great State of Montana and it looks like it's going to last a lifetime. Buono, who is the second winningest coach in the history of the Canadian Football League, began rebuilding the CFL's BC Lions Football Club back in 2002 by adding the University of Montana's, Bob O'Billovich as an operational cornerstone. Bob was an outstanding athlete at the University of Montana and was the only varsity athlete to earn three varsity letters in football, basketball and baseball, serving as a captain in all three sports. From there, Buono summoned the help of a former quarterback who starred for C.M. Russell and the University of Montana, Dave Dickenson. Dickenson who had quarterbacked Buono's previous team, the Calgary Stampeders, had begun his NFL career. The offer to work again with Wally Buono was intriguing and, in a short period of time, a contract was assembled and Dave was back in the saddle as Wally's field general.
The Montana connection doesn't stop there for Wally Buono although it does take a sharp turn in the road somewhere along Route 87 at Stanford, Montana. It is in Stanford, at the studio of bronze sculptor Steve Lillegard, that Wally Buono, the former CFL Montreal Alouette Linebacker, will be cast into a national trophy. The trophy, which is the centerpiece of the Wally Buono Award for Canadian Junior Football Players across the country, will be left up to Steve Lillegard and his creativity. Lillegard's creation will be housed in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in Hamilton, Ontario. Each year, a new trophy will be given to Canada's top junior football player. Junior football is comprised of two national leagues, who's players are the ages 18 through 22. The beginnings of the two leagues can be traced back to the early 1900's.
As the story goes, Steve Lillegard was not even on the list of potential sculptors that were being interviewed for the project. The search had been focused on Canadian artists exclusively. It wasn't until former Montanan, Christina Saint-Marche, a director for The Saint Bernard Pass Charitable Foundation, passed by Lillegard's sign "on about eight separate occasions" that she decided to stop and speak to him. "I'd usually make the trip down Route 87 later in the day after Steve had closed his studio. One day, I decided to stop at studio as a result of 16 months of frustration in finding just the right person to design this bronze casting" stated Saint-Marche, the head of a fashion design house that bares her name in London, England. Christina , who raised in Billings, Montana, now resides in London, England and Calgary, Alberta. Much to her surprise, there in front of her, was the artist she had hoped for, sitting in this small town of less than 500 people, in the rural part of Montana. "Steve had no idea who I was or what I was looking for but he spent about two hours showing me his work and telling me about his life. The detail of his work was incredible and I knew, at that moment, we had found our man." However, the difficult task was not yet complete.
There was a Canadian committee which needed to be convinced that it would be best to allow this American artist, from a small town in Montana, to design a bronze statue that would be housed in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. A Hall of Fame, where all of the busts of the inductees and other awards are sculpted by recognized Canadian artists. Then there was Wally and Sande Buono. Wally, who is a humble man of modest beginnings, didn't want to bring too much attention to himself with an award that was reflective of his days as a player. Over a short period of time, the committee was convinced that Steve was their man. "I made a case based on the 'Wally Buono-Montana connection' and my own life in Montana. In my business, I get to travel the world and meet many people. The most committed people you will ever find. anywhere in the world, live in Montana. It can be seen on the athletic fields, on the farms and just about anywhere you look in this state" stated Christina Saint-Marche. Her speech to the committee was passionate as she asked for enough votes to award the contract to the Montana artist. "You can take the girl out of Montana but you can't take Montana out of my Mum. For as long as I can remember, she's been driving her car down there every few months to visit. It's really her home" stated 16 year-old Chance Saint-Marche, Christina and Richard Saint-Marche's Son. With Chance's video presentation of the Lillegard's sculptures, Christina was able to gather the needed votes and then some. Still, there was the convincing of Wally Buono to handle. "Anyone who knows of Wally Buono, the Montreal Alouette player, would know that he was a fierce competitor. Although he was not sizable for the position, Buono played outside linebacker where he was constantly found in a collision with anyone who had the football" said Saint-Marche. "As I look back over the CFL films we have gathered, I am amazed how much ground Wally covered and how hard of a tackler he was."
On May 1st, Steve Lillegard and Wally Buono met for the very first time. There was chemistry in the room and the final agreement was put in place to move forward with the sculpture. Lillegard's idea of "details" came down to not only exact measurements of Wally's playing days but also the type of cleats he wore, his old uniform and helmet and even if he had taped his cleats and hands. A pair of Puma brand football cleats from 1974 were found on E-Bay so that the exact detail could be included within the sculpture. No detail would be overlooked by the artist. "A commission of this magnitude comes down to chemistry between the artist and his subject. We feel we have that chemistry with Steve which we could not find with other artists. Steve has passion for his work and he happens to know a great deal about Montana football and it's relationship to the CFL. Most of all, Steve Lillegard resembles what Montana is all about. The average guy putting his heart into everything he does. You just don't find that type of commitment too often these days but you can see it just about everywhere you look in Montana" stated Saint-Marche.
And for the very first time, a small piece of Stanford, Montana will be seen in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame for all who visit. The plaque, as mounted below the bronze statue, will read, "Steve Lillegard - Artist, Stanford, Montana." For future Hall of Famers like Bob O'Billovich and Dave Dickenson it is a sense of Montana pride.
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About Wally Buono:
Notable: Ranks 5th in Lions history with his 9,801 yards passing and 65
TD passes. Leads the Lions all-time in completion percentage at 69.3 on
989 attempts. In his three seasons with the Lions the team has compiled a
36-12 record. In 2003 he added his second honour for the Most Outstanding
Player Award in the West. With Calgary, he was named the CFL's Most
Outstanding Player in 2000 and has been named an All-Star in the West
twice (2000, 2003). College: 1995: Led the Grizzlies to their second Big
Sky Conference title in three years, and first-ever NCAA Division I-AA
national championship. Was named Big Sky offensive MVP for the third
straight year, after going 309-455 for 4,176 yards with 38 touchdowns and
just nine interceptions. Led the nation in passing yards per game (379.6
yards), touchdowns (38), and total offense per game (382.6 yards). 1994:
Was 229-336 for 3,053 yards and 24 touchdowns with 6 interceptions. Named
Big Sky Player of the Year for the second time. 1993: Went 262-390 for
3,640 yards, 24 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. Named Big Sky Player
of the Year for the first time, and led the Grizzlies to a conference
title. 1992: Played in four games in his freshman year, and went 13-27 for
211 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. Personal: Dickenson's
favourite football moment to date was winning the 1995 NCAA Division I-AA
Championship with Montana. During the off season, Dickenson enjoys playing
golf and he admires PGA golfer Greg Norman and football player Drew
Pearson. After moving to Canada in the late 1990s, Dickenson began to
learn how to play hockey. His favourite book is Along Came a Spider by
James Patterson, and he likes the movies Stripes and The Shawshank
Redemption. Dickenson is married to Tammy, a pharmacist and along with
daughter Avery Reese they make their off season home in Calgary.
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