TRAVERSE CITY — Less than a handful of people the world over recognize — or for that matter care — who Leo Nomellini was. Even fewer recognize Doug Weist’s name.
Neither man’s signature carries with it the cache of a Joe Montana or Pablo Picasso — the greats from the pair’s respective fields.
Nomellini, an Italian-born defensive tackle, stood 6-feet-3-inches tall and weighed 259 pounds. He was the first player drafted by the National Football League’s San Francisco 49ers and played 14 seasons for the team. Nomellini didn’t miss a game, didn’t once rest on the injured roster, from the team’s debut game in the NFL in 1950 until 13 years later.
Maybe most importantly, he was Weist’s ticket to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“This was the first one,” Weist said pointing to an image of Nomellini, a bear of a man, pushing his way toward a Los Angeles Rams quarterback. Early in 1969, just a few months before Nomellini’s induction into the Hall, Weist constructed the sketch.
It is a composite the artist took from a few photographs, including a good one of Nomellini’s face. It was Weist’s second assignment from the Hall of Fame — the first didn’t make the cut.
Weist, slight built and soft spoken, remembered while he leafed through copies of hand-drawn pictures of some 24 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees. The images — each one carefully sketched in graphite or charcoal and later colored — live in a weathered file folder near his drawing table.
They long ago joined stacks of un-framed works of art Weist created during decades of drawing and sketching.
The originals hang, one each, with the jerseys and memorabilia of 24 of the 287 men immortalized in the Canton, Ohio, museum.
Weist, 78, spent about 20 years drawing images of football’s greats in action, all the while working a day job as a land manager for a power company in Ohio and Indiana.