I remember when Alan Faneca was drafted out of LSU.
Just months after another great year for the Steelers in 1997, Faneca was a now familiar late first-round pick (26th, overall) in the 1998 NFL Draft. There usually isn’t a whole lot to get excited about when it comes to late first-round picks, especially when your team is a perennial Super Bowl contender, and especially when the pick is a guard.
Unbeknownst to me and thousands of other Steelers fans at that time, Pittsburgh’s run as a perennial contender in the 1990s had already come to an end months prior in a 24-21 loss to the Broncos in the AFC Championship game at Three Rivers Stadium.
But while the next few years would be tough and playoff-less, the Steelers were building (or rebuilding) a foundation for their next Super Bowl run—one that would ultimately lead to the franchise’s first championship in 26 years.
Youngsters named Hines Ward, Joey Porter, Marvel Smith, Aaron Smith and Casey Hampton were some of the new building blocks, players who would make the Steelers relevant again by the turn of the century.
Faneca was the first building block.
Faneca, who was up for Hall of Fame induction on Saturday—his fourth year of eligibility since retiring following the 2010 season—missed out yet again. I know this because cries of “bullbleep!” filled my Twitter feed immediately after the results of the voting were announced.
Why didn’t Faneca make it this year? Were there players more deserving? Were there offensive linemen more deserving? (Kevin Mawae made it in.) Too many Steelers already in Canton, as it is?
All the reasons seem arbitrary if a player is truly a Hall of Famer. Obviously, Faneca had a Hall of Fame career. Nine-straight Pro Bowls and being named a First Team All-Pro six times? Those are Canton credentials.
As I’ve said many times before, either a player is a Hall of Famer or he’s not. If he is, it seems silly to make him wait. But, then again, it would probably be silly to see dozens of players get in all at once.
Faneca will get in. It’s just a matter of time at this point, and whether his induction happens in 2020, 2021 or 2022, fortunately for him, he’ll still be young and healthy and able to enjoy it for many, many years.
I wish I was an offensive line expert and could break down technical reasons why Faneca was the best guard of his era. I can’t do that--I just know that he was.
What I remember about Faneca was his consistency and athleticism. I remember the many times people I watched games with laughing with delight as they said, “Look at Faneca running all the way down the field!” This was typical of many long running plays involving Jerome Bettis, Willie Parker, etc.
When I think of Faneca, I remember the time he knelt on the turf of the New Orleans Superdome as trainers tried to stop the blood that was gushing from his forehead. I remember his flippant remarks when reporters asked him if he was excited to have rookie Ben Roethlisberger start his very first game at quarterback early in the 2004 season. I remember the 2005 season and attending the weekly taping of the Joey Porter Show late in the year right as the team began its magical run to Super Bowl XL (the most fun I’ve ever had as a sports fan took place over the course of those two months). Peezy and his co-host, Chris Hope, swapped many stories during these tapings. One that stood out was about Faneca, and how they knew when he and the rest of the offense were feeling it. “Get us the ball back, they can’t stop us!” Faneca was known to say as he came off the field in those days. “If Big Red is telling us we have to get the ball back, I guess we have to get the ball back,” was the general sentiment of the defense, according to Porter and Hope. I remember the usually intense and serious Faneca pumping his fist in joy on the sideline in the final moments of the AFC title game against the Broncos when it was certain that the Steelers would be making their first trip to the Super Bowl in a decade. Speaking of Porter, one of my favorite sports images of all-time is from the final moments of Super Bowl XL, when he and Faneca, two players that couldn’t have seemed more opposite, jumped into each other’s arms to celebrate that One For The Thumb.
But, most of all, when I think of Faneca, I remember the magnificent block he threw early in the second half of Super Bowl XL that helped spring Fast Willie Parker on a 75-yard touchdown run.
Again, Faneca will have his day at Canton, and when his likeness is finally immortalized there, it will join many other Steeler greats—including centers Mike Webster and Dermontti Dawson (Dawson didn’t get inducted into the HOF until 2012 which kind of seems absurd since he was regarded as the greatest center of his time—sound familiar)?
But no matter when Faneca does get enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it won’t change the memories, and it won't change what we have known all along—he’s one of the best guards to have ever played in the National Football League.