On the Steelers: Faneca was a rare breed


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The retirement of Alan Faneca from pro football brought a Tweet from colleague Dale Lolley, who covers the Steelers for the Observer-Reporter of Washington, Pa.

"Big Red calling it quits makes me feel old," Lolley wrote.

Dear Dale, Lynn Swann calling it quits made me feel old, and he retired after the 1982 season. Swann is half a year younger than I am.

But Lolley has a point, and Faneca's retirement prompted a quick look into the history books.

He was one of only six current or former Steelers still active to have played in Three Rivers Stadium. The others are Hines Ward, Aaron Smith, Joey Porter and Clark Haggans (both now with the Cardinals) and kicker Kris Brown (now with the Cowboys). Until Faneca retired, the Cardinals had more left who played in Three Rivers (3) than the Steelers (2).

Flozell Adams' then-Cowboys did not play in Three Rivers during his time in Dallas, but he's also part of a dwindling number of players to have pulled on pro uniforms in the 20th century.

Five players are the only draftees left from when Tom Donahoe served as the Steelers director of football operations. Faneca and Ward were drafted in 1998, and Porter, Smith and Brown in 1999. Deshea Townsend, also drafted in '98, played eight games for the Colts last season and this year took a job coaching the secondary with the Cardinals.

Faneca made nine Pro Bowls and six All-Pro teams (not eight, as has been listed in some places because second team defeats the purpose of the All-Pro team and he made two of those). The seven Pro Bowls he made with the Steelers are five more than all their other guards combined over the past 49 seasons. Only two other Steelers guards made a Pro Bowl during that time, Carlton Haselrig and Duval Love, one each.

Those seven Pro Bowls also amount to three more than all the Steelers tackles combined over the past 46 seasons. Larry Brown (one), Tunch Ilkin (two) and Marvel Smith (one) were the only Steelers tackles selected to the NFL all-star team during the past 41/2 decades.

Joe Greene stands tall among all the Steelers with 10 Pro Bowls while playing for them. Tied for second are Ernie Stautner, Franco Harris, Jack Lambert and Mike Webster with nine apiece. All are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as is Rod Woodson, who earned 11 Pro Bowls but four came after he left the Steelers.

An added amazement to Faneca's success was he did it all while an epileptic, although he had the condition under control after he was diagnosed at age 15. It's also a condition Chuck Noll had that few knew about. For a time there, of the Steelers starting two guards, one had epilepsy and the other, Kendall Simmons, severe diabetes. It makes Faneca's record of starting every game but three after he took over at left guard as a rookie in October 1998 even more remarkable.

Faneca's strengths were in all areas: He was excellent blocking on both the run and the pass, he was big and strong and could trap block, or pull out and block to the other side of the line. He was smart and, not to be underplayed, durable. He had not missed a start since 2001 and then only because Bill Cowher rested him for the final meaningless regular-season game against Cleveland. He started his rookie season and missed only two other starts in his entire career after that, both in 1999 because of ankle injuries.

Faneca was the NFLPA player rep for three years with the Steelers, and he always was available to the media and interesting to interview. He offered one quote that has lived in infamy and rarely is put into perspective.

One day after quarterback Tommy Maddox's elbow was injured in the second game of the 2004 season, someone innocently asked Faneca if he was excited to see rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger play. That got a quick rise out of Big Red.

"Exciting? No, it's not exciting," Faneca quickly responded. "Do you want to go work with some little young kid who's just out of college?"

Faneca was thinking more about his injured friend, Maddox, than he was of seeing some little young kid just out of college. It was not anti-Ben, yet it was spun that way in some circles. Faneca was held up to some mild ridicule as the Steelers proceeded to go 13-0 with Ben as their starting quarterback the rest of the 2004 regular season.

Put into context, though, it might have been similar to any Steelers reaction at that time.

The only other moment of conflict with Faneca came in 2007, when he played his final season after he and his agent turned down a Steelers multi-year contract. They did not believe it was enough and certainly there were some great Steelers players before him who followed the same path, most notably Harris and Woodson. He said some things out of anger during that summer minicamp but said they were more out of realizing he would no longer remain a Steeler.

"I was more upset about leaving," Faneca said from his home near New Orleans the past week. "I didn't want to go. That was my whole thing. I never wanted to leave. Any feelings I had or things I said was based on not wanting to leave, not wanting to go. I said 'I won't be here next year,' not threatening but I really felt I'm not going to be here.

"None of it ever made me happy. I didn't want to leave. Definitely, I look back on my time in Pittsburgh very fondly and enjoyed my time and wanted to finish there."

Dan Rooney has mentioned two players he wishes had spent their entire careers with the Steelers and not finished up elsewhere, Harris and Woodson. He likely will add a third, Alan Faneca.

A built-in excuse

The Miami Dolphins are not the first team nor likely the last to reduce their employees' salaries and blame it on their own lockout, just the latest. The Dolphins cut salaries of secretaries, office workers, etc. up to 20 percent and blamed the lockout.

This is unconscionable. The Dolphins, like every NFL team except for the New York Giants, are forcing their season ticket holders to pony up the money for their seats like any normal year. There is little difference for them in cash flow now than there was last spring, the spring before that or the spring before that. In fact, they are paying nothing to their players as they would in past springs -- no roster bonuses, no workout bonuses, not even the minimal amount they must pay for the players to attend OTAs. They have no player medical costs, health benefits or any other kinds of benefits. They don't even have to feed them as they would during the workouts.

It looks as though the Dolphins and their ilk are trying to make the players look bad for the owners locking them out. The Palm Beach Post reported that 11 teams, plus the NFL office itself, has enacted pay cuts. However, the paper wrongly included the Steelers among those. The Steelers have instituted no paycuts, no furloughs, no layoffs and plan none, although perhaps that could change if the season and their actual income is affected.


Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com .


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