Why Alan Faneca Belongs in the Hall
Maybe the fifth time will be a charm for Alan Faneca.
The former Steelers guard is among the finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame once again this year. The vote will come Saturday, Feb. 1, in Miami, the site of this year's Super Bowl, with the 48 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee, who also will vote on the merits of former Steelers safety Troy Polamalu. But even more than Polamalu, Faneca might have the strongest case of the 15 finalists on this year's list.
I'll be presenting Faneca and Polamalu to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. This will largely be my five-minute speech for Faneca.
A five-time finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame -- the most of any player among this year's finalists -- Faneca was a six-time first-team All-Pro, more than any other of this year's finalists. He's one of just 12 guards in NFL history to earn first-team All-Pro status six or more times. The other 11 are all in the Hall of Fame.
In 2003, when he didn't earn first-team All-Pro status, breaking his string, he earned second-team status in part because he spent a good portion of the season playing left tackle for the Steelers. He also was named second-team All-Pro in 2008, giving him eight consecutive seasons of All-Pro honors.
Faneca also was named to the Pro Bowl team nine times. Only eight offensive linemen in NFL history have been named to more. All are in the Hall of Fame.
"I thought Alan Faneca showed up every day for 13 seasons and dominated in the trenches," said Mike Munchak, himself a Hall of Fame guard. "That is hard to do. He was well decorated for that -- All-Pros by the media, by his peers with all the Pro Bowl appearances. People recognized his work for over a decade. He is one of the best players to ever play the position."
Beyond just being dominant at his position, Faneca is in select company in NFL history. There are 46 players in league history with six or more first-team All-Pro selections. Of those 46 players, Faneca is the only eligible player who has not yet been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Three others who have reached that mark, quarterback Peyton Manning, punter Shane Lechler and offensive tackle Joe Thomas, are not yet eligible to be elected to the Hall of Fame.
"I wouldn't be in the Hall of Fame without Alan Faneca," said former Steelers running back Jerome Bettis. "He was the best guard that I ever played with, and him pulling made him so much more special than I think all the other guards because his ability to pull and play in space was incredible. That was our bread and butter. In pass protection, he did it all. It wasn't just in the run game."
A first-round pick of the Steelers in 1998 out of LSU, Faneca missed just two games in 10 seasons with the Steelers, one because of injury and the other when the Steelers were resting starters for the playoffs. All told, he played in 206 career games, starting 201. He also appeared in 14 career postseason games, including helping the Steelers win Super Bowl XL with the block that changed the game.
With the Steelers holding a 7-3 halftime lead, Faneca pulled around the right side early in the third quarter, sealing off linebacker LeRoy Hill to spring Willie Parker for a 75-yard touchdown run that remains the longest in Super Bowl history.
"When you look at the linemen of his era, he did things that Hall of Famer Dermontti Dawson was able to do," said former Steelers coach Bill Cowher, himself a member of this year's Centennial Hall of Fame class. "He was such a special player at a time when he did things unique to the game. He had the power to control his area and the athleticism to be a factor when he pulled. When we ran the football, we ran behind him on the left side, and when we pulled, we ran behind him on the right side. His block for Willie Parker's touchdown run in Super Bowl XL was all about Alan."
That shows up in each of Faneca's 13 NFL seasons -- 10 with the Steelers, two with the Jets and one with the Cardinals. Twice those teams led the NFL in rushing -- in 2001 and 2009 -- with six top-five finishes. That helped earn him a spot on the Pro Football Hall of Fame's 2000s All-Decade Team.
"Alan's athletic ability and physicality at the guard position set the tone for their whole team," said Hall of Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher, another member of that All-Decade Team. "He played at such a high level for such a long time. You know who the good players are. To do it as long as he did it -- and as good as his teams were all those years, I think success with a team has a lot to do with it, as well as the way you win as a team. They won up front. They ran the ball. They protected their quarterback. That started with him. He was THE guy up front."
Urlacher isn't the only former defensive star to feel that way about Faneca.
Ray Lewis, another Hall of Fame linebacker and member of the All-Decade Team of the 2000s, played against Faneca many times in his days with the Ravens.
"He was one of the guards that controlled the tempo of the front seven," Lewis said of Faneca. "That's what made him dominant. I think a Hall of Famer is somebody who truly has a career that inspires others to be like them, to be great. And every time he stepped on the field, he was great."
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