There haven’t been many Steelers draft picks who turned out better than Alan Faneca over the past few decades.
Faneca was a guard from LSU who the Steelers selected in the first round (26th, overall) of the 1998 NFL Draft.
It didn’t take long for Faneca to become a fixture on the Steelers’ offensive line; he started 12 games at left guard as a rookie and a total of 153 over his 10 years in Pittsburgh. While Faneca did become a full-time starter right away, he didn’t earn his first trip to the Pro Bowl until 2001.
Faneca was also named a First-Team All-Pro in ’01, an honor he would achieve a total of six times during his distinguished career. Faneca was also named a Second-Team All-Pro twice and was voted to the Pro Bowl a grand total of nine times in 13 years.
Faneca finished out his career with stints with the Jets and Cardinals after leaving Pittsburgh as a free agent following the 2007 season.
Faneca was regarded as the top guard of his era, as he started a total of 201 games over 13 years and was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 2000s.
Faneca is now a member of the Steelers Hall of Honor and, more fittingly, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame after being enshrined in the summer of 2001.
- OK, we get it, Tony. Alan Faneca was special. What’s the point of this article?
The point is, I remember exactly where I was when the Steelers picked him in the first round back in 1998
Where was I? I was stocking shelves at this store called Save-A-Lot. (That’s right, insert your jokes about a sportswriter stocking shelves here.)
Not only was I stocking shelves at work, but I was barely paying any mind to what was happening during the first round of the 1998 NFL Draft. In fact, I don’t think I even found out who the Steelers picked until I got home from work later that afternoon. What was my initial reaction when I found out about the selection of Faneca? I believe it was something along the lines of, “Cool.”
I had never even heard of Alan Faneca, but maybe that’s because I was pretty much over the annual NFL Draft by that point.
Pittsburgh was coming off the 1997 season in which it made the playoffs for a sixth-straight time and played in the AFC title game for the third time in four years.
While I didn’t know the fun was about to be over (Pittsburgh would miss the playoffs for three-straight seasons, starting with a disappointing 7-9 campaign in 1998), my zeal for the annual draft had long since been replaced by how awesome the Steelers had became at actual football during the 1990s.
The Steelers were mediocre-to-horrible in the 1980s, and it was in this reality that I found the NFL Draft to be exhilarating as a teenager desperate to fill the void of those Super 70s teams I had only heard of. Which high-profile college prospects from the big-time schools would come to Pittsburgh and save the day?
- Maybe that’s why my reaction to the Steelers’ first-round pick in 1988 was much different.
I looked forward to that year’s draft more than any before or since. Who would the Steelers take, and would it be Lorenzo White, a high-profile running back from Michigan State?
The Steelers selected 18th in the first round, and White was still available when it was their turn to pick. I was so happy, I, a 15-year-old moron, began to run around my grandmother’s house, screaming, “We’re gonna get Lorenzo! We’re gonna get Lorenzo!”
- Pittsburgh wasted no time turning its pick into the commissioner.
“With the 18th pick in the first round of the 1988 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers select….Aaron Jones, defensive end, Eastern Kentucky.”
I was crestfallen. I may have even shed a tear or two. My dreams had been shattered.
I never even heard of Jones, and despite the fact that I eventually found his name listed as the second-best defensive end prospect when I reviewed the draft preview from that morning’s paper, I was still pretty darn upset.
Jones went on to have an unremarkable career and was yet another failed attempt by head coach Chuck Noll and Dick Haley to recapture the magic of the Steel Curtain defense from the previous decade.
I continued to live and die with the draft over the next few years until Bill Cowher came along in 1992 and brought with him the winning Steelers culture I spent my youth yearning for.
While I haven’t lived and died for the draft in quite a while, I definitely pay more attention to it now than I did the day Pittsburgh selected Faneca a quarter of a century ago.
It’s hard not to pay attention to the annual NFL Draft in this 24/7 news cycle we find ourselves in. Thanks to social media, podcasts and blogs, the draft is top news from the second the Steelers season ends in January until many weeks after they select their new class in April.
- But the 1990s taught me a lot about what really matters when it comes to prospects like Alan Faneca.
It’s not about whether or not I know anything about him. It’s not about the position he plays. It’s not about the school he played football at.
All that matters is what he can do to help the Steelers on Sunday afternoons in the fall.
I don’t even have to know who this prospect is in order to enjoy that.