Times were certainly different in the NFL in 1998, where first round picks didn’t always see the field right away and had to earn a starting spot.
At least, that was the case for former Pittsburgh Steelers left guard and Pro Football Hall of Famer Alan Faneca. A first round pick at No. 26 overall out of LSU in the 1998 NFL Draft, Faneca was late getting to training camp and missed out on a chance to compete for the starting job at left guard with Pittsburgh native Roger Duffy.
Six weeks into the season though, following a Week 5 bye, Faneca stepped into the starting lineup in Week 6 on the road against the Cincinnati Bengals, and the rest is history for the Pro Football Hall of Famer.
Appearing on the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s ‘The Mission’ podcast Saturday, Faneca recalled the moment he became the starting left guard for the Steelers between future Hall of Fame center Dermontti Dawson and left tackle Justin Strzelczyk.
“I started my rookie year. When I came in, I was getting a little bit of split time. I got to training camp a bit late that year. I was sharing time,” Faneca said, according to video via the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s YouTube page. “Nobody told me. I think we were playing Miami down in Miami that year, and the coaches were going around in the stretch lines, and all of a sudden I’m getting a little more high-fives and here we go’s; guys coming up on my shoulder pads.
“Nobody told me I was starting yet. And then, all of a sudden it was ‘you’re up’ and I was with the first group. It was like, ‘alright, I guess I’m starting today.’ From that point forward, that was it. I enjoyed it.”
Twenty-five years later, the memory of that moment can be a bit jumbled.
Faneca did see playing time in that Week 3 matchup on the road against the Miami Dolphins, but Faneca’s starting experience came in Week 6 on the road against the Cincinnati Bengals, which happened to be a 25-20 loss to Cincinnati, dropping the Steelers to 3-2 that season.
In that game, Faneca helped protect quarterback Kordell Stewart, who threw for 153 yards and rushed for 108 in the loss, while Richard Huntley carried the ball 20 times for 85 yards and a score, and Jerome Bettis rushed 11 times for 55 yards and a touchdown.
Of course, former quarterback Neil O’Donnell threw for 298 yards and three touchdowns for Cincinnati in that game, hooking up with receiver Carl Pickens 13 times for 204 yards and a touchdown in the 5-point win.
From there, Faneca started 152 games in the black and gold, missing only the Week 4 loss to Jacksonville in 1999 and not starting the Week 5 loss against Buffalo that same season, as well as 2001 season finale against Cleveland with the Steelers resting starters ahead of the playoffs.
In total, Faneca started all 16 games in a season 10 times in his 13-year career, including his final six seasons with the Steelers, two seasons with the New York Jets and one season with the Arizona Cardinals before retiring in 2011.
Faneca went on to a stalwart for the Steelers in the trenches, springing the key block on Willie Parker’s 75-yard run on the first play of the second half in the Super Bowl XL win over the Seattle Seahawks, and was a First- or Second-Team All-Pro seven times with the Steelers, earning trips to the Pro Bowl all seven seasons as well.
The standout guard was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2021, and was a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s All-2000s team. He’s also a member of the Steelers’ Hall of Honor, and was part of the franchise’s All-Time team.