When the Pittsburgh Steelers were at the height of their recent success in the mid-2000s, we probably convinced ourselves that the roster was a lot more future Hall of Fame players than will actually be the case.
While a guy like Jerome Bettis is already in there, and Troy Polamalu is a given, others like James Harrison and Hines Ward may always be on the outside looking in. Others for the Hall of Very Good would include Aaron Smith, Ryan Clark, James Farrior, and Heath Miller.
But there will be at least one more aside from Ben Roethlisberger who is likely to join Bettis and (soon enough) Polamalu, that being Alan Faneca. We could learn as soon as this weekend if the left guard will be a member of the 2019 Class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his fourth year of eligibility.
Faneca, who played for the team from 1998 to 2007 before playing three more seasons elsewhere, spoke to the team’s website on a variety of subjects, one of which seemed to be particularly relevant to today’s roster.
“We were close, we were friends, everybody in the locker room was like that”, he said. “That is how you make it through all the rough patches and that’s how a Pittsburgh Steelers team that maybe, technically on paper should have 6 or 7 wins, gets 8, 9 or 10 wins”.
Can this current locker room say that? Surely there are some strong connections and presences such as Cameron Heyward and T.J. Watt, or Maurkice Pouncey and Ramon Foster, but on the whole, is this really a band of brothers?
“A lot of teams in the NFL are lacking that, and those things and those characteristics that carry over and transfer on the field”, Faneca, who played for the Arizona Cardinals and the New York Jets, said. “Sometimes people would understand me, but most of the times they still didn’t, and that’s their loss”.
Many will argue that that is what happened to the Steelers this season. Even though they finished with a 9-6-1 record, they only played two games in which they never held or shared the lead in the fourth quarter. So they lost or tied in five games in which they were not losing. They outright had the lead, sometimes even a lead of multiple possessions, in four of those games.
If Faneca is right that such things manifest itself on the field and turn, say, 9-win teams into 13-win teams, or 13-win teams into 9-win teams, then the 2018 Steelers would be an interesting case study in that regard.
Not that I buy it necessarily, at least on the whole. This is a team that has too many schematic and execution failures to say that they’re just not buddy-buddy enough to win close games. They’re making mistakes or getting beaten as football players, not as pals.