Much is made about the NFL Draft process and how teams acquire talent. Less is said about merging talent with the right opportunity. No doubt many potentially great careers were squandered because of a poor team or organizational fits with a player. Hall of Fame guard Alan Faneca is grateful that being drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers meant that would never be his story.
“Really when I look back on it, so many guys, you don’t get drafted to the right place that fits you and what you do and bring to a team—for me, it was a dream to go to a team like Pittsburgh”, he told The Mission, a Pro Football Hall of Fame podcast, because they drafted him to do what he was good at. “I might not have gotten that opportunity right away somewhere else, so just super excited that that’s the way it worked out”.
Faneca played the first 10 seasons of his 13-year career in Pittsburgh before moving on in free agency, spending two seasons with the New York Jets and one final year with the Arizona Cardinals, retiring after the 2010 season. He finished his career with nine Pro Bowls (seven in Pittsburgh) and eight All-Pros (also seven).
The Steelers made him the 26th overall selection of the 1998 NFL Draft coming out of LSU. While he did not start right away, he did make 12 starts by the end of his rookie season, and he would only go on to miss two games throughout his career. But it all started on draft night.
“It’s just a life-changing moment. I had all my family and all my friends there, having a crawfish bowl at this house I was renting with my college roommates”, he recalled of that experience. “Just amazing, man. Just off and excited and ready to go on this journey”.
Yet he admitted that, while he knew something about the identity of the Steelers as a football team, the New Orleans native knew little about the city he was heading to. “15 minutes later I look at one of my buddies and I go, ‘Do you know anything about Pittsburgh? I don’t know anything about Pittsburgh. Who knows something about Pittsburgh?’”.
It might have been a cold 10 years compared to what he was used to, but it was certainly rewarding, culminating in a Super Bowl title at the end of the 2005 season. And he could have had another one if he hadn’t left in free agency in 2008.
But it’s hard to put a blemish on such a stellar career. I’m sure most Steelers fans wish he could have played out his entire career in Pittsburgh, but it’s inarguable that he is one of the greats, along with the likes of Mike Webster and Dermontti Dawson, to ever line up in the trenches in the black and gold.