Former Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro guard Alan Fanaca, perhaps the franchises best player at that position, retired Tuesday ending a 13 year career.
Drafted by the Steelers in the first round of the 1998 NFL draft, Fanaca broke into the starting line up and remained a fixture at guard for a decade.
During the team’s 2003 season Fanaca proved his value to the team yet again, by shifting to left tackle (on first and second downs) when injuries had decimated the team’s offensive line. Fanaca’s peers nonetheless voted him to the Pro Bowl.
Tom Donahoe’s Last Great Pick
Tom Donahoe, whose personnel moves had a huge hand in the Steelers return to contender status of the 1990’s, is oft remembered for a series of premium picks in the late 1990’s that either “didn’t pan out” (Troy Edwards) or were outright busts (Jermaine Stephens, Scott Shields, Jeremy Staat.)
But Fananca was has last great, and arguably greatest pick, and certainly his best first round pick overall. Coming to the Steelers in 1998, Fanaca got a unique vantage point into Steelers history.
Fanaca participated in (although did not contribute to) the decline of the Cowher-Donahoe era, helped usher in the rebirth and subsequent “knocking on heaven’s door” phase of the early Cowher-Colbert era, basked in the glory of Super Bowl XL, and stayed on for the beginning of the Mike Tomlin era.
No Money, No Honey….
Fanaca, who was drafted mere months after the Steelers 1998 AFC Championship loss to the Denver Broncos, would suffer through the agony of two more AFC championship losses, both at the hands of the Patriots, and both at Heinz Field.
Alas, Fanaca never had the chance to exorcise those AFC Championship demons with the rest of his teammates as he had departed for the New York Jets as a free agent in the 2008 off season.
Alan Fanaca’s departure was not without some acrimony. Pittsburgh wanted him back but, as is their nature, the Steelers were not ready to break the bank for Fanaca.
When it became clear an agreement was not in the offing, Fanaca asked for a trade, and criticized the team for failing to provide him with financial security – an odd comment from someone who’d been paid tens of millions of dollars by the Steelers.
Mike Tomlin inherited the situation, and managed it well. Fanaca might not have been happy, he might not have bought into Larry Zierlein’s new blocking schemes (not that he should have) but he certainly gave his all while on the field, right up until his final game against Jacksonville.
Fanaca of course played for New York for two seasons and then finished his career at Pittsburgh West, aka the Cardinals.
There’s been a lot of speculation as to who will be the first pure-Cowher era Steeler to enter into the Hall of Fame. While Jerome Bettis will likely beat him there, if there is any justice Fanaca will some day join him.
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