Wednesday, May 11, 2011
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
His final game with the Steelers came 10 seasons after they drafted him in the first round from LSU -- a playoff loss to Jacksonville at Heinz Field after the 2007 season.
"I went to my locker and bawled for 10 minutes," Faneca said from his home just outside New Orleans Tuesday. "I knew it was over, and didn't want it to be over and it hurt."
Three seasons later, Faneca announced it was over for good, a 13-year playing career that included nine Pro Bowls, six All-Pro teams and may ultimately land him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He signed with the New York Jets as a free agent in 2008 and played two seasons with them and one with the Arizona Cardinals.
He earned a spot on the Steelers' 75th Anniversary all-time team in 2007, an iron man who missed only three career starts after he broke into the starting lineup on Oct. 11, 1998 as a rookie at Cincinnati. He missed one game and two starts because of ankle injuries in 1999 and coach Bill Cowher rested him for a final, meaningless game at Cleveland in 2001. Faneca started every game after that -- 144 consecutive, 201 total.
He did all that while suffering from epilepsy, a condition he had under control after his diagnosis at age 15.
His most memorable football moment came in a Steelers uniform at Ford Field in Detroit after the team's Super Bowl XL victory against Seattle.
"I have a picture of me on the field afterward with the confetti falling, I have the trophy and I'm screaming," Faneca recalled Tuesday. "I can look at that picture at any moment and just get chills, like I'm right back there. Without doubt that tops the list.
"Among other ones would have to be the first championship game we had at Heinz Field, coming out and the fans -- we always had a lot of Terrible Towels, but that day everyone had at least one and maybe two. That first initial rush of the big game, that's stuff you don't forget."
Faneca is known as a guard, but he also played left tackle half the 2003 season after Marvel Smith was injured. He started eight times at left tackle, but still was rewarded with another Pro Bowl as a guard.
"It was really fun. It was new, it was challenging, completely different from playing inside. I ripped left tackles the rest of my career. Those guys are stealing; they have everyone fooled that it's hard. I never felt better after playing left tackle that year. Half the plays they run away from you and guys are trying to run around you and not through you. There's a whole lot of less stress on you."
Faneca leaves the game at age 34 and in good health. He said he purposely began to lose weight after last season and has dropped from 315 pounds to 255.
He was the Steelers' player representative to the NFLPA for three years, a time of labor peace he wishes would soon reign again.
"The whole thing, it's a standoff, who's going to blink first?" Faneca said. "The fans lose no matter what unless we play football. It's a sad thing to say it's in the court's hands, but it is; we'll see what they say and take it from there."
No matter that outcome, there will be no more football for Faneca. He and his family plan to move out of the 'burbs and back into New Orleans, the city of his birth. Spending time with his family, golfing and fishing are his immediate goals. He will continue to work with his pet charity in Pittsburgh, A Glimmer of Hope Foundation, which benefits breast cancer research.
"It was a hard decision. I really thought about it for a while," Faneca said of retirement. "I felt it was time to move on, enjoy some other things that I put off through my career. I started thinking about it. I always put my head down and went to work, skipped a lot of things and not see a lot of family. It's time to kick back, smell the roses, enjoy life and become a spectator."
For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @EdBouchette.
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