If there's a surprise with the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame's Class of 2017, it's not so much that wide receiver Terrell Owens didn’t make the first cut. It's that guard Alan Faneca didn’t.
Like Owens, Faneca failed twice in his first two years of eligibility. Unlike Owens he's a first-team all-decade choice … and nine-time Pro Bowler … and eight-time All-Pro, including six as a first-teamer -- though it would've been seven had Faneca not been so unselfish.
When left tackle Marvel Smith was injured in 2003, then-coach Bill Cowher asked Faneca to move from left guard to left tackle… and he did, playing eight games there – first switching between guard and tackle the sixth game that season in Denver.
And that's great. Except when voters sat down to choose their All-Pro teams, they didn’t know where to put him. Result: He was named second team All-Pro for first time in his career.
Now, voters are in a similar quandary. Basically, we don't know what to do with Alan Faneca. With no ready numbers or tangible data, it's sometimes difficult to measure offensive linemen, We know what we see, and what we usually see is the guy with the football.
"There's no doubt that Faneca will reach Canton one day."
Nevertheless, there are clues to help, and, for starters, let's look at what happened when Faneca was in the lineup – which, by the way, was for all but two games of his career, including one where he sat down because Cowher rested his starters:
- In Faneca's 13 seasons with three teams, 10 times his offenses ranked in the top-10 rushing, including six top-five finishes and twice at No 1.
- In 2006 and 2007, the Steelers ranked 10th and third in rushing. When Faneca left as an unrestricted free agent, they plummeted to 23rd and 19th.
- When he arrived in New York in 2008, the Jets' rushing attack that had been 20th in 2006 and 19th in 2007, vaulted to ninth in his first season there and first in his second.
- In the Steelers' 21-10 defeat of Seattle in Super Bowl XL, the most memorable play was Willie Parker's 75-yard touchdown run. Rewind the videotape, and see who threw the key block. it was Alan Faneca.
There's no doubt that Faneca will reach Canton one day, but here's what I don't understand; Why he didn’t make a move forward this year when there was so much room at the top of the board. Instead, he didn't budge from his 2016 finish. Not only that, but two offensive linemen who were first-time finalists, Kevin Mawae and Tony Boselli, passed him en route to top-10 finishes.
"So what's wrong with Alan Faneca's Hall-of-Fame resume? Nothing."
So what's wrong with Alan Faneca's Hall-of-Fame resume? Nothing. Except maybe the position he played.
That would be guard, and the Hall is slow to move on the position. Will Shields was one of the most qualified candidates in recent years, yet it took him four tries before he finally crossed the finish line. Now think about it: Shields played 14 years, made 12 Pro Bowls and seven All-Pro teams and never, ever, ever missed a game.
In fact, of the 231 in which he played (including the playoffs), he started all but one – relieving the injured starter Dave Szott when Shields was a rookie. He blocked for 1,000-yard rushers for five seasons. He blocked for 4,000-yard passers for four. In 1999, he and his teammates on the offensive line allowed a franchise-low 19 sacks. Three years later, the Chiefs led the league in scoring. And one year after that, running back Priest Holmes scored a then-record 27 rushing touchdowns.
Yet he waited four years.
Now it's Faneca who sits. And, if this year's results were an indication, he may have to wait as long ... if not longer. Yet people need to understand a couple of things. First, Alan Faneca was so good that when he became an unrestricted free agent in 2008, he signed a five-year, $40 million deal that made him the league's highest-paid offensive lineman.
And he was so good that he and Steve Hutchinson were first-team guards for the all-decade team of the 2000s. Shields and Larry Allen were second-team choices, and both are in Canton.
And that’s the good news for Faneca. They got in, and so will he. But the bad is that when he had an opportunity to advance a week ago, Faneca didn't move. Worse, there was almost no discussion of his candidacy, with the presentation and debate lasting barely over five minutes -- the shortest of the 18 candidates.
"I don’t think about it much," Faneca said of the Hall when he joined the Talk of Fame Network broadcast last December. "People always like to bring it up. It's hard not think about it because its such an amazing feat and accomplishment. Anytime you're in the conversation it makes me awestruck.
"It's hard to think you're even considered in that class of guys – your heroes; the guys you grew up watching play and idolized. And here you are: Being mentioned with those guys."
It will be curious to see what happens in 2018 when Hutchinson, the other first-team all-decade guard from the 2000s, is Hall-of-Fame eligible. The smart money is on at least one offensive lineman making it to Canton next year, but, with Boselli and Mawae jumping the queue and an apparent indifference to Faneca's candidacy, it may be tough for Alan Faneca to budge.
And that makes no sense.