Former Steelers, Jets and Cardinals left guard Alan Faneca is headed to Canton as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2021, which was revealed on Saturday night during NFL Honors.
The nine-time Pro Bowler spent two seasons with the Green and White (2008 & 2009), helping lead the Jets to the AFC Championship Game in 2009.
After appearing in seven Pro Bowls with the Steelers, Faneca was a coveted a prize on the free agent market in the spring of 2008. The Jets offered a lucrative contract and Faneca, eyeing talented young players like C Nick Mangold, LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson and RG Brandon Moore, thought it was the right fit.
"It was the best place. It had the best potential for a good team," the Hall of Famer said about joining the Jets during an interview in 2017. "I liked the pieces in play. The offensive line was young, but very good and it had a good reputation."
Dominant Up Front
Stationed between Mangold and Ferguson, Faneca went on to start 32 consecutive games for the Jets from 2008-09.
"I was always talking in their ear, always sharing information," Faneca said. "Even if it was just, 'Hey, this is how I would do that.' Or, 'Hey you're really good at this, why don't you try that?' Just always talking when we were at practice and when it was our time to take a break on the sideline and talking things out. Just always learning and talking, so we could do it better even if it was 10 minutes later when we got back in there again."
The Jets had the No. 8 ranked rushing offense in Faneca's first season and they were No. 9 in scoring at 25.3 points per game. But after starting 8-3, the Jets lost four of their final five games as QB Brett Favre played through injury and they finished out of the postseason. The team changed coaches in the offseason, replacing Eric Mangini with Rex Ryan.
The Ground & Pound approach took off in '09 as the Jets led the NFL in rushing at 172.2 yards per game. Thomas Jones averaged 4.5 yards per carry, amassing 1,312 yards and 13 rush touchdowns. Leon Washington added 448 yards and 6 TDs on the ground. The Green & White, who also finished No. 1 in defense, ended up with the same 9-7 record as the year before. But this time around, they were able to earn postseason entry as a wild card.
"The way we were able to dominate the run game up front, we had a really good offensive line and we took a huge amount of pride in that," said Faneca. "We always thought up front if we did our thing and Ground and Pound, then not only were we going to do well on offense but we're going to make the defense that much better. We're going to keep them off the field, we're going to put their offense under the fire so our defense can go out there and start running their crazy stunts. We took great pride in putting the whole team on our back."
See Top Photos of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Inductee During His Days in the Green & White
The Best Time of Year
The Jets went on an improbable playoff run, topping the Bengals 24-14 at Paul Brown Stadium, and they followed that up with a 17-14 stunner over the Chargers in San Diego. But they would eventually fall to the Colts in the AFC Championship Game after taking a 17-6 first-half lead.
"I think it might have been before the Cincinnati game and Rex spoke to me beforehand and told me what he was doing," Faneca said. "He wanted everyone to know how precious it was to be in the playoffs. We had a team that didn't have much playoff experience. So he said players with one game of playoff experience, step two yards out and everybody could see. Maybe 25 guys stepped out who played in one game and it just literally dropped at two games, three games. Everybody was just looking around and it opened up a lot of eyes to the guys that this is a special moment and to grab it. It doesn't happen for everybody. People play years in the league and have never played in one playoff game."
Faneca and RT Damien Woody were the last men standing. But the Jets were moved to the side against the Colts and the latter ultimately lost a tight decision to the Saints in Super Bowl XLIV.
"That run ended in Indianapolis, but we had the goods to pull it all out if we had gotten there. That's what stings the most," Faneca said. "It was definitely a quiet locker room. That was a special run. We weren't supposed to be there and caught on fire at the right time. It created a special circumstance, a special situation. There is nothing better than being around a locker room in the playoffs, the camaraderie and the effort and the work that everybody's putting in. Guys staying late and guys working hard. That's the best time of year."
Left It All Out There
Faneca, a nine-time Pro Bowler and six-time first-team All-Pro, would finish his career with the Arizona Cardinals in 2010. The LSU product appeared in 206 regular-season contests and started 201 of them. He played in 14 postseason games including the memorable three-game run with the Jets.
"I was raised to work hard and leave it all out there at all times, not just on gameday," he said. "I kind of had that mentality even as a young kid. That doesn't do anything but grow and start snowballing by the time you get to junior high and high school and you make it to college. It just keeps snowballing, that kind of effort and hard work. I really feel that's what got me here."