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New city, same old Faneca


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Apologies if this has been posted already.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


Peter Diana/Post-Gazette

Alan Fanaca ... in his days with the Steelers.

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Alan Faneca is gone -- off to New Jersey and the first-place Jets -- but he's clearly not forgotten. Hardly a day goes by when someone in the organization doesn't mention his name or talk about his 10 wonderful years of service here. It's been a good year and other people have stepped up, but it's not quite the same as when he was around. The team misses him something awful.

The Steelers, too.

"You might think Alan was brought here to help the Steelers win the Super Bowl. We think he was brought here to raise money for our under-40 breast cancer research," Diana Napper was saying the other day.

Proving that you can take the man out of Pittsburgh, but you can't take Pittsburgh out of the man, Faneca and his wife, Julie, came back on a Jets' off day -- armed with Brett Favre-autographed memorabilia galore -- for "A Glimmer of Hope Foundation" fundraiser Oct. 27. Napper, the foundation's president, said the dinner and sports-related auction raised $125,000.

"It would have been easy for Alan to say, 'I'm with the Jets now,' " Napper said. "But he insisted on being a part of it. That's just awesome to me."

Said Faneca this week, "It's still something that's close to our heart."

The Steelers, not so much anymore.

"Now probably isn't the time to reflect on my years there," Faneca said. "But I can tell you at the end of last season, I was at peace with what was going on. It was time to move on."

The man sure found a nice place to land after a bitter contract stalemate ended his time with the Steelers. The Jets are 8-4 despite a bad home loss Sunday to the Denver Broncos. They have the best shot of beating out the Steelers for the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs -- assuming the Steelers hold off the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North Division, of course -- because of their soft remaining schedule, beginning with a game tomorrow in San Francisco.

The money for Faneca isn't bad, either. The Jets made him the NFL's highest-paid offensive lineman -- five years, $40 million, including $21 million guaranteed.

But it's the winning that Faneca loves. The Jets were 4-12 last season.

Who saw this coming?

"Part of their pitch to me was their commitment to changing things and getting the pieces of the puzzle to make us a winner," Faneca said. "They followed through."

Man, did they.

An even bigger piece than the massive Faneca is Favre, who came in an August trade with the Green Bay Packers.

"That whole thing was a crazy situation, watching it all unfold on television," Faneca said. "All of a sudden, he just plopped in our lap. One day, he's in Green Bay. The next day, he's on our sideline. The day after that, we have a Hall of Fame quarterback in our huddle."

Favre has energized the Jets' franchise, completing an NFL-best 68.7 percent of his passes and throwing for 20 touchdowns. The threat he brings has opening running lanes for Thomas Jones, the AFC's top rusher.

"He's a good guy, a jokester, very funny," Faneca said of Favre. "He does things on the football field that quarterbacks aren't supposed to be able to do. And he makes it look so effortless ...

"The guy is a winner. If he throws a pick or makes a mistake, he bounces right back. It's nice to know that if our offense isn't clicking at a certain point, we can always come back. He's going to lead the way."

It's safe to say Favre takes just as much comfort from having Faneca as his left guard. All of the Jets do, actually. They made Faneca one of their captains before the season, an amazing tribute to a new player. He said he was "just trying to re-establish myself" and called the captaincy "a complete surprise," but his former Steelers teammates will tell you they expected it. He commanded that type of respect in their locker room. Why not in the Jets'? He's a future Hall of Famer and the most decorated guard in Steelers history.

Faneca still keeps in touch with several of the players here, notably tight end Heath Miller, whom he picked to continue his work with the Hope foundation. "Alan isn't a guy you say no to. He asks you do something, you do it," Miller said. Napper raves about Miller and his wife, Katie.

Faneca also remains close to the Steelers' offensive linemen. "I grew up there with those guys." He said he's sick that guard Kendall Simmons' season ended with an Achilles injury and that tackle Marvel Smith's contract season has been sabotaged by a bad back. "Those are my boys. It's a tough deal what's happened to them."

Not so with the Steelers, though.

Not with their 9-3 record.

"I'm not at all surprised they're doing well," Faneca said. "Their defense is playing lights out. You play defense like that, you have a chance to win every game."

The potential is there for a terrific reunion in January. The Jets vs. the Steelers in the playoffs. Faneca vs. nose tackle Casey Hampton and linebackers James Farrior and Larry Foote ...

"Now that would be different," Faneca said.

No, that would be great fun.

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Pittsburgh is one of those teams like the Titans that we match up well with and should beat if we played them in the playoffs,

Exactly. We match up well with teams like Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Miami & New England (somewhat NE).

Teams we'd like to stay away from are Indianapolis, Denver and if we were to make the Super Bowl - Dallas.

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Exactly. We match up well with teams like Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Miami & New England (somewhat NE).

Teams we'd like to stay away from are Indianapolis, Denver and if we were to make the Super Bowl - Dallas.

New England* could spread us out but our offense matches up well against their ancient LB's and DB's. Jets Patsies* could be another shootout

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