By J. Hogan
-Gains & Gleanings-
I’ve known Alan Faneca since we moved to McKees Rocks in 2005. At the time he was a giant man, a star offensive lineman for the Pittsburgh Steelers and a perpetual All-Pro. Within short order, he was also a Super Bowl champion, helping the Steelers to win “one for the thumb” in February 2006.
By then, Alan was already a champion in my mind. I watched him be kind to folks day after day, even when he was half asleep at the start of his day.
I was managing the Starbucks at T-Bones Plaza in Wexford, and Alan and his wife Julie were
regular customers. Other Steelers got their coffee there, too. Kimo von Oelhoffen, another giant of a man, came in regularly, as did Cedrick Wilson. Ced was a normal-sized man and often got through the line anonymously. That didn’t happen for the big guys.
Early in my tenure there, Alan found out I was a pastor and started asking questions. Before long, he and I were sitting down for a few minutes to sip our coffee and talk.
During one of these chats, in December of 2006, he asked what my plans for the day were, and I told him that a single mother in Stowe Township had lost everything – including her Christmas gifts for her kids – in a fire the day before and after I got off work I was going to gather some stuff for her.
We talked until our coffee cups went dry and Alan stood up to head into the Steelers’ South Side training facility.
“Have a good day, Hogan,” he said as he turned to go, then he stopped. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out $500 and handed it to me. “Give that to the lady whose house caught fire and tell her I said Merry Christmas, OK?”
The next morning Alan showed up with his SUV stuffed to the roof with toys to give to needy kids in the McKees Rocks area, and, as he transferred the stuff from his vehicle to mine, he said, “Find some good stuff in there for that lady’s kids, OK?”
Faneca left the Steelers after I left Starbucks and went on to finish a great career with the New York Jets and the Arizona Cardinals. We kept meeting for coffee until he left Pittsburgh, and have stayed in touch since.
One of the things he was known for was always jogging upfield to assist his running backs up off the ground when they’d been tackled. It wasn’t that noticeable when Jerome Bettis or Willie Parker had made a couple of yards, but even if they busted through the line for 25 yards, Alan made a point of being there to help them up.
Two weeks ago, Alan – fit as can be and carrying 100 lbs less than his playing weight – was told that he’d made the NFL Hall of Fame in his sixth year of eligibility for consideration. Hall of Fame president David Baker, coordinating with Alan’s wife Julie, brought a film team to Alan’s home in Virginia Beach to capture the moment.
Faneca was told to keep it a secret until the official announcement during Super Bowl weekend. He says it was incredibly hard to keep it quiet, and he did call Steelers owner Art Rooney II to share the good news.
It’s great to see his terrific career celebrated, and I’ll likely go to the induction ceremony in August if life and government dictate allow, but the truth is Alan Faneca was already a Hall of Famer in my eyes. I’m glad the NFL voting committee finally caught up.
Rev. James Hogan is a native of Stowe Township and serves as pastor of Faithbridge Community Church in McKees Rocks.