Faneca's farewell to Pittsburgh

By Mike Prisuta
Sunday, July 22, 2007

Day One of Alan Faneca's countdown to free agency begins in earnest on Monday at St. Vincent College.

By showing up as promised, Big Red will at least keep alive hope that his story will have something other than one of the most disappointing endings in Steelers history.

Sadly, that is about as likely as Brady Quinn winning the Super Bowl this season for Cleveland.

The Steelers once let Franco Harris finish his career in Seattle. Dan Rooney laments to this day that things didn't work out differently.

Faneca winding up in Arizona or some other NFL outpost would leave a similar taste in mouths on the South Side.

"Alan Faneca is a Pro Bowl player, a probable Hall of Fame player," Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert said. "You don't make six Pro Bowls in a row and not get to the Hall of Fame at some point. He's been a great player for us. He's been a great off-the-field person for us. There's no questioning that."

The issue is what such a player is worth.

The two sides are far enough apart for Faneca to have labeled the Steelers' offer for an extension "pretty much a non-offer" during that infamous minicamp rant back in mid-May.

Faneca said then he wasn't considering any course of action other than showing up to camp on time and playing out the season as best he could under the circumstances.

By doing so, he'll at least keep the door open a crack to an unanticipated resolution of differences.

Faneca knows the Steelers won't negotiate with someone who's AWOL.

Reporting as ordered won't in itself change the Steelers' opinion of him as it relates to 2008 and beyond, but it can't hurt.

Faneca fans have that much to cling to, but only that.

"We're open to keeping things alive, and his people are open to keeping things alive," Colbert said. "Whether we'll ever get anywhere, we don't know.

"What we know is Alan will be here for this season."

Both sides are also well aware of the Steelers' policy of entertaining potential extensions only until the preseason becomes the regular season, unless such a deal is perceived as imminent.

"That hasn't changed for anybody, and it won't change going forward," Colbert said.

Nor is Faneca likely to get any younger between now and then.

He'll be 31 in December.

Troy Polamalu, who has been deemed worthy of receiving a boatload of money, is 26.

And Ben Roethlisberger, who is destined to soon receive the Titanic of such sums, is 25.

And the Steelers aren't interested in spending too much now if it risks what they'll be capable of down the road.

"Never do we want to put it all on, 'OK, this is the year we're going for it,' " Colbert said. "If you do that and you have one key injury and everything's gone and you have to cut that whole team, now you've set yourself back three or four years.

"If we can have a good team every year and have a chance to get to the kind of run we got on when we won the Super Bowl, that's what we want to do."

With or without Alan Faneca, a player destined to embody the heart, the soul and the spirit of the Steelers -- right up until the moment the two part company.