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On his journey to Canton, Alan Faneca controlled his own destiny and didn't let epilepsy define him

(Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)

Former Steelers guard Alan Faneca missed only two games in his 13-year career and was penalized just four times for holding in 206 career games. Just four times. Those were two stats that Chris Berman mentioned when introducing Faneca to make his Hall of Fame speech on Sunday night. Coupled with nine Pro Bowl nominations, six first-team All-Pro selections, a Super Bowl ring and a member of the NFL's 2000s All-Decade Team, it's shocking that Faneca had to wait six years to be elected into the Hall.

When you think of Faneca's Hall of Fame career, the first play that stands out was his key block on Willie Parker's 75-yard rushing touchdown in Super Bowl XL, which is still a Super Bowl record. It was a simple counter play and Faneca paved the way. It was a bread and butter play for the Steelers during the early-to-mid-2000s, and it was all because they had a an elite guard who was freakishly athletic.

"If you go back and look at it, you have Alan Faneca pulling around, getting his guy, and I think that is a symbol of what the Pittsburgh Steelers are," Hines Ward said when presenting Faneca into the Hall of Fame. "We’re really not flashy players or anything. We just go about our business and do the little things right."

Faneca began his speech by saying that Ward belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as well. Echoing what Troy Polamalu said during his speech on Saturday night.

"Thank you to all of you; my family, friends, and to the entire Hall of Fame team," Faneca said. "To my 2021 classmates, and to my friend, teammate, presenter, and one day, taking his rightful place up on this stage – Hines Ward."

Faneca's football life started in his native Louisiana and it was when he was 15 years old that he realized the NFL was a possibility. Faneca's high school coach, Don Carter, said he was outworking everyone on the five-man sled and that he would "be playing on Sundays."

"This was the beginning of his pep talk to the guys to do better because he always saw that I was working hard to be better," Faneca said. "When I heard this, my eyes got big, and I couldn’t tell you the rest of what he said. That’s when my dream to play in the NFL began. Thank you, coach, for that and for so much more."

Faneca also thanked the Rooneys and all his teammates who helped him on his journey to Canton.

“I wanted to thank the late Ambassador (Dan) Rooney (the late Steelers chairman) and Art Rooney for cultivating a climate where teammates become true brothers,” Faneca said, “and your benchmarks for success are relentlessly high. We inspire a city, and Steeler Nation, you inspire us.

"As I stand up here this evening, I do not stand alone," Faneca said. Without my teammates, all of you, I would not be here today. We laughed. We cried. We celebrated. We leaned on each other. We genuinely cared for each other. And through football, we grew as men. Brothers, I love you guys. You are all standing with me tonight."

The age of 15 was a transformative year for Faneca. His dream of playing in the NFL came to light, but he would also find out he had epilepsy. That, however, didn't derail him from accomplishing his goals and having a Hall of Fame career.

"I instinctively knew that I was not going to let anything keep me from fulfilling this dream," Faneca said of his diagnoses. "I knew as long as listened to my doctors and followed their guidance, along with my support system, I would be fine. I always told myself and spoke it as a fact that epilepsy is part of me, but it does not define me. We are in charge of our destiny.

"I never want any health problems to define us. We must define ourselves. Whatever one’s challenge in life, whether we have a disability or not, my message is always to maintain an integral commitment. Do not let anything stop us from fulfilling our vision. Be resilient. We all get knocked down in life. But it’s how we get back up that matters."

Faneca wrapped a bow on his speech by emphasizing how important choices are in everyday life.

"In closing, there are choices, decisions, and sacrifices that each of us as athletes who play this great game must make every day," Faneca said. "The choices we make outside of football are even greater because they aren't simply game choices, they are life choices. The sacrifice and discipline to choose to be the best kinds of fathers, husbands, and respected leaders we could possibly be, is greater than any responsibility we ever had to deal with in football. These values are foundation. I know I would not have this amazing life if God hadn't given me the opportunity to choose football. Thank you very much."

Faneca was the last Steeler to speak this weekend, following Donnie Shell, Polamalu and Bill Cowher who were enshrined on Saturday night. Steelers "super scout" Bill Nunn was also honored posthumously as a member of the Class of 2021 on Sunday night. Nunn was formally enshrined by the Hall of Fame in April.

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