It’s very difficult for an offensive lineman to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. It is an especial burden on interior players, as it tends to be the tackles who draw the most attention going up against the league’s elite edge rushers responsible for the bulk of most defense’s sack production.
There are many great linemen who were deserving of being first-ballot Hall of Famers who were not. The Pittsburgh Steelers know a couple of them quite well, including one that is currently on their coaching staff and one who played for them for many years.
Mike Munchak played for 12 years for the Oilers through the 1993 season but waited until 2001 before he made it to the final cut and was voted in. That was his fourth year of eligibility if my math is right. Munchak defined the standard for guard play for essentially a generation and has taken David DeCastro under his wing as the Steelers’ defensive line coach. DeCastro has made the Pro Bowl in each of his two seasons under Munchak, including All-Pro honors in both years.
Then there is the Steelers’ great center Dermontti Dawson, whose athleticism and ability to pull helped to revolutionize the center position and what an offense was capable of running using a mobile player at that position. He played from 1988 through the 2000 season, but he had to wait all the way until 2012 before he finally got in.
Pittsburgh now finds themselves with another Hall-worthy lineman patiently waiting for his turn, which can come as early as today, as Alan Faneca is once again among the 15 finalists who will be voted on later tonight to solidify this year’s class.
Faneca, a nine-time Pro Bowler and eight-time All-Pro (six first-team), did not make it into Canton in his first year of eligibility, but there is some quiet optimism in certain circles that he may have an opportunity to crack the barrier today and make it in his second year.
Whether it comes now or later, however, most believe that he will make it someday. Both Munchak and Dawson look at Faneca’s play and see a player who deserves to sit alongside them during induction day as another member of the elite of the elite in the annals of pro football history.
“When I looked at him in college, I knew he was special”, Munchak said of Faneca. “When the Steelers drafted him I knew they got someone special. You keep an eye on guys like that who you watched. We played the Steelers and I watched him play”.
Dawson, whose career briefly overlapped with Faneca’s first few seasons, sees a similar image. “I told him I knew you were going to be a good player the first time you came in as a rookie. Most guys don’t come in that seasoned like he was”. He said that he “knew he had the makings of a phenomenal player and it played out that way”.
Not bad endorsements from a couple of members of the offensive line fraternity of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.