Siragusa, Faneca are a study in contrast

Ravens defensive tackle, Steelers left guard seem to define state of 2 teams

Ravens Vs. Steelers

January 17, 2002|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

It's a boy from the Big Easy against a Jersey guy.

It's a first-round pick vs. an undrafted free agent who had to scrape his way into the NFL.

It's a mountainous left guard headed to his first Pro Bowl trading body blows with a wide defensive tackle who wouldn't mind going to Hawaii as a network analyst.

The Ravens are depicted as over the hill and past their prime. The Steelers are portrayed as the team that would be king -- at least in the AFC -- and no matchup more clearly defines that contrast than the one between Tony Siragusa and Alan Faneca.

The Ravens suddenly seem like repeat material because everyone is treating the next game like it could be their last, but that's definitely the case for Siragusa, who last month announced he was calling it quits. There was skepticism that he would ever have a rookie season in the NFL, let alone 12, as Siragusa was undrafted out of Pitt, where his claim to fame was second-team All-East status.

Faneca? The Steelers made the New Orleans native and LSU standout their first-round pick in 1998. Midway through his rookie season, he was inserted into the lineup, and he had a string of 42 consecutive starts end in the regular season finale against the Cleveland Browns on Jan. 6, when he joined Jerome Bettis on the sideline and rested a sore shoulder.

Siragusa fancies himself a modern day Artie Donovan, the folk hero from the Colts' 1958 and '59 champions, and he could appear on anything from HBO's "The Sopranos" to ESPN's "Game Day" next autumn. The Steelers' postseason media guide includes no clippings on Faneca, but he got meaningful recognition when he was the only member of Pittsburgh's highly regarded offensive line named to next month's Pro Bowl.

"He made the Pro Bowl, did he?" Siragusa said. "I don't read the paper the way you guys do. I think their center [Jeff Hartings] is good, Faneca is good. Their whole offensive line is good, but we played a lot of good players during the year. I don't think they're any better or worse than any others we played.

"They're gonna put a bunch of big guys in there. They're going to do all their trick stuff. We're not worrying about that. We're going to play our base defense, man on man, not show them anything crazy. I'm sure they'll show us a bunch of stuff, try to get us moving all over the place."

The 6-foot-3, 340-pound Siragusa made his mark as a run stopper, and he's delighted to face a team that won't spread the field with wide receivers and limit his playing time. The 6-5, 300-pound Faneca has been a reliable force in the NFL's best rushing attack, as the Steelers averaged 173.4 yards on the ground this season, even with Bettis missing the last four games with a groin injury.

In October, Pittsburgh had three straight games with more than 200 yards rushing.

It's January now, and there are more serious forces at work. Siragusa spent his first seven years in Indianapolis, and the Colts were eliminated from the playoffs in Pittsburgh twice. He can get sentimental about his old college town, but Siragusa does not want to end his career there, or against Faneca.

"People are saying, `Brian Billick has never lost at Pittsburgh and we always win there and they always win here,' but you can take all that stuff and flush it down the toilet," Siragusa said. "Nobody wants it to end. I lost the two playoff games in Pittsburgh when I was in Indianapolis. I'm happy they blew that field [Three Rivers Stadium] up. Heinz Field, so far we're 1-0 there. I'm looking forward to going back and having some fun."

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