When D'Brickashaw Ferguson first found out Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca was headed to New York in 2008 after inking a $40-million deal, he knew exactly what he had to do.
"I was like, 'Man, I’ve got to step my game up, man. I can’t have this All-Pro guard and me not bring something to the table as well,' " Ferguson told me yesterday. "So from that standpoint, it was a lot of motivation."
Faneca, who had two solid seasons with the Jets before getting unceremoniously dumped in a cost-cutting gesture after last year's draft, retired last month at age 34 following his one season with the Cardinals. The nine-time All-Pro who made a name for himself with the Steelers felt he had enough, preferring to call it a career and spend more time with his family.
"When he retired, I definitely gave him a shout and was like, 'So is it so? Is it true? The great Alan is retiring? Aw, man.' But yeah, he did. Hopefully there will be a little retirement party or something for him. But it's crazy."
Ferguson credited the nine-time Pro Bowler for being a mentor and helping hone his skills. Without Faneca's aid, Ferguson doesn't think he would've developed into one of the NFL's top left tackles so soon.
"I had to really heighten my game and listen to what he was saying for us to flow well [together]," Ferguson said. "He was on the Steelers for a number of years – his whole career [til then] – and so that chemistry, he was used to having that and I had to make sure that was going to be sustained.
"Our working relationship was awesome. He has an awesome family and the lineman are such a tight-knit group. We would go out often and it was really beneficial. But he definitely brought something and the league is even better for having a player like him."
Indeed, Faneca, a noted run-blocking specialist who helped pave the way for a pair of Thomas Jones' 1,000-yard seasons, was a rare breed and Ferguson couldn't stop lauding the 13-year veteran.
"I definitely have a lot of respect for Al, and he’s definitely one of the hardest working guys I’ve seen, and it’s like the legend," Ferguson said. "To me, as an offensive lineman, you don't see guys like him too often. Even later in his career -- the work ethic, his attention to detail, all that he did to make sure that his performance was at the top level."
"You recognize that another chapter has been finished," he added, "and now it’s somebody’s time to step up and fill that spot metaphorically speaking because he definitely was a great asset to the league."