A long awaited knock: For five years, Alan Faneca went to the Super Bowl as a Hall of Fame finalist, waiting anxiously in a hotel room for the 'knock on the door.'
This year, in his sixth year as a finalist, that knock finally came.
But it wasn't in a hotel room in Tampa. It was at his home in Virginia.
Because of all of the changes to the NFL Honors show due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hall of Fame President David Baker made the rounds to the Class of 2021 at their homes, knocking on the front door instead of the hotel room door.
For Faneca, it was a moment worth waiting for.
"Being surprised is definitely better than waiting in the hotel room for sure. It was great," said Faneca, whose wife Julie was the only one who knew the knock was coming. "It was with my family. I had family around, more than I normally have in the past. They got me. It was a complete surprise.
"I saw the boom mic, just a little piece of it, when David started knocking on the door. I was like, 'oh man they got me, here we go.'"
Hall of Fame selectors held their annual vote on Jan. 19 virtually, well ahead of when they normally would have done it, which has historically been in person the day before the Super Bowl. And with the votes in, Baker and company started to make their visits to deliver the news, and the newest class of Hall of Famers were sworn to secrecy, something that wasn't easy.
"Keeping track of lies, what lie did I tell this person," said Faneca of trying to keep it a secret. "When I tell somebody something, if they are smart maybe they can figure something out, but I don't know if they are going to go that route. A lot of tiptoeing."
Faneca even kept it a secret from his aunt and uncle, Marianne and Mike Crochet, who live in Tampa and he and Julie went to visit to watch the NFL Honors show with. Faneca didn't come clean with them until just a short time before the announcement.
"I hadn't told them yet," said Faneca. "I was going to tell them right before it was announced. Julie was like, let's do it now. I was making a little toast and thanking them for having me. I said no matter what happens later it doesn't matter because I am already in. Everybody did a double take and then started jumping up and down. It was fun to share it with some family. It was a great night."
There was one person he did give a little heads up to, but that wasn't until Friday, the night before the announcement. He called Steelers President Art Rooney II.
"It was a nice moment," said Rooney. "It was kind of cool to hear it directly from him as opposed to somebody else giving me that news. It's the first time it ever happened to be honest with you."
Even though he has known for a few weeks, it's still something that is surreal for Faneca.
"My brother-in-law put it best, it's immortality," said Faneca. "It's strange to even throw it out there, say it. Immortality. Like David says, that bust will be there for 40,000 years. My grandkids, grandkids, grandkids are going to go see that and be able to go check that out. It's unfathomable. I can't imagine it, but it's going to happen. It's an awesome feat. It's still hard to wrap your hands around it."
Just the fact that his kids will be able to see if and enjoy it is special to Faneca. Every year he has been a Hall of Fame finalist, until this year because of the pandemic, the Fanecas took their three kids with them to the Super Bowl to await the news. While the wait was tough, now that they are old enough to understand it means even more.
"With the amazing technology we have with our phones these days they are always popping up memories," said Faneca. "We are getting all of these memories and photos popping up from our trips to the Super Bowl. We have been bringing the kids and to see them grow up through the pictures. The first one was in San Francisco. My oldest (Anabelle) was nine at the time and the others were really little. They appreciate understanding so much more now. It's awesome to share that with them, instead of having to tell them the story. It's not the greatest to have to wait, but they get to enjoy it."
They aren't the only ones enjoying it. Faneca is definitely enjoying the moment, especially hearing from so many people since the announcement was made.
"It's amazing," said Faneca. "I probably still have 70 texts to reply to that I haven't gotten to. It's amazing. I love hearing from friends and family like that, guys you haven't talked to in a while. You realize everybody has a little invested in you and I know when we went to Jerome (Bettis) getting enshrined, all of us out there in the stadium felt like a little small piece of us was up there with Jerome because we all felt like we helped him out a little bit and helped him in that journey. It's on the other shoe now. I am getting to feel that love and it's amazing."
(Steelers Nation Unite members will have the chance to ask Alan Faneca a question during a special Hall of Fame edition of the SNU Huddle on Thursday, Feb. 11 at 12 noon (ET). To learn more on how you can participate,click here >>> )
(Steelers fans can see the entire video of Alan Faneca being notified in person of making the Hall of Fame when NFL Network airs the Hall of Fame Knocks on Feb. 11 from 8-8:30 p.m.)
Taking the call: While Alan Faneca received his news in person, Lynell Nunn found out that her late father, Bill Nunn Jr., made it to the Hall of Fame in a different manner.
She received the news via a Zoom call, one where they had to twist her arm a bit and maybe just stretch the truth to get her on there, but she eventually gave in.
"Because of COVID and because my dad wasn't actually here, they tried something a little bit different," said Nunn. "They called and said there was a reporter from Canton that needed to speak to me on a Zoom call. I said, 'Sure, it would be nice if we could do it just on my phone, but I could probably work it out.' And they said, 'Yeah, this guy wants to do it by Zoom.' So, I get on the phone and the guy sitting there is (the guy) who I had spoken with over the summer when my dad was a finalist. He said, 'Obviously, I'm not the reporter from the Canton paper but I'm pleased to tell you….' They tried to do their own little surprise. And it was. It really was a surprise so that was nice."
'The guy' on the Zoom call was Hall of Fame President David Baker, who gave Nunn the news their family had hoped would come some day to honor the man who did so much for the game of football and for players from Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
"I can't even tell you how excited we were," said Nunn. "It's been over six years since my dad passed away, but it feels like yesterday. And when we got the first news in August that he was a finalist, that was just mindboggling. Last night really made it come to life and we are so honored and pleased. He has three grandchildren and one great grandchild and one great grandchild on the way, so we couldn't be happier.
"Last night just did it for us, put the cherry on the cake so to speak. National TV and the spotlight, knowing that the spotlight was on him just made us all so very, very happy. I will tell you what, one of the other things that just made me tear up and want to celebrate are the articles that are on Steelers.com a couple days ago and then last night. The Steelers have just done so much for my dad and for this family and for the community. I'm just so happy for us also because they work really hard to make sure that my dad was recognized, and they always supported him and trusted him. It just meant everything to know it finally happened that everyone knows what we have always known."
Nunn, the legendary scout who served in multiple roles in the Steelers personnel department beginning in 1967 in a part-time role, and then in a full-time role from 1969-2014, was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a Contributor as part of the Class of 2021. Nunn becomes the first Black Contributor in the 100-year history of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, something that isn't lost on anybody as he was a trailblazer in the league, opening doors for Black players.
"That would have meant everything to him," said Nunn. "It always was instilled in us looking for diversity, appreciating diversity, trying to change things for the better. To be the first African American contributor in the Hall of Fame is just a wonderful honor. Before when he was at the (Pittsburgh) Courier, my grandfather (Bill Nunn Sr.) was managing editor. He instilled in my dad his values and my dad instilled it in us that diversity mattered, giving everybody a chance. And he instilled in the people that he scouted and the players that ended up with the Steelers that the Rooneys would always give them a chance. Dan (Rooney) and 'The Chief' (Art Rooney Sr.) gave my dad a chance. It was just that fact for him to be the first African American, I know would have been very, very meaningful to him as it is to all of us."
Since the announcement on Saturday night during the NFL Honors show, Nunn said she has received a lot of messages and love from friends. But she admits, it still hasn't all sunk in.
"I think Canton is really going to be where it sinks in," said Nunn. "Being focused upon on National TV didn't hurt either. Last night was just wonderful. I've had a lot of outreach. I woke up this morning to one of the Hall of Fame selectors asking me to be on his Sirius Radio show, so that was fun. People from all over the country, friends and relatives have been reaching out and it is just so exciting.
"I wish he had been here to let it sink in for him, but I know he knows."
Forever linked: Canton, Ohio will be wrapped in black and gold next August as it won't just be Faneca and Nunn who will be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Bill Cowher, Troy Polamalu and Donnie Shell will also be inducted as a part of the Class of 2020, who had their enshrinement delayed because of the pandemic.
It will be a special combination, as Shell came to the Steelers thanks to Nunn opening the door for players like him from HBCUs. Shell went to South Carolina State and was signed as an undrafted rookie free agent after Nunn assured Shell that Chuck Noll would give him an opportunity.
"I know it will be special for Donnie because he understands what Bill meant to him getting into the League and getting to the Steelers and so it really is great that they are going to go in together," said Steelers President Art Rooney II. "It is great because in a way Donnie can speak for Bill. It is unfortunate that Bill won't be able to be there, but it will be special for Bill's family and certainly Donnie will be one of the people that can speak for him. That part makes it really special."
What would have made it even more special, and is bittersweet for Rooney, is that his father, Dan Rooney Sr., won't see Nunn be enshrined. Dan Rooney Sr. was a key figure in Nunn joining the Steelers, and the two didn't just work together for years, they had a relationship that went beyond the game.
"He would be very proud," said Rooney of how his father would feel about Nunn's election to the Hall of Fame. "I did think of that this morning, about it is too bad that both my dad and Bill aren't going to be here to enjoy this because it would have been a special time for the two of them, that is for sure. Unfortunately, that is life and we will celebrate for them and I'm sure they will have a front row seat watching Canton in August this summer."