TEMPE, Ariz. -- Alan Faneca will complete his 13th NFL season on Sunday, lining up at left guard for the Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco in his 144th consecutive start.
At 34, he knows it is time to consider retiring from the game, but says he isn't sure he can resist the lure of another season.
"I've had a lot of conversations with my wife," he said Thursday after practice and a long soak in the cold tub, "and it's a hard game to really even talk about or think about stepping away from when you've been playing it since fourth grade."
The 6-foot-5, 316-pound lineman spent his first decade in the NFL with Pittsburgh, then signed a five-year, $40 million deal -- $21 million guaranteed -- with the New York Jets in 2008. Despite making his ninth consecutive Pro Bowl in 2009, Faneca was released by the Jets on April 25. Three days later, he signed a one-year contract with Arizona, reuniting with his Steelers offensive line coach, Russ Grimm.
"Alan has always been and always will be the ultimate pro," Whisenhunt said. "He's a very good leader, he's a hard worker, he's very professional about what he does. The guys gravitate toward him. You can't have enough of those guys on your team."
Of course, the Cardinals knew they were getting a player past his prime, and many who watched Faneca in training camp thought the signing was a mistake.
"Is he the same player he was 10 years ago? No, he's not," Whisenhunt said. "But is he still a good player? I think he is. I think there were a lot of judgments about Alan early, based on individual drills that you saw in training camp or based on training camp practices, but if you look at his season as a whole, I think he did a good job for us."
Faneca's Pro Bowl string came to an end, although he was chosen an NFC alternate.
"I'm still doing good things out there," he said. "It's fun, but you know sometimes, once you get to a point in this career, you've got family, you've got your health. There's a lot more things involved besides just going out there and playing the game."
Faneca, the Steelers' first-round draft pick out of LSU in 1998, has played in 205 NFL games. His string of 143 consecutive starts is the longest active streak for a guard and third longest for any offensive lineman, behind Kansas City center Casey Wiegmann (158) and Detroit tackle Jeff Backus (159).
The players who line up next to Faneca, tackle Levi Brown and center Lyle Sendlein, say they have learned from the experience.
"He definitely helped me out a lot," Brown said. "He has a lot more experience than I do, so little things, as far as like influencing people to go certain ways on blocks, things like that to make it easier."
Sendlein said he is "just trying to learn from the guy."
"Thirteen years," Sendlein added, "he's doing something right."
The players marvel at the length of Faneca's career.
"Thirteen years in this league is very special, at any position," Brown said. "That's an incredible feat."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press