PITTSBURGH — Alejandro Villanueva is driving NFL headlines for unintentionally standing alone, hand over heart, during Sunday’s national anthem while his team remained in the tunnel. Villanueva’s status as a former Army Ranger who toured in Afghanistan has been well-documented this week.
But in the Steelers’ locker room, he’s known as a “Big Al,” an affable 6-foot-9 left tackle who carpools to work.
Time for a new ride: Villanueva drives a brown Ford F-150 with tape around a dented bumper and the number 78 in tape on the rear window. Guard David DeCastro gets a ride to work most days and wonders when his buddy will get a new car. “I think it’s been stolen once,” DeCastro said. Villanueva estimates the car has about 140,000 miles on it.
Villanueva might have at least one other car, but he drives this one to work out of a sense of pride that fellow offensive linemen can freely mock. A new four-year, $24 million contract has not deterred him.
School of hard blocks: Villanueva had no plans on playing the 2017 season on a $615,000 exclusive rights tag, resulting in a new contract that he signed minutes before training camp started.
If necessary, the 29-year-old was willing to walk away from football, thanks to his fallback plan as a business student at Carnegie Mellon in downtown Pittsburgh. Villanueva is currently a part of CMU’s Tepper School of Business and is set to graduate soon.
School has deepened Villanueva’s approach to NFL business.
“Ninety-nine percent of these players, their only course of action to be successful is to play football. It’s very one-sided,” Villanueva said. “In the military, for example, you can’t do that. You put too much pressure on [someone] and they can go be cops or do something else to make more money and be more successful. That’s what’s happening in most corporate America [settings]. If you’ve applied to one job and all of a sudden that one job has a transformation or is unfavorable for a worker, he’s going to do something else. In the NFL, you can’t do that. We only have one National Football League. The rules of the National Football League are set in motion. But it is what it is. It’s a gravitational sort of problem. You can’t do anything about it. It’s something maybe I identified early on, that’s why I started my business degree. You try to have as many options as you can in life.”