Offensive linemen generally toil in anonymity. For them, the less the public is talking about them, the better – if you’re in the headlines or being talked about on local radio, it’s probably because you’re not doing your job well.
But that has changed for Pittsburgh Steelers tackle Alejandro Villanueva.
Villanueva already had a modicum of fame thanks to a commercial with USAA, the financial services company for military members and their families. The 29-year-old is a West Point graduate and former Army Ranger who served three tours of duty in Afghanistan before returning to football (he played at Army) in 2014, signing first with the Philadelphia Eagles after a regional tryout and then with the Steelers.
He has played in 35 games over the past two-plus seasons with Pittsburgh, starting all three games so far this year.
On Saturday and Sunday, as NFL players discussed how to handle the callous remarks of President Donald Trump, who called players who protest during the national anthem “sons of bitches” and that they should be fired, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin told his players that they must be unified – either they would be in agreement of what to do on the field, or no one from the team would be on the field.
Since they couldn’t come to a consensus, Pittsburgh players and coaches were supposed to stay in the locker room, though it was later amended to the team’s tunnel near the Soldier Field turf because of timing.
As the rest of his teammates stood in the shadows, however, Villanueva was about 20 feet in front of them, his hand over his heart, during the playing of the anthem. His teammates were reportedly surprised that Villanueva stood by himself, as the edict was that the entire team was to show unity.
Regardless, Villanueva has become an overnight hero.
As noted by ESPN’s Darren Rovell, Villanueva’s No. 78 Steelers jersey is currently the sixth-best selling and searched jersey on NFLShop.com.
The jersey of Steelers lineman & veteran Alejandro Villanueva now listed as the 6th best selling jersey (also factors in search) on NFLShop. pic.twitter.com/VFTd0enG8D
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) September 25, 2017
He’s behind skill-position players Marshawn Lynch and Derek Carr of the Oakland Raiders, Carson Wentz of the Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay‘s Aaron Rodgers and custom Patriots jerseys.
It’s unclear how often an offensive lineman finds himself among the most popular jerseys, but we’d venture a guess that this is a rare occurrence.