With just five victories, Andy Reid did not enjoy much success during his first season as Philadelphia’s head coach in 1999. That, however, wasn’t the case once the free agency period opened in 2000. The Eagles used money budgeted for candy, flowers and cards to sign four-year veteran offensive tackle Jon Runyan on Valentine’s Day.
Fresh from playing in Super Bowl XXXIV with the Tennessee Titans just 15 days earlier, Runyan, who had earned second-team All-Pro honors from the Associated Press and Football Digest, quickly became a leader on his new team as well as a fixture on the right side of the line.
“It was a fresh beginning, an opportunity, and frankly, I think if you go back and look at the (salary) cap room that was out there at that time, they were the only ones with any,” said Runyan. “The biggest thing when you’re bringing in the new coaches was buying into the system. I think that’s a big reason why Andy wanted me there because he knew about my work ethic.
“So you were naturally going to fit into that role (of a team leader). The bigger part is how you fit in with the rest of the guys, obviously still having a core group of people that were left over from the Ray Rhodes era.”
One wouldn’t have to be named Wapner to judge that Runyan fit in just fine. In his first game, the season opener in Dallas, he helped lead the way for Philadelphia to record its first 300-yard rushing game (201 by running back Duce Staley) in nearly 10 years, and beat the division rivals, 41-14.
Former tackle Jon Runyan will be a keynote speaker at the Eagles Academy for Men on Saturday, April 26. Limited tickets are still available!
With a 59-21 regular-season record during Runyan’s first five years with the Eagles, winning almost became commonplace. The Eagles made the playoffs in each of those five seasons with a string of four straight division championships and a trip to Super Bowl XXXIX after winning the NFC title in 2004. It was the second time in six seasons that Runyan played for the world title.
“Both of the Super Bowls I played in I probably was dealing with two of the worst injuries I had in my career. So that didn’t make them any easier,” said Runyan, who played against the Patriots with a second-degree MCL sprain of his right knee. “I think the second time around it was a little easier as you knew what to expect with the week, but it was also more frustrating.
“By the time you hit Wednesday or Thursday, you’re just ready to play the game and get the circus around you over with. It is all about the hype of the game at the end of the day, but all you’re there to do is execute on gameday. That’s the battle you have day in and day out throughout even the regular season, the distractions. And there you are in the biggest game of your career with piles and piles of them all around you every day.”
Voted as the Offensive MVP by his teammates in 2005 and to the Eagles' 75th Anniversary Team by the fans in 2007, Runyan played in the league for 14 seasons, nine with the Eagles, and was often said to have a feisty on-field temperament. A being ticked off that your wallet, car and pet dog were stolen in the same afternoon-type of feisty.
“I wasn’t personally mad at anybody. It was just you see the other color, you lay it out,” Runyan said with a laugh. “It’s complicated when you get past that fact of it. There’s a lot of technique and a lot of analysis that goes into getting to that point. But I wouldn’t call it playing with anger. I’d call it playing with intensity.
“That is truly the difference I think you see in the league now, that intensity has backed way off. The game changed while I was in it and you see change on a daily basis.”
Day in and day out, game in and game out, Runyan came to work. That’s evidenced by his streak of 144 consecutive starts as an Eagle.
“My proudest thing I walked away with is the respect of the Philly fans. That is something a lot of people have a hard time grasping. That’s not that complicated. You go out and give everything you have; you’re going to have it," he said. "That kind of respect that you get from just being yourself and doing what you do, and not trying to impress anybody, just go out and go to work, that made all that worth it."
Runyan still goes to work every day. However, his career path has taken him from the huddle to the House.
A Congressman, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in November 2010 to represent New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District, which is located in central New Jersey and stretches from the Pennsylvania border to the New Jersey coastline.
“I think my generation will be the first to hand over the country in worse shape than we found it,” said Runyan. “And being involved as I was with the community, this is an opportunity where I can take that to a bigger scale and really try to bend the curve a little bit if you will to get us headed in the right direction.
“The best thing about this is truly being able to ... I see the frustration in people every day about what’s going on, and the lack of information, and how partisan everything gets. But to be able to sit down and educate people, and inform them about the facts of the situation, and allow them to develop their own opinion is huge. It’s a unique opportunity to have.”
As rewarding as Runyan’s position is, it does come with a consequence – having to spend time away from his wife, Loretta; and three children; Isabella, Alyssa and Jon, Jr. That is partially why Runyan announced that he will not seek re-election in 2014.
"I was reminded of a promise I made to myself while still playing football, that once I retired, I would be there for my kids. It became clear to me that there was no way I could do both," Runyan wrote in a first-person essay for Politico.com. "I came to Washington to serve my constituents, and I gave it my all. I’m grateful for the trust that my constituents in the 3rd District placed in me, and the opportunity they gave me to serve. Now it’s time for me to take my place on the sidelines."