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Jon Runyan: The Enforcer

Signed by the Eagles in 2000, Runyan proved to be one of the most important free agent acquisitions in franchise history. He will enter the Eagles Hall of Fame on Thursday alongside Tra Thomas.

By Chris McPherson

Jon Runyan understands why you might think his current job is a little bit ironic. Runyan is the NFL's Vice President of Policy and Rules Administration. He works closely with former Eagles teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Troy Vincent, the Executive Vice President of Football Operations for the league. Runyan oversees club and game-related initiatives related to players. He serves as Commissioner Roger Goodell's designee for on-field uniform and discipline infractions as agreed upon by the NFL and players' union.

He was certainly an enforcer on the field, dishing out punishing blocks during his tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles from 2000-08. Over those nine years, he suited up for all 144 regular-season and 17 postseason games. Yes, Runyan didn't miss a single contest in Midnight Green. No matter who lined up at every other position, the Eagles could rely on the mammoth 6-foot-7, 330-pound Runyan holding down the right tackle spot.

"Back then, you did what you had to do to get out there and perform," said Runyan, who played through a significant knee injury in the 2004 run to the Super Bowl and a fractured tailbone in the 2008 playoffs that ended with a trip to the NFC Championship Game. "You can be banged up and hurt and all that, but you know that the second that ball is snapped, the four seconds or so of that play, if you're locked in, you don't feel all of those sprained ankles, those knee ligaments. As soon as that play is over, you're walking back to the huddle and it hurts, but it's that mental approach you take to say, I can turn this off and get this done and help this team win games."

Runyan epitomized the City of Philadelphia. His toughness and resiliency are rewarded as the former Pro Bowl tackle will join his bookend mate Tra Thomas on Thursday night in the Eagles Hall of Fame. The two will be inducted together, fittingly enough, when the Eagles host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"It's something you never really think about when you're playing," Runyan said. "It's one of those things when you're an old man talking to your kids, someday talking to your grandkids about all this kind of stuff. It's a real great honor. It makes you feel good that you're still respected for what you did on the field out there."

The fact that Runyan and Thomas are going in together makes the moment that much more special for Runyan.

"Out of all those different offensive line lineups we had, we were the two that were consistent," Runyan said. "It's awesome to go in with him. There was a lot of change in between us and outside of us, but to be able to be those bookends that everybody calls us, to have that continuity there, it was awesome. Tra's a brother, man. I love the guy to death. It's awesome that we're going to be able to share the field here."

Born in Flint, Michigan, Runyan didn't start playing football until his junior year of high school, but loved watching the offensive lines at the University of Michigan bully defenders out of the way. He earned a scholarship to play there under Offensive Line Coach Les Miles, who later won a National Championship as the head coach at LSU. Runyan learned that as much as football is a physical game, it's a mental one as well. If he had an opponent who was quicker off the ball than he was, Runyan found ways to get in the defender's head.

"Some people call it dirty. You walk the line, but it's getting chippy with people, getting physical with people to get in their head. That was kind of my advantage," Runyan said.

If Runyan's pesky antics irritated an opponent enough to spark a shoving match or draw a penalty flag, Runyan knew he won the mental battle.

Runyan was a fourth-round draft pick of the Houston Oilers in 1996. The franchise was in transition, moving from Houston to Nashville during his four years there, but Head Coach Jeff Fisher instilled a winning program that landed the Tennessee Titans 1 yard short of tying the St. Louis Rams in the Super Bowl following the 1999 season.

A three-year starter in Tennessee, Runyan hit the free agent market in 2000. He knew the Titans didn't have the cap space to offer him a quality long-term deal. Enter the Philadelphia Eagles. Andy Reid just finished his first year as the head coach. Reid, a former offensive lineman in college, knew the importance of building the team through the trenches, especially while helping develop a young and talented quarterback in Donovan McNabb, the No. 2 overall pick the previous year. The Eagles saw Runyan as a potential franchise cornerstone. Adding someone with Runyan's experience and character could serve as a turning point for the team.

That doesn't mean Tennessee was going to let him go without a fight.

As the Eagles and Runyan finalized the contract negotiations, Runyan was sitting in Reid's office. Carol Wilson, the Eagles' longtime coaches' assistant, said that Fisher, who happened to be a former Eagles assistant coach, was on the phone. Reid handed the phone over to Runyan, but not before saying that the offensive tackle wasn't leaving Philadelphia without a deal.

Reid was right. Runyan and the Eagles agreed to the largest contract for an offensive lineman in NFL history at the time. Runyan immediately went to work to help transform the culture of a locker room that endured three straight losing seasons.

"If you're technically sound and disciplined in your assignments, I don't care what your talent level is, you're going to have a competitive football team," Runyan said.

The Eagles won 11 games in Runyan's first season with the team and reached the Divisional Round of the playoffs after beating Tampa Bay in the Wild Card Round. In 2001, the Eagles kicked off a streak of four consecutive NFC Championship Game appearances culminating with the franchise's second-ever trip to the Super Bowl. The Eagles reached the playoffs two more times and in Runyan's final season with the team reached the NFC title game for a fifth time. As much as Runyan's rivals loathed his playing style, his play was too good to be ignored. Runyan was honored with a Pro Bowl nomination following the 2002 campaign. In fact, Runyan's toughest rival, Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, made sure to include the tackle during his induction speech into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"You made me a student of the game, man. When you went to the Eagles from Tennessee, it made me mad because I felt like they brought you to stop me. It really bothered me. You made me a student to study my opponent, to learn my opponent better than they knew themselves. And even though everybody thinks that I had so many battles against you and I was winning and everything – well, I was – but you, you won quite a bit of battles, man," Strahan said to the packed crowd.

"You were the toughest guy I ever had to face on a consistent basis. You made me a much better football player. And after watching these films and you don't play anymore, your right foot gave away everything you were going to do. But I love you, Jon Runyan."

"It was an honor for him to say that in his hour of glory," Runyan said.

On Thursday night, Runyan gets his due as he enters the Philadelphia Eagles Hall of Fame.

Read this feature and more in the latest issue of Gameday Magazine.

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