The 1999 season didn’t turn out as the Eagles, their rookie head coach Andy Reid, or their fans would have hoped. Wins were scarce. But when free agency began in 2000, Philadelphia claimed a big victory when it added veteran tackle Jon Runyan to the roster.
Having played in Super Bowl XXXIV for the Tennessee Titans just 15 days earlier, he signed a contract and became a team leader basically before the ink dried.
“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,” Runyan says. “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.”
Not only would Runyan fit in with the group from Rhodes’ era. He would have fit in with Buck Shaw’s group of players who won the 1960 NFL Championship, as well.
Runyan epitomized being a football player regardless of when the game was played.
The Eagles made the playoffs in each of Runyan’s first five seasons with the team, including a string of four consecutive division championships, and a berth in Super Bowl XXXIX after winning the NFC Championship in 2004. It was the second time in six seasons that he played for the Lombardi Trophy.
“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,” says Runyan, who played against the New England 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.”
With the Eagles for nine seasons from 2000-08, Runyan was a Pro Bowl selection in 2002 and voted as the Offensive MVP by his teammates in 2005.
“Sometimes I discount that because I can remember standing in the huddle one day and looking at the players with me, and I’m like, ‘I’ve played more games than the other 10 people in this huddle combined,’” Runyan laughed. “I have it in the trophy case in my house and people look at it and say, ‘You were MVP?’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I was the last man standing. If you go back and look at the I.R. (Injured Reserve) list for that year, it was quite extensive.’”
While that may be true, it’s also true that Runyan played through injuries, evidenced by his streak of 144 consecutive starts for Philadelphia. That didn’t go unnoticed by the fans who voted for him to be on the Eagles’ 75th Anniversary Team in 2007.
“I always tell people this: You know the persona that Philly fans have, there’s fans like that everywhere, the rowdy, crazy fans that are into it all the time. The difference with Philadelphia is that everybody’s like that. So that’s really what sets them apart and that’s awesome.” Runyan says.
“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. That kind of respect that you get from that, 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.”
After his playing career, Runyan was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District, serving from 2011-2015. In 2016, he was named as the NFL’s vice president of policy and rules administration.
“I went through a transitional year where I spent nine months at (SportsRadio 94) WIP. Did that, enjoyed that because it’s still around the game,” Runyan says. “But an opportunity to go to the league office and being right in the middle of the game instead of actually kind of taking educated guesses and then just complaining all the time and now here actually having an influence on the stuff, it’s more enjoyable.”
In his role with the NFL, Runyan oversees club and game-related initiatives related to players and serves as Commissioner Roger Goodell’s designee for on-field discipline. He also works with groups including the Competition Committee and Player Safety Advisory Panel.
“I’m on the player safety advisory panel with Coach (John) Madden and (Hall of Fame safety) Ronnie Lott. We’re the chairs. There’s a lot of input, but you’ve got to make all that work within the confines of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, what you’re allowed and not allowed to do,” Runyan says. “You take that sentiment over to the Competition Committee, possibly to actually influence rule changes. It’s much like the legislative process that I came out of four years ago. You take all that information and if you have to process legislation or policy around it, you’ve got to have all the stakeholders at the table to get the input.”
What does Runyan enjoy most about what he’s doing?
“The biggest thing about it is it’s the game I love, the game I know. To be able to be around it every day, obviously on a different side of it, still, I watch as much tape now as I did when I was a player,” Runyan said with a laugh. “I watch it differently, but I’m still watching it. It’s fun to still be around the game and still have an impact on it. Especially with my son playing at the University of Michigan. The goal is to leave the thing better than when you found it.”
Jon Jr. is a graduate student at Michigan as well as a first-team Big Ten offensive lineman. The Runyans are the first father-son duo to earn Michigan’s offensive lineman of the year award. Runyan and his wife, Loretta, also have two daughters. Alyssa, a sophomore at Purdue, and Bella, a high school senior, who has already committed to play basketball at Villanova.