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Eagles' 6-7 Runyan is in the spotlight

PHILADELPHIA -- There were very few words and even fewer emotions. Then again, what do you expect from a mountain?

Especially when the mountain -- in this case, 6-foot-7-inch, 330-pound Jon Runyan -- is removed from his element and thrust into an uncomfortable environment. Runyan in the spotlight and out of the trenches? Mount Rushmore wouldn't be more out of place on the Las Vegas strip.

But the Super Bowl being the Super Bowl, media sessions are mandatory, so there was Runyan peering down from his seat on stage Thursday at the Philadelphia Eagles' training facility.

"This is not," said Runyan quietly but emphatically, "the funnest part of the year."

No, sir. The glitz and glamour, the TV cameras and the MTV hoopla that usher us into the Super Bowl? That's always been for guys like Deion Sanders, Warren Sapp, and Lyle Alzado. This year it will be embraced by Eagles such as Terrell Owens and Freddie Mitchell. They can have it. Runyan doesn't begrudge them a bit; it's just that he has business to prepare for, and his business is better off cared for with a quiet, workmanlike approach.

Runyan is an offensive lineman. Maybe one of the game's best. He plays right tackle with the ferocity of a caged tiger, game after game after game. So many, in fact, that Super Bowl XXXIX will represent the 144th consecutive game in which Runyan has slapped on miles of tape, donned the pads, and pulled on the chinstrap for a starting assignment.

Impressive?

Given the violent nature of his chosen profession, yes, but don't dare make a big deal out of it, lest Runyan freeze you with a stare. And do not ever query him about injuries, for to Runyan, they are as much a part of the game as the goalposts.

"I've played in the league nine years now," he said. "If you can't play hurt, you're not going to be around for very long. That's a big key. You just have to be able to do what you can do to make yourself feel better. Tape it up, brace it up, whatever you can do."

For the record, Runyan is banged up, and that led reporters more than a week ago to wonder whether he'd play in the NFC Championship game against Atlanta.

"There's no doubt," Runyan said, and indeed, he played his usual standout game, more than offsetting the talents of Falcons defensive end Patrick Kerney.

It was the latest highlight in a career filled with them, for Runyan has established himself as one of the league's finest. A fourth-round draft pick out of Michigan in 1996, Runyan saw action in 10 games for the Houston Oilers that year, mostly as a backup.

Consider him a quick learner, because Runyan's time on the sidelines since the 1997 season has only been with the defense on the field. He's started every game, and his style of play never has wavered.

"He's going to maul you and beat you up, and feel pretty good about doing it," said Eagles coach Andy Reid.

Runyan's four-year stay with the Oilers/Titans came to a close following the 1999 season and the Super Bowl, in which Tennessee wide receiver Kevin Dyson was tackled just short of the goal line as time ran out. Instead of a dramatic victory, the Titans were closed out in heartbreaking fashion by the Rams, 23-16, but if you think Runyan holds on to precious memories of that game, forget it.

Having lost the game every football player wants to win, Runyan will tell you that the week in Atlanta left a sour taste in his mouth. If his teammates seek his advice as to what to expect in Jacksonville, Runyan said it would be simple.

"Don't plan on having any time to yourself, that's the biggest thing," he said. "In between having to travel back and forth to practice all the time and the media obligations in the morning, there's not a lot of time to relax or do anything till late in the evening, when you can do things with your family."

Then he paused and thought for a second, as if thoughts of Super Bowl week haunt him. "Then you want to tend to stay away from [your family] because they are just as big a fan as everybody else out there," he said.

Most certainly, the week ahead features too many distractions for Runyan's liking, but Philadelphia coaches shrug off any fears. There's no doubt what the Eagles will get from their premier offensive lineman.

"He's the classic warrior," said offensive coordinator Brad Childress. "There was no way in a playoff game, the NFC Championship game, that he was going to sit on the sideline -- short of having his leg cut off."

It's that sort of no-nonsense, unassuming grit that sent Reid and the Eagles chasing after Runyan following that 1999 season. A free agent, Runyan signed on with the Eagles for 2000 and has been nothing short of the anchor to a front line that has allowed the offense to flourish for five seasons.

Just don't think for a minute that Runyan expects any of the spotlight. True to his offensive lineman's code of responsibility, he said, "Donovan [McNabb] is what makes the whole thing go. If he's not playing well, then no one is playing well because he is the guy who distributes [the ball] to all the other guys. It's really up to us up front to keep him clean."

Begrudgingly, Runyan will recognize that he's had a hand in establishing some terrific running attacks. In Tennessee, Eddie George flourished with Runyan leading the way. In Philadelphia, there were good years for Duce Staley and Correll Buckhalter, and memorable was the game in 2000 when the Eagles rushed for an astounding 300 yards.

TV analysts John Madden and Howie Long both have cited Runyan on their end-of-year all-star teams, and the native of Flint, Mich., will line up for his 16th playoff game next Sunday. Of active players, he's No. 1 on that list. Noteworthy stuff, all of it, but Runyan shrugs it off.

The only time he gets annoyed is when it is suggested that the Eagles couldn't handle the physical aspect of the game in a 27-3 loss to Pittsburgh in early November.

"I don't think the physical thing of the 3-4 defense was the problem," said Runyan. "If you're out there and you're trying to guess and you're wondering where you're at, it's going to look like you're out-physicaled. It's all about knowing where you're supposed to be."

In that respect, Runyan thinks the two-week leadup to the Super Bowl is a benefit to his club. He knows that Reid has an 8-0 record in games after the team has had a bye.

"I think if you just look at his preparation," said Runyan, "if you have two weeks to do it and you see somebody making a mistake once or twice in practice, you have another week to correct that."

Another week off to make corrections? Runyan is OK with that. It's having another week off to face media questions that makes him growl.

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