Jon Runyan – 2007 Humanitarian Award-Winner
He plays the most physically demanding psort and plays it with a palpable mean streak. Opposing players who stand idly alongside a pile do so at their own peril. Runyan has picked off plenty of defensive players, most times legally.
Off the field is a different story. He exchanges the aggression for a gentleneess that belies his 6-7, 325-pound frame.
Runyan’s benevolence hasn’t touched everyone, just those who seem to need it most.
It was before he joined the NFL as a fourth-round selection of the HOuston Oilers in 1996 when Runyan discovered the uncanny connection fans draw to the athletes they admire.
“Back in college, we would go to the University of Michigan children’s hospital every Thursday,” he said. “The reaction you got from a kid after spending just five minutes with him – most of them had terminal cancer – to actually see them smile … it kind of made you think.”
Runyan hasn’t stopped thinking since. His charitable endeavors range from hosting golf tournaments that raise money for prostate cancer research to lending time, money and energy to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. His dedication has earned him the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association’s 2007 Humanitarian Award.
Runyan, 32, has started 194 consecutive games and has played in a pair of Super Bowls. He joined the Eagles as a free agent in 2000 and probably would have been selected to more than one Pro Bowl if he were a little more popular among opponents, who have a 33 percent voice in the selection process.
“He’s probably one of the meanest offensive tackles I’ve ever played with and to ever play the game of football,” said long-time Eagles teammate William (Tra) Thomas. “He starts fights with his own teammates. He plays with a chip on his shoulder, which you need to do in this game.”
That’s Runyan between the lines. When the pads come off, he can talk about the fans who still thank him for some 10-minute encounter five years ago. “Just a little bit of time goes a long way,” he said.
Runyan channeled one of the most disheartening moments of his life into yet another charitable effort.
When the Runyans welcomed their first child, Jon Jr., in 1997, it was a joy they were unable to share with his grandmother, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease.
“When my son was first born,” Runyan said, “we would take him to see my grandmother and 10 minutes later she’s like, ‘Whose baby is this?’ It was tough.”
Runyan now serves as an honorary chairman for the local Alzheimer’s Association and helps try to raise awareness for the disease that would take his grandmother’s life in June of 2007.
“I tell everybody,” he said. “All these charities and stuff, we’re all in this together.”
Reprinted from the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association’s collectible program from the 2008 dinner.