On Friday, Shutdown Corner spoke with former Philadelphia Eagles Pro Bowler and newly elected Congressman from New Jersey, Jon Runyan(notes), about making the change from football to politics, whether he still watches football and that famous play where Brian Westbrook(notes) fell before the end zone.
Shutdown Corner: Congressman-elect Jon Runyan. How does it feel to hear those words?
Jon Runyan: It's something that's going to have to grow on me, I think. And it's going to change in a little bit [when he becomes Congressman after he's sworn in] so I'll focus on getting to work and helping move the country in the right direction.
SC: Last year you played five games for the Chargers and before that you had a long career in Philadelphia. How did you make the transformation from the NFL to running for Congress?
JR: I think I threw my hat into the ring after the November elections last year and it really didn't take me that long to do it. I told Bill Layton, who's the county chairman in Burlington County, he's the one who spearheaded the effort to get me to do this. I told him that if there was one more shot to make a Super Bowl run that I was going to take advantage of it. And I was rehabbing my knee at the time and ultimately San Diego, through an injury, called me the weekend before Thanksgiving. They called me on Monday night, by Tuesday I was on a plane to San Diego. Having already committed to taking the congressional race and being 3,000 miles away while doing it was definitely a challenge in itself, but that's kind of how the whole process went down. It was a lot of effort and a lot of work on my part, especially dealing with the different time zones and trying to do it from afar and also not having any experience. It made it all the more difficult, but it was something I committed to and something I intended to follow through with.
SC: At what point in your career did you start to get political aspirations?
JR: It's been in the back of my head for five or six years, but more on the local level to get involved and try to create a better environment for my children and grandchildren. Because, quite frankly, a lot of newcomers into the political arena agree that there's a path we're headed down that's not sustainable and you're not going to be able to leave a better place to your children. And personally, that's why I think a lot of people, and myself, got involved because we wanted to change that direction. I had been thinking about it locally and the opportunity just presented itself.
SC: You talked about change and we're on the cusp of it now after the historic takeover of the House by the Republicans. What sort of changes do you want to see in Washington and what do you feel your role will be in making them?
JR: The biggest change we have to tackle that's out there is that we're digging the hole deeper and deeper and spending is totally out of control. And that's something that, quite frankly, is affecting future generations. You're giving a lot of debt to them and you can't keep doing it. It's not helping anybody. I think everyone is on board with the fact that we have to tackle that, but a lot of my efforts focus on really sifting through that stuff. You talk about waste, you talk about fraud, you talk about frivolous spending, you have to act like it's your money. Unfortunately the way Congress has been run, they're spending like it's not real. And ultimately it's going to be about getting a balanced budget and having the government being a role model on how to run your fiscal house. That's where you have to move to. It has to happen because we can't sustain what we're doing.
SC: You've had some good past history in Washington. I looked it up this morning and saw the you and the Eagles were 7-2 against the Redskins when playing in D.C.. You have a little home-cooking there.
JR: And I'm pretty sure our home record against Washington was 2-7, we traded off a lot of time. That's good to hear that one, but just don't bring up the other side of it (laughs).
SC: In an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, every Eagles player that was interviewed said they weren't surprised by your career change and knew you could be a good politician. A lot of them, however, said they were surprised you took on such a public role because you were a very quiet guy in the locker room. Were you a "walk softly and carry a big stick" type of player or one who chose his words carefully?
JR: I think it's more of speaking when something needs to be done. Again, you look at it, it's about focus and getting a job done. Talking to people is part of it, but ultimately when you want results, that's usually when I come out. This is what needs to be done, and this is how it should be done. When you look at my campaign, I don't go around sugarcoating things. I tell you how I feel and how we're going to solve it. That's my unique personality and that's how I carry myself. It is different from most people, but when something comes out of your mouth, people tend to listen more. Because you have something to say and you're passionate about it and you believe it and you're not just talking for the sake of talking.
JR: I think the whole rationale right there is common sense. When you talk about that play and know the mathematics at the end of the game, if you have a first down with two minutes on the clock and the other team doesn't have any timeouts, the game's over. There's no reason to give the ball back to them. We had been in that situation years before in Buffalo and ended up scoring too fast and Buffalo came down the field and kicked a field goal real quick and we had to worry about the onside kick. To learn from that is common sense, just to know that in the situation, mathematically, you don't have to give the ball back. It's over. But you have to be able to recall that. It takes a lot of stress out of it. It's simple and fundamental. Now, I get ribbing all the time from the fantasy sports world -- "you really hurt my standings that year because I could have used the extra points" -- but ultimately, in the end, it's about wins and losses. It was awesome that Brian did it -- he got all his yards, except that last one and the touchdown. He was being very un-selfish in realizing that the game was over and we didn't need to put pressure on anyone else. It comes down to common sense and that's what lacks on a lot of issues in Washington D.C. [Note: I believe the Congressman-elect was talking about politics, but that statement could just as easily apply to anything Mike Shanahan has done in the past five days.]
SC: Recently, the biggest news in the NFL has been about the prevention of illegal, dangerous hits. In the past, Congress has stepped in to legislate things in sports like steroids in baseball and the BCS. Do you see the hits as something that should be brought to Congress or should the NFL keep it in-house?
JR: I think the NFL is doing a very good job of this. It is a violent sport and I think as guys get faster and faster and bigger and bigger, the collisions do too. They're doing what they think is needed. They are the experts on it, it's their business. Who in Congress besides myself and Heath Shuler would know anything about it? Leave it to the experts and let them deal with it. They have committees on player safety and they have meetings constantly about that, in avoiding those catastrophic injuries and concussions. The NFL is leading the way on it, because all the research that's being done of the professional level filters down to youth programs, high schools and colleges. I believe in letting the private sector deal with it because they truly are the experts and they usually get it done a lot better than the Congress would.
SC: You mentioned Congressman Heath Shuler, who just won a third term in North Carolina. He plays in the annual Congressional Flag Football game. You never played against him in the NFL. Do you see yourself lining up against him in this game?
JR: The problem is I have the knee injury that ended my career and have a chunk of cartilege missing. If I did something like that I probably wouldn't be able to walk for a couple weeks. I'm actually sitting here right now with a swollen knee because I walked last weekend in a Halloween parade and it's swollen from walking a couple miles.
SC: Speaking of your current health, what do you think about the NFL's recent efforts to get retired players better health care? The link between concussions and Lou Gherig's disease has been in the news a lot.
JR: It has been quite an issue and I know they've taken a real effort to address dementia and Alzheimer's. There's so much that's not known about brain injuries. It's going to take 10, 20, 30 years to find everything out. You have the guys donating their brains to science and it will take some time. They're doing the right thing and making an effort to do it. It will help people down the road, but it will affect a lot of current players. There is this desire to take care of the players, but in the same light, you have to understand that there's a lot of things you're doing to your body that God didn't really intend you to do. So you are going to have consequences. But we do need to take care of the guys and it's a difficult road and there's a lot of financial decisions to make along the way. Keep pushing for it and one day we'll get to the bottom of the fiscal aspect of it and the medical aspect of it.
SC: Are you still watching football?
JR: Truthfully, I haven't watched much football at all. The only football I've watch is here and there on the Slingbox on my iPhone, traveling back and forth between campaign events. I'm sure I'll pick it up a little more now. But I've probably watched, combined, two games the whole season, if you put all the quarters together.
SC: Well, you've been busy winning an election. Congressman-elect, thank you for talking to Shutdown Corner today.
JR: Not a problem, thank you.
- Jon Runyan