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Michael Strahan delights in Jon Runyan having to cheer for Giants


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Michael Strahan became friends with Jon Runyan thanks to some matchmaking chicanery by his fierce rival's wife at the Pro Bowl in Honolulu following the 2002 season.

"We're hanging out by the pool, and there's this nice lady talking to me," Strahan said in a phone conversation last night. "She said, 'You should meet my husband.' There's just families hanging out.' And I'm like, 'Okay, I'll meet your husband.' Freaking Jon Runyan. It was his wife (Loretta). She set me up."

Strahan, a Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive end who played his entire 15-year career for the Giants, and Runyan, an offensive tackle then with the Philadelphia Eagles, had engaged in numerous battles on the football field. But they were not buddies out of uniform. Loretta's setup initiated a friendship that continues today.

That partnership took on a new dimension this week when standout guard Jon Runyan, Jr. signed as a free agent with the Giants.

"One of my favorite things is knowing that Jon Runyan has to root for the Giants," Strahan said, laughing. "That was the first thing that came to my mind, 'Thank God, now Jon has to actually root for the Giants. This is going to be awesome.'"

Runyan Jr.'s move to the Giants has prompted Strahan to reflect on his association with the older Runyan, who played nine of his 14 seasons for the Eagles, served two terms as a Republican congressman from South Jersey, and is currently the NFL's vice president of policy and rules administration.

It all started with that poolside meeting.

"I'd never had a conversation with him, never desired to," Strahan said. "We literally talked there, and from then on, I could play tough and hard against him, but I couldn't hate him. I had to channel something else besides thinking I had to hate the guy to play well against him because he's such a nice guy, such a good guy, and his wife was such a sweetheart. I can't hate this guy. And that changed my relationship with him in the sense that I saw him more as a human being rather than just some guy who I've got to beat down because I was offended that he thought he could stop me."

When Runyan left the Tennessee Titans to join Philadelphia as a free agent in 2000, Strahan was not amused.

"They brought him to Philly to shut me down," Strahan said. "I don't know if they did that or not, I just took it that they did personally, and I did not like the guy. I studied for him as much or more than anybody I ever played against in my 15 years."

Strahan and Runyan squared off in 14 games, 13 in the regular season and the 2000 NFC Wild Card Game. The Hall of Famer had 16.0 sacks in those games, including 3.5 in Week 16 of the 2001 season when Strahan set the NFL record with 22.5 sacks.

"I should've played against him every week," Strahan said with his trademark cackle. "Sixteen sacks in 14 weeks, that's pretty damn good.

"This guy, he was tough, man. He was no pushover. He is a big human being. That's why having him at my Hall of Fame ceremony was special for me. It really was. I shouted him out, 6-7, 300-and-whatever I said, 300 pounds of twisted steel and no sex appeal. I gave that shoutout at the Hall of Fame."

Strahan was listed at 6-5 and 255 pounds. Runyan was two inches taller and 75 pounds heavier. How was Strahan so productive against an adversary who was so much larger?

"I watched a lot of film on him, and I could tell you what he was doing damn near every time he did it," Strahan said. "I could beat him to the punch on certain things. But I also tried to get him to stop his feet and restart and reach. If I was able to do a little stutter step, which is all I did, it was nothing really complicated, and I would make him stop and reach for me. Once he reached for me, I could go around him or I could club him and come underneath and toss him, because it's all about leverage. A lot of it was just I really wanted to beat him. It's willpower. I really wanted it."

After they had showered and dressed following games, Strahan and Runyan would meet and talk for several minutes. They developed a bond not often found in two players who compete at their sport's highest level.

"At that point, we were friends," Strahan said. "We'd go out there and we could fight each other, battle each other, but I was interested in seeing him and talking to him and I was interested in seeing his wife and his family. She was amazing. She set me up, but she was an amazing woman. I always looked forward to seeing her and the (three) kids and seeing Jon. She was from Houston, my hometown. It just kind of evolved into this weird relationship. I even went to his house in the offseason. I think I was at NFL Films or something and I ended up going to the house. It was a beautiful house."

Their mutual admiration seeped into their competition on the field in ways that went unnoticed to fans and even teammates.

"Let me tell you how our relationship evolved," Strahan said. "When we used to talk to each other, it used to be like, 'I'm going to whup your butt.' Butt was probably a nice way to put it, but it was that kind of talk. We always talked to each other, but after we met and knew each other there was just a different level of respect. I used to watch film of him playing against other defensive ends and he would dog them out. If he caught you in a compromising position, he'd finish you. He didn't take it easy on anybody. But when I would play him, and I knew I was out of position or he could have finished me, he wouldn't do it, and I would not do that to him if I had a chance.

"We played against them in Philly my last season, and I get chip blocked, and it was the worst chip block I've ever had in my life. I hadn't been chip blocked ever like that because I could always usually see where it was coming from and get ahead of it and kind of anticipate. I don't know where this fullback (Thomas Tapeh) came from, but he hit me in my chest. Before I know it, the back of my head is on the ground and my legs are above my head. Usually, these linemen, they will dive on you, spear you, whatever, and I landed on my back, and it was such a surprise. I remember thinking then, 'This doesn't happen to me.' I never get caught like that. I look up, Runyan's eyes are as big as pool balls. He's staring at me like, 'Holy (crap).' And I'm looking up at him like, 'Holy (crap), how did that happen?' He puts his hand down, I put my hand up, and he pulls me up off the ground. The play is still going. I look at him, he looks at me, and I start pass rushing all over again.

"It was awesome, but it was also the ultimate show of respect between two guys who really went out there and played each other the right way. I love him. I'm so happy that Jon Jr. is playing for the Giants."

Yes, Strahan has memories of the meeting the younger Runyan.

"I didn't know he was going to turn into a big kid and a player, but I remember having the kids around, absolutely," Strahan said. "I remember at the Pro Bowl he was at the swimming pool, you're at the hotel and everybody's just with their families. We were pretty isolated, so guys spent time with each other and got to know each other and their families. I thank God for that, because if it weren't for that, I wouldn't have gotten the chance to know Jon. This would kind of be like, 'Oh, this guy Michael Strahan used to battle, now his son plays,' and I would have no real connection or conversation about it. I'd probably be sneering at his dad when I saw him in the parking lot. Now I walk up and give the guy a big hug."

Perhaps he should give Runyan a No. 92 (Strahan's now-retired number) blue Giants jersey to wear at games in MetLife Stadium.

"I'll let him wear his son's jersey," Strahan said. "But if I get a chance, I will definitely go see him play."


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