Rich Hofmann: Without Thomas, Runyan, it's anchors away for Eagles

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File photo
Posted: March 11, 2009

A LONG, LONG time ago, the Eagles had bookend tackles named Stan Walters and Jerry Sisemore. It was so long ago, such a different time, that Walters would sometimes sneak a smoke in his locker after practice. It seemed like they played together forever, establishing themselves before the arrival in Philadelphia of a quarterback named Ron Jaworski and then guarding his flanks as the franchise built to a trip to Super Bowl XV.

Walters and Sisemore. They were so different. Sisemore was much more of a physical guy, more of a mauler on the right side, a truly great player. Walters was more about technique and guts and guile, and humor. You could go months as a reporter without talking to Sisemore, which is pretty much how he preferred it. You could not walk past Walters' locker without him holding up your picture in the newspaper and wondering aloud, "All right, when did they take this, First Holy Communion or eighth-grade graduation?"

When you thought of bookend tackles, you thought of this odd couple. When you saw the boxes of steaks that Jaworski used to buy the linemen after games in which he wasn't sacked, you forgot about the revolving guards they played around and thought of Walters and Sisemore, always. They started 95 games together from 1975 to '83, and then there were 28 other games along the way when Sisemore slid over to right guard. But all through the great run of playoff teams under Dick Vermeil, those two were the tackles. The line had other issues along the way, but Walters and Sisemore were the guys who went to the Pro Bowls. They were the pillars. It seemed like they were forever.

But Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan were longer.

"He's the best right tackle in football, bar none."

- Andy Reid on Runyan,

Feb. 14, 2000

One hundred thirty-four regular-season games. One hundred thirty-four. It is an absurd number that doesn't even count the preseason or the postseason. It defies logic. It mocks the physicality of professional football. Now that Thomas is leaving the Eagles for Jacksonville, and Runyan is unsigned and recuperating from knee surgery, the outrageous run of games for these two offensive tackles is over.

The phrase "end of an era," however facile and cliched, seems to fit.

Runyan's first day was highly symbolic. They signed him as a huge-money free agent from the Tennessee Titans on the same day they broke ground on the NovaCare Complex. The new stadiums still were not worked out completely with the politicians. The Eagles were hardly among the elites as far as franchises. It was still the old world for the team in many ways. Reid had only just completed his first season.

But there they were, under a tent, wearing hard hats and stabbing silver shovels into the earth - Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, Reid, assorted politicians and others. There they were - and then there came Runyan out of a waiting limousine, filling the tent with his person and with the promise of what was to come.

They had already signed Troy Vincent as a free agent under Lurie, but this was bigger money and just, well, bigger. The Eagles really did begin to build something that day.

"We researched this better than we ever have. This is the guy."

- Ray Rhodes on Thomas,

April 18, 1998

If the enduring picture on Runyan's first day was of him trying to squeeze his head into a hard hat, the picture on Thomas' first day was of offensive-line coach Juan Castillo taking a bunch of reporters into a film room to show them a tape of their first-round draft choice's highlights, punctuated by a bunch of "whams" and "bams" and "pows" from his excited new position coach.

When the Eagles took Thomas with the 11th pick in the first round, they were taking still another shot at getting this offensive-line thing right after so many misses in the first round. Some of the names - Kevin Allen, Antone Davis, Bernard Williams - seem like ancient history now, but they were all disasters in their own particular ways, and they all contributed to a seemingly endless fit of offensive inconsistency. And now here the Eagles were coming again with another one - and a guy who had some off-field issues at Florida State as well.

To say that Thomas arrived to a bit of a skeptical greeting would have been an understatement. Informed of the litany of washouts in the first round at his position, Thomas was quietly positive. He said, "A bad streak is not going to last forever - this is where it ends."

He was right. Soon, a new run would begin. And now that it's over, well, you can't help but look back - way back to Stan Walters and Jerry Sisemore, just back to Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan - and recognize that the two greatest stretches in modern Eagles history were built between bookends. *

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