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“Forget about it, it’s over with. The play’s changing in 40 seconds.”
Stacy Palmer-Barton, Rep. Jon Runyan’s chief of staff, had come into the New Jersey Republican’s office upset about a mistake that had been made. She found her boss spouting sports terms when she wanted legislative answers.
“What do you mean?” she asked, confused.
But his cryptic reference to “changing plays” had more relevance to policymaking than Palmer-Barton realized. Runyan, the 6-foot-7-inch former offensive lineman for the Philadelphia Eagles, knew from his 14 years of playing professional football that it doesn’t help to dwell on the things you’ve done wrong.
“There’s a play clock on the wall,” he told her. “We’ve got to admit [our mistake], correct it and move on. Otherwise, we’re not going to be very effective.”
Play clocks and playbooks, teamwork and time management, the stamina to walk miles through the Capitol complex: All of these necessities for Members of Congress are skills that Runyan and Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), the two current Members who once played professional football, cultivated during their previous careers.
Congress seems to attract folks with connections to football. Rep. Norm Dicks (D), who played for the University of Washington, currently represents Washington’s 6th district, and former Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), son of Hall of Fame inductee and then-Los Angeles Rams coach George Allen, is running for Senate again in 2012.
Perhaps that’s because although a touchdown might not mean the same thing in Congress as it does on Lincoln Financial Field, where the Eagles play, Runyan and Shuler said the two occupations are remarkably similar. At the foundation of both professional football and Congress is an emphasis on teamwork.
Despite whatever differences might exist on both sides of the aisle, Shuler, who was quarterback for the Washington Redskins and the New Orleans Saints, said a love of the country binds all Members of Congress together into a team.
“Democrats, Republicans — at the end of the day we’re all on the same team. We’re all Americans,” he said.
As in football, differences can get the best of the players. Runyan said he’s seen divisions arise and impede progress in Congress the same way they used to on the field. “I’ve seen the breakdowns, the segregations, the people being individuals,” he said. But in Congress and during the game, “there are sacrifices that you take for the betterment of the team.”