This play took guts, as much as any Bella Runyan has made on a basketball court. Look at the photo. A young lady wearing an Eagles jersey and a big smile, posing with a player, one of the most recognizable faces in sports.
Bella Runyan captioned the photo: “THATS MY BESTFRIEND.”
Let’s break this down. Runyan, a Villanova basketball player, was the young lady in the photo. Next to her? Tom Brady, at Lincoln Financial Field.
Was this pregame, before Tampa Bay recently played the Eagles? After the game?
“Halftime,” Runyan said.
Runyan was on the field because her father, former Eagles Pro-Bowl offensive tackle Jon Runyan, was inducted into the Eagles Hall of Fame that night. She also got a photo with Brian Westbrook and was talking to Donovan McNabb before seeing the Buccaneers QB. That all lines up, Eagles royalty all, none of it fazing Bella.
“It was my mom,’’ Bella Runyan said. “If anyone knows my mom, she has guts. She doesn’t care. She walked right up to him, ‘I’m Loretta Runyan, Jon’s wife, can you please get a picture with my daughter?’ "
They had been walking off the field after the halftime ceremony. Bella spotted him first, letting out a “THAT’S TOM BRADY!”
“He was eight or 10 feet in front of us,” Loretta Runyan said. “He was having a catch.”
Let that sink in. These two stopped Brady while he was warming up.
Brady and Jon Runyan actually had roomed together for a summer session, Brady a freshman at Michigan, Runyan a senior. Bella had once before been this close to Brady, just inside her mother’s stomach.
“We met at a party when I was pregnant with Bella,’’ Loretta Runyan said. “My kids know, I’d always say, ‘That’s my boyfriend.’ "
Like mother, like daughter.
“We’re the absolute same person,” Bella Runyan said. “Have the same personality.”
The daughter is now a sophomore at Villanova. Not a star, but an important player. As a freshman, she was named the team’s defensive player of the year. If you’re picturing Jon Runyan from epic battles with Michael Strahan and maybe a daughter of Jon Runyan being a large post player … nope. Instead, Bella is a quick 5-foot-11 guard.
“It is interesting,” said Villanova coach Denise Dillon. “She’s like a track star.”
“She is very athletic,” said Villanova forward Brianna Herlihy, a second-team all-Big East player last season. “We try to put her on the best player on the other team, their guards.”
“She has so much energy,’’ added forward Maddy Siegrist, last season’s Big 5 player of the year and an all-Big East first-teamer. “Defensively, she’s like a little gnat. She plays so hard, it’s contagious.”
Give dad credit, Bella said, for much of that athleticism.
“People may not know it, but my dad is super quick,” Bella said. “He had to put on weight to be an offensive lineman, to play at that level. But I remember racing my dad when I was little, when his body was still working. He was fast. He would beat me.”
Bella’s basketball genes aren’t a complete mystery. Before choosing football, Jon was a Michigan All-State basketball selection in high school and was offered a basketball scholarship to Michigan State by former coach Jud Heathcote.
Her mom’s genes make it to the court, too. Not just because mom played a whole bunch of sports through high school. Before meeting Jon, Loretta Runyan was a member of the Houston Police Department for 11 years. She did eight years on the street, she said, but all sorts of other assignments, from vice and narcotics special assignments to bike patrols to working in the city juvenile facility. Asking Brady for a photo? Nope, not going to faze her. That gumption apparently got passed along.
While older brother Jon Jr. took up dad’s sport and now has moved into the Green Bay Packers starting lineup, and sister Alyssa , won a state title with Bella at Moorestown Friends, and now plays club soccer at Purdue … basketball was the sport for Bella.
As a second-grader, Bella would steal the ball so often and take it in for layups that they had to adjust the rules a bit, her coach telling her she had to pass it first, just in the interest of fairness.
Her mom can remember a grade school game where her husband nudged her in the stands. “You see that?”
His right-handed daughter had just dribbled down the left side of the court, left-handed the whole way, before going in for a left-handed layup.
Bella started four games last season, averaged 4.9 points a game, but was usually instant defense off Villanova’s bench. The next stage of her development, her coach said, will be at the offensive end.
“We’re expecting more from her,” Dillon said.
The competition at home was baked in. Could she beat her big brother at hoops? (Big, as in growing toward 6-4 and over 300 pounds.)
“That was our whole childhood, basically. Two on one,” Bella said. “Me and my sister versus him in the driveway. We would always lose. We would play every single day. I’d be like, ‘Let’s go play on-on-one.’ I’d probably end up crying because he would shove me to the ground. But it’s what made me tougher, made me a better player.”
From her dad, she said, “I would just say, I have that drive. No one’s going to outwork me. He just made it seem so easy. He went to work every single day and never took a day off. I see that now and see how hard that is, especially now being a college athlete. That’s something I try my hardest to do, go into every practice like this is a game, this is it all. I have to give everything I have.”
Who knows, maybe Brady will turn on a random Big East hoops game this season and wonder why he recognizes the girl stealing the ball.
“He was super nice,” Bella Runyan said. “He looked me in the eye and shook my hand.”
Bella can picture her father rolling his eyes at the whole scene. By herself, maybe Bella wouldn’t have had the guts to approach Brady.
“No,” Runyan said. “But my mom, yes.”