JON RUNYAN went to sleep in the Birmingham, Ala., operating room of Dr. James Andrews last week, knowing he could wake up to either of two outcomes.

If Andrews' arthroscope showed Runyan's right knee needed only a cleanout, following Runyan's 13th NFL season, "I could be up and walking in 2 or 3 days," Runyan recalled yesterday from his South Jersey home. But if Andrews found damage that needed to be repaired, "I'd be on crutches for 8 weeks."

When Runyan awoke, he learned that Andrews had performed microfracture surgery, which will keep the right offensive tackle off the field for 4 to 6 months. That might not be such a big deal, with training camp still 5 1/2 months away, except that Runyan becomes an unrestricted free agent Feb. 27. There are better ways to make a great first impression than by swinging into a prospective employer's practice facility on crutches, a doctor's note in hand. Especially when you're 35 years old.

"I think there's enough of a track record out there that it's not going to totally kill me," said Runyan, whose streak of 192 successive games played was third among active players at the end of the 2008 season. "The doctor says I should be as good as new. But I'm not going to be able to prove it until time to play."

Results of microfracture surgery on pro athletes have been mixed. Generally, it seems, the younger you are, the better it works. The idea of the surgery is to create cartilage to replace what was damaged and had to be removed. The surgeon drills holes in the bone. As the holes heal, blood clots form that include cartilage. This cartilage is different from the original cartilage, however - it's denser and doesn't hold up as well under strenuous activity. In older players, the new cartilage sometimes lasts only a few years.

It's hard to say whether Runyan's value as a leader and as an example of the purest form of the NFL's warrior ethic will inspire a team to take a chance on him, crutches and all. He said yesterday he still hasn't heard anything from the Eagles, his employer the past nine seasons. Both Runyan and 34-year-old left offensive tackle Tra Thomas are about to hit the free-agent market. The Eagles are unlikely to keep both. Thomas might have a little more mileage left, and be harder to replace, as the crucial guardian of the quarterback's blind side.

While all that gets sorted out, Runyan is "bored off my [bleep]."

One week on crutches down, he faces 7 more. He had to cancel a planned trip to Tampa for a Franco Harris charity event a few days before Super Bowl XLIII. He's been catching up on movies: "Slumdog Millionaire" got the Big Jon thumbs-up, while the ending of "Doubt" left him hanging.

"Hence the title, I guess," he said.

Runyan's wife, Loretta, and their three children are pretty busy, he reported; they have little time to hang out with the knee patient. So Runyan's options are limited.

"My cell phone dies by 3 p.m. every day," he said.

Prospective employers probably should call early in the day, then. *

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