PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Jason Kelce spent an offseason striking drums, pounding beers, fighting off retirement and knocking out podcasts with his NFL tight end brother.
From elite center for the Philadelphia Eagles to center of attention from Sea Isle City to Saturday Night Live, Kelce has reveled in the man-of-the-people touches that put him on the short list of Philadelphia’s most beloved athletes.
Heck, Kelce even endeared himself more to the people when a “cheap shot” (his words) sparked a melee at a joint practice this week between the Eagles and Indianapolis Colts. Kelce said he was just defending a teammate he thought was the victim of a hard tackle when he leveled Colts linebacker Zaire Franklin, a hit that ignited fisticuffs between the teams and cut short practice.
My bad, Kelce said.
“Tensions just got the better of me,” Kelce said. “We try and keep things civil on the field. I let my emotions get the better of me. That certainly doesn’t belong out there on the field. I’m a little bit ashamed that it got to that level.”
But sticking up for a teammate, in the thick of training camp, ahead of his 13th season, is just one reason why Kelce has connected with Eagles fans in such near-mythical ways that few players, say Brian Dawkins or Reggie White, have ever reached.
There’s no telling just how many more training camps the 35-year-old Kelce has left — coach Nick Sirianni once added to Kelce’s lore by shipping a keg of beer to the center’s home to entice him to return in 2022 — and it appears that neither money nor Super Bowls are necessarily the deciding factor if he wants to keep playing. Does he feel healthy? Does he enjoy the game? Does he have anything left in the tank?
What’s left to accomplish?
Not much at this rate for the burly center.
Kelce has been a member of The Associated Press All-Pro team five times, named to the Pro Bowl six times and, of course, was a critical member of the 2017 Super Bowl championship season. Kelce and former Pittsburgh Steelers Dermontti Dawson and Mike Webster are the only centers since the 1970 merger to earn All-Pro nods five times. Dawson and Webster are both in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Those Steelers, though, never appeared on an SNL skit like Kelce did in March and threaten to beat up that night’s host in a skit — the host, in this case, Travis Kelce. The Chiefs tight end got the better of big brother in last season’s Super Bowl, though the relationship has soared on their popular podcast “New Heights with Jason & Travis Kelce.” They’ve had guests from Rob Gronkowski to Charles Barkley on the usually lighthearted show, though the brothers did get teary on one podcast where they discussed their mother, a fixture in the postseason as she watched her sons play for the Lombardi Trophy.
“I enjoy just living my life and doing what brings me joy and having fun,” Kelce said at Eagles camp. “It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve interacted with my brother more than I ever have in my tenure here in the NFL. It’s been in, some ways, able to rekindle that brotherhood, outside of losing to them in the Super Bowl. It was a pretty good year for us.”
Maybe on the next episode, the brothers will talk about fight club.
Like Jason, Travis Kelce made a public apology for his role in training camp fights he started earlier this month.
Kelce Boys will be Kelce Boys.
“I’m trying not to be a personality,” Kelce said. “I’m trying to just be Jason Kelce.”
There’s a serious side behind the Christmas album crooning and Mummer cosplay, of course. All those videos of him drinking on the beach surfaced because it was part of a fundraiser for the Eagles Autism Foundation. And when the Eagles drafted Jalen Carter in the first round this year, the first veteran to reach out and welcome him to Philly was, naturally, Kelce.
“He made it fun for me, just explaining what Philly is about, that it’s just a family here, everyone is going to take care of you and you’re going to have some fun while being on a business trip playing football,” Carter said.
Kelce enters the season having started 139 straight games, the second-longest active streak in the NFL, and second-longest in franchise history behind Jon Runyan (144, 2000-08). He’s had some familiar faces winning games with him along the way. Kelce, Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham are the lone holdovers from former coach Andy Reid’s last season with the Eagles in 2012. Lane Johnson completes the four veteran anchors and was a rookie in former coach Chip Kelly’s first season in 2013.
“The Core Four. Is that all the old guys,” Kelce asked with a laugh. “We played a lot of football together. We know each other very well. We’ve been through a lot of battles. It’s really rare that many guys get to play together for over a decade.”
Will Kelce try for one more season? Odds are, he’ll let everyone know on a podcast … … or on a documentary … or playing bartender … or in a magazine story … or … surely something in the unconventional manner that has defined his Philly persona.
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