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June 14, 2024

Jason Kelce, Super Bowl champ and star Philadelphia Eagles center, retires

Jason Kelce, Super Bowl champ and star Philadelphia Eagles center, retires

Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce tearfully announced his retirement from football Monday, wrapping up a stellar 13-year career that brought fame and notoriety rarely enjoyed by an offensive lineman.

Crying before he uttered one word to gathered reporters, Kelce eventually went off on a 40-minute tribute to family, friends, teachers, teammates, coaches and Eagles employees who had helped him along the way.

“I announce that I am retiring from the NFL after 13 seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles,” an emotional Kelce said. “Thank you, Philadelphia, from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for letting me represent this city and allowing me into your homes every Sunday.”

The Philadelphia Eagles’ Jason Kelce speaks announces his retirement in Philadelphia on Monday. Matt Rourke / AP

He ended the marathon meeting with one last note of love for his adopted City of Brotherly Love.

“Forever we shall all share the bond of being Philadelphians. That’s all I got,” he said before he left the podium and hugged his brother, his mom and his dad and then kissing his wife.

Kelce, 36, a Super Bowl champ selected to his seventh Pro Bowl in January, is the older brother of Travis Kelce, an all-time great tight end with the Kansas City Chiefs who is now just as well known as Taylor Swift’s boyfriend.

That connection to the world’s most famous pop star helped make Jason Kelce one of football’s most identifiable interior linemen, and it hasn’t hurt his side hustles as a Madison Avenue pitchman and a successful podcaster.

When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers knocked the Eagles out of the playoffs on Jan. 15, speculation immediately began that Kelce would hang up his cleats.

And in the weeks that followed playoff elimination, Kelce appeared hellbent on having fun and not being down in the dumps about a difficult season’s end.

The Eagles were among the favorites to play in last month’s Super Bowl and looked like a contender early in the season, winning 10 of their first 11 games. They then dropped five of their last six regular season contests before the embarrassing Tampa playoff loss.

“Although last season truly sucked, I wouldn’t trade any of my time with you or these teams for the world,” Kelce said Monday. “Everything happens for a reason.”

Kelce thoroughly enjoyed the rest of January and Super Bowl Sunday on Feb. 11, partying — not always fully clothed — at Travis’ playoff games.

When the Chiefs beat the Buffalo Bills in the AFC semifinals on Jan. 21, Kelce’s act in the stands — to help 8-year-old Ella Piazza gain a brief-but-memorable audience with Swift — was almost as memorable as any play on the field.

Kelce’s shirtless antics weren’t totally embraced by his wife, Kylie Kelce.

“I’m like: ‘Hey I’m just letting you know what’s happening. I’m not asking for permission, I’m doing this,’” he said on “New Heights,” the hit podcast he co-hosts with Travis.

Jason Kelce during a game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants in Philadelphia on Jan. 8, 2023. Mitchell Leff / Getty Images file

Kylie shot back that Jason’s attitude would end in the family’s adopting a cat against his wishes.

“I think it’s no coincidence that I have enjoyed the best years of my career with Kylie by my side,” he said Monday. “Every accolade I have ever received has come with her at my side. She has brought the best out of me through love, devotion, support, honesty, intelligence and of course a swift kick in the a– from time to time.”

After Kansas City’s thrilling overtime win against the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl on Feb. 15, Jason Kelce stole the show again, this time at the Chiefs’ postgame party.

He donned a Mexican wrestling mask, which led to several viral videos. While Swift and Travis Kelce danced and hugged in one such clip, Jason Kelce was shown a few feet away, wildly gyrating next to a reveler in a marshmallow mask.

“It’s a very strong dichotomy of, on this side, two people in love and enjoying the moment together, panning to a complete Neanderthal — who is no longer connected with modern-day society,” Jason Kelce said on “New Heights.”

To non-football fans, Kelce is merely the player who shoves a football between his legs to Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, triggering each Philadelphia play on offense.

But as the center, Kelce had the crucial job of identifying the defense’s impending attack and quickly adjusting Philadelphia’s blocking scheme to match it.

Kelce is also at the literal and metaphoric center of Philadelphia’s famed “tush push” play, when he ushers a mass of green humanity charging forward to pick up 1 yard or less. With Kelce leading the way, other players line up behind Hurts and push him forward with the ball.

As silly as the play’s name is and seemingly minimal its gains, the “tush push” is one of football’s best-known and most controversial moves.

It’s often called on fourth-and-1, meaning if the Eagles don’t gain 36 inches of real estate, they lose possession. Critics of the play claim it doesn’t resemble football and that it could be dangerous for players.

“Listen, ban it. I really, at this point, I don’t care,” Kelce said on a December episode of “New Heights.”

Jason Kelce grew up in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, and played college football at Cincinnati before the Eagles chose him in the sixth round of the 2011 NFL draft.

Jason Kelce and Travis Kelce in Baltimore on Jan. 28.Patrick Smith / Getty Images file

He has endeared himself to Philadelphia’s notoriously tough-to-please fan base with his performance between the lines and his fun-loving off-the-field persona.

The Philadelphia Phillies, the 76ers, the Flyers and the Philadelphia Union soccer team all congratulated Kelce on his 13-year career in town Monday.

“It is difficult to put into words how much Jason Kelce has meant to everyone in this organization,” Eagles chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie said in a statement. “To the city of Philadelphia. And to our fans. He gave everything he had to all of us for 13 years.”

The Associated Press named Kelce football’s best center in the 2017 season, which culminated in the 2018 Super Bowl, which the Eagles won in dramatic fashion over the New England Patriots.

Kelce repeatedly thanked Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland on Monday, saying their work together ahead of the 2017 season turned his career around.

“In 2017, I enjoyed the finest season of my 13-year career, not only as a player but as a team,” he said. “And it meant more because of the struggles and work we had been through. Without him, I doubt any of this would have been possible or that I’d still be here.”

Adding to his Philadelphia lore, Kelce donned a “Mummers” costume — a beloved tradition of Philadelphia celebrations — while chugging beers and giving a profane victory speech at the Eagles’ 2018 Super Bowl victory parade.

Kelce helped the Eagles to another Super Bowl, just last year, but Philadelphia fell short in another thriller, this time to brother Travis and the Chiefs.

“I don’t forget falling short to the Chiefs and the conflicting feeling of immense heartbreak I had, selfishly for myself and my teammates, and at the same time the amount of pride I had in my brother who climbed the mountaintop once again,” Kelce said. “We have a small family. No cousins, one aunt, one uncle. It was really my brother and I our whole lives.”

Kelce also thanked his steelworker dad and his mother, who has become a celebrity in her own right in the past year.

Donna Kelce went to college in an era when girls weren’t encouraged to seek higher education. But Jason Kelce said his mom wasn’t deterred by that once-prevailing norm and went on to a 40-year career, from teller to bank vice president.

“I got my toughness, aggression and lunch-pail mentality from my father, and from my mother I learned that all-too-important lesson of never letting anyone tell you what you can’t do,” he said. “So this all brings us here to today, where I announce I am retiring.”

David K. Li

David K. Li is a senior breaking news reporter for NBC News Digital.

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