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Eagles Jason Kelce’s Emotional Goodbye to Philly: ‘From the Bottom of My Heart’ “Triggers” Retirement from Brother Travis

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After 13 seasons, all spent with the Philadelphia Eagles, the popular center announced his retirement starting the clock ticking toward enshrinement in the Hall of Fame

 

 

 

PHILADELPHIA – Everyone knew this day would come; to say goodbye to center Jason Kelce.

That day was Monday, four days into March, four years into the decade of the 2020s, at the age of 36, and after 13 seasons spent in the NFL, all of them with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Now, the clock begins to tick on what’s next. Kelce said he isn’t sure what the immediate future holds but what seems certain is that in 2029, he will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Predictably, Kelce had difficulty saying goodbye.

He spoke for 42 minutes, reading from a scripted speech off his cell phone, a speech made longer by dozens of emotional outbursts from the moment he was seated at a table on an auditorium stage inside the team’s training facility.

It was no secret what brought everyone to South Philly on Monday. When the doors opened to the auditorium, there were signs on 29 seats, reserving them for the biggest supporters in his life, including his parents, Ed and Donna Kelce, his brother and Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, and his wife Kylie.

All four sat in the first row, dabbing at their eyes occasionally with a tissue.

Travis Kelce gets emotional watching brother Jason Kelce retire from football
Travis Kelce gets emotional watching brother Jason Kelce retire from football

Ed Kracz/SI Eagles Today

Noticeably absent was owner Jeffrey Lurie, who was said to be traveling. Everyone else of note was there, including his agent, Jason Bernstein, former teammate Connor Barwin, head coach Nick Sirianni, general manager Howie Roseman, president Don Smolenski, and, of course, offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland.

Kelce, who wore a sleeveless Eagles shirt, perhaps flexing one more time, quoted Stoutland three times during his speech and said of Stout, “It’s he who I have to thank most for the career I’ve had.”

It took Kelce 37 minutes to finally utter those hard-to-say words: “I am retiring from the NFL after 13 seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles. ”

Before he got to those words, he told a story from his middle school playing days at Roxboro Middle School in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. He went back to high school, to being a walk-on at the University of Cincinnati, and to being selected in the sixth round of the 2011 draft.

He thanked dozens of people along the way, saving his best for his dad, mom, brother, and wife. He also included Paul Longo in his parade of thank-you’s.

A former strength and conditioning coach at the University of Cincinnati, Longo arrived with head coach Brian Kelly, who replaced then-head coach Scott Dantonio, after Kelce had been on the Bearcats’ campus for one year already.

Kelce walked on as a linebacker at Cincinnati and that was the position he thought he would play until Longo came to town. It was a moment Kelce said, “Turned out to be the biggest turning point in my career.”

Why?

“Two weeks into winter workouts, Paul whispered to me in the middle of warmups, you’d make a great center,” said Kelce, who began to sob again at this point. “I shrugged it off. Offensive line? Never in a million years did I think I’d play that position.”

Longo moved Kelce to center that spring.

“It ended up being the single greatest move that happened to me as a football player,” he said.

The next best move was when the Eagles hired Howard Mudd as their offensive line coach in 2011.

“After my senior year ended, it became apparent the NFL would be an opportunity though few teams had interest in a lineman who weighed 280 pounds,” said Kelce. “Lucky for me, the Eagles had just hired Howard Mudd, a legendary coach who valued offensive linemen for their athleticism more than their size.”

Immediately after being drafted, his agent, Bernstein, called him.

“He said you have no idea how perfect this is,” recalled Kelce, inducing more tears. “You’re going to fit in great. Philadelphia, this is your kind of town.”

How prophetic that turned out to be.

“Some people struggle to play in this city,” he said. “They can’t handle the boos, the media, or our fans. I consider it a great blessing to play in the most passionate sports town in America. The sense of urgency in this city to win has pushed this organization and has fueled it to take chances, fix problems, and work tirelessly in an effort to win.

“At times, you’d hate it as an athlete, especially those new to our city. But when you’ve been through it enough, you learn to appreciate it. No one celebrates their own like the city of Philadelphia. Athletes become demigods in this city, even ones whose deeds span decades before.”

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Kelce illustrated his point by telling the story about how former tight end Zach Ertz shied away from a block against the Cincinnati Bengals Vontaze Burfict in one game back in 2016.

“Rightfully so, the fans ripped him apart, crushing him for doing it,” he said. “The next week, the first catch I saw Zach Ertz snag, he ran after the catch like I had never seen.

“It took three guys to bring him down, and I heard the Linc erupt with cheers for his effort. Today, you won’t find a single Philadelphian with a bad thing to say about Zach Ertz, and the legacy he left behind.”

Like Ertz, Kelce leaves with his legacy intact, and he wanted the fans to know he appreciated them for everything.

“Thank you Philadelphia,” he said.

Kelce then became emotional again, whispering under his breath, ‘Oh, my God,’ before continuing.

“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. It has truly been a privilege. You have all been so good to me and my family.

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