Fans, teammates and the coaching staff prepared for Jason Kelce to call it a career at the end of last season. Then, the remarkable Super Bowl run happened and the hungry dog that lives inside one of the most beloved athletes in the history of Philadelphia wanted one more chance to return to the big game.
Unfortunately, a season that started promising at 10-1, derailed faster than a runaway train, forcing Kelce to walk off the field Monday night in what could have been his final NFL game. A desired trip back to the Super Bowl and a hoist of the Lombardi Trophy to send off one of the most beloved athletes in Philadelphia sports history wasn’t the way this fairytale would end.
We knew this day would come, but it doesn’t make it any easier.
Reports circulated the morning after the blowout loss to the Bucs that the stalwart on the offensive line and locker room may have possibly played his final game in the NFL.
His reaction at the end of the game certainly indicated that the decision may have already been made.
Jason Kelce Reached New Heights in NFL
Very few could have predicted the career arc of Jason Kelce. An undersized center who played college football at Cincinatti, a projected fourth-round pick who dropped to the sixth-round when the Eagles drafted him in 2011. However, Kelce embodied and embraced that hard-working, underdog mentality that the city of Philadelphia proudly wears as a badge of honor. He became the starting center for the Eagles his rookie season, becoming the first rookie in franchise history to start all 16 games in his debut season.
His second season was cut short due to a partially torn MCL and ACL which forced him to miss the remainder of the season after making two starts. After returning from the injury, Kelce’s career would begin its steadfast trajectory. Aside from missing four regular season games when needing surgery for a sports hernia in 2014, the cerebral center played and started in every single game since the 2015 campaign, a total of 175 consecutive games played at a position that requires great mental fortitude and physicality which put his body on the line every week.
Along the way, he became one of the top centers in the league, being named a six-time All-Pro and a seven-time Pro Bowler. He’s just the fifth center in league history to rack up such accolades and the other four are enshrined in the National Football League Hall of Fame. He owns the record for most consecutive starts by a center in NFL history. He became known for his ability to block defenders down field with his athleticism and pure strength. His durability and willingness to play through pain was admirable and commanded the respect of his teammates and fans.
Jason Kelce was the main reason why the offensive line was regarded as one of the best in the league for the majority of his time directing that unit. In his final season, including the playoff loss Monday night, Kelce allowed just two sacks on 697 pass blocking attempts.
Kelce was a constant for the franchise. His first season was Andy Reid’s last in Philadelphia after a successful stretch reaching four consecutive NFC Championship games and winning four straight NFC East Division titles, the longest stretch in franchise history. When there was uncertainty on the direction the team would go in at times with eight different quarterbacks starting games and three different head coaches filtering in and out over the next 12 years, Kelce remained a keystone in the locker room.
With all his success, he continued to be gracious with his time, helping out at various charity events with the Eagles and his own youth charity while being accessible to the media consistently. He became beloved and one of the first linemen to become a star not only to the fan base, but to the league as well.
How many other offensive linemen can you think of are as popular as Jason Kelce? Who made playing center or being in the trenches as cool as him? Very few, if any, especially in today’s age where quarterbacks and wide receivers garner most of the attention in the pass happy league.
Jason Kelce is Philadelphia
Philadelphians follow their teams with vigorous passion and attention to detail. They will be the first to call an athlete out, but their praises and cheers are just as loud. Jason Kelce embraced that and understood what it meant to not only be an Eagle, but also what it took to be a Philadelphia athlete. The bring your lunchbox to work every day, put your head down and get to work mindset. He brought that workmanlike attitude each and every single day and in return, he received the admiration of the fans.
Walking the streets of Center City, watching the game at your favorite local sports bar in the suburbs, or the jam-packed parking lots during tailgates outside the Linc, you’d be hard-pressed not to find someone wearing a Jason Kelce jersey.
According to Fanatics, after Week 1 of the regular season this year, his jersey ranked 4th on the Top-10 jersey sales on the apparel website. He was the only offensive lineman on the list.
Think about that. A center, one of the most underappreciated, least sexy positions on the gridiron and his jersey was a top-seller after the opening week of the season.
Off Field Kelce as Good as On Field
Kelce showed on a consistent basis his ability on the field. What he might be better known for to casual fans, was his ability to connect with the Eagles’ faithful off the field.
From his unforgettable Super Bowl speech on the Art Museum Steps, chugging beers at the Jersey Shore, featured on two Christmas albums, being dubbed “fat batman” to participating in the city’s historic Mummer’s Parade, this is a man who took pride in putting on the midnight green every day representing the city and it showed. He is a regular guy who just happened to be the best at his position for over a decade. He resonated with the everyday fan, despite reaching super stardom in the most popular sports league in the country.
The Amazon documentary ‘Kelce’ shows exactly that. When he’s away from the football field, he’s a husband, a father and a son, just trying to enjoy life.
A Legacy That Will Live On
In a city where fans can easily fall in and out of love with an athlete, Kelce earned the love and approval of an entire city. An admiration that is comparable to the city’s nickname, “Brotherly Love”.
His teammates felt the same way.
The appreciation for his sustained success, accountability, and passion could surely warrant a statue of himself built outside the Linc in South Philly. He certainly will receive a gold jacket and be enshrined in Canton, Ohio in five years’ time.
There’s no telling what Kelce’s future brings. There’s no doubt he will be successful in whatever endeavor he embarks on next. He has a top sports podcast with his brother Travis and he was already inside the booth during a primetime game that didn’t feature the Eagles earlier this year, entertaining the masses with his infectious personality and charm.
There is no doubt it will be very strange when fans don’t see #62 running out of the tunnel to a deafening roar from the crowd packing the Linc when he officially hangs up his cleats.
There is no doubt there will ever be another Jason Kelce.
AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack