Eagles center Jason Kelce retires after 13 NFL seasons and 1 Super Bowl ring

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Philadelphia Eagles Jason Kelce announces his retirement during a press conference in Philadelphia, Monday, March 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

PHILADELPHIA – Jason Kelce needed only seconds to burst into tears.

Kelce's eyes flooded each time he relayed a story about backyard football games with his brother, the love he felt from his parents and the devotion of his coaches — even a band teacher — that shaped him along way. But it was his career with the Philadelphia Eagles that choked up Kelce the most. The Super Bowl. The parade. His beloved offensive line coach.

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All of the memories, the wins, the brotherhood — both with his fellow Eagles players and younger brother Travis, a tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs — consumed Kelce to the point where he needed about 45 minutes to reach the inevitable conclusion that everyone inside a crowded auditorium knew was coming from the moment a news conference was announced.

It was time to retire.

The 36-year-old Kelce officially called it quits Monday at the Eagles' NovaCare Complex, ending a 13-year career spent entirely with Philadelphia in which he became not only one of the great centers of his era who played a key role in the franchise's lone Super Bowl championship but a beloved Philly personality and popular podcast host.

“Let’s see how long this lasts,” said Kelce, wearing a sleeveless Eagles T-shirt, before he burst into tears and needed several moments to compose himself at the news conference attended by his parents, Ed and Donna, wife Kylie and Travis, who was wearing sunglasses inside the auditorium. Eagles coach Nick Sirianni sat behind reporters.

“I have been the underdog my entire career,” Kelce said. “And I mean it when I say it, I wish I still was.”

With Travis in the house, Kelce naturally had to pay homage to Taylor Swift, his brother's girlfriend.

“It’s only too poetic I found my career being fulfilled in the city of brotherly love, I knew that relationship all too well,” Kelce said in a nod to Swift's song “All Too Well.” He also referenced lyrics to Swift's “Wildest Dreams."

Kelce was a sixth-round pick out of Cincinnati in the 2011 draft. The burly, bushy-haired and bearded Kelce has been a stalwart of the offensive line since he was drafted and as an Iron Man after he missed most of the 2012 season with a partially torn MCL and torn ACL.

The moment that endeared him for life to the Philly faithful came at the Super Bowl parade following the 2017 season when he dressed as one of Philadelphia’s famed Mummers, and he delivered a fiery, profane speech that whipped the crowd into a frenzy.

“No one likes us! No one likes us! No one likes us! We don’t care,” Kelce exclaimed that day in February 2018. “We’re from Philly! (Expletive) Philly. No one likes us! We don’t care!”

Kelce recalled that moment Monday, saying: “I won’t forget the parade and what it meant to the city of Philadelphia. The joy in our community and the closure it gave so many.”

“That wasn’t my speech,” Kelce said. “It was Philadelphia’s."

The Kelce brothers played each other in the Super Bowl two seasons ago, which was won by the Chiefs — “I won’t forget falling short to the Chiefs,” Jason said Monday — and co-host the “New Heights with Jason & Travis Kelce" podcast. Jason attended the Chiefs' playoff game in frigid Buffalo temperatures this season. He ripped off his shirt and chugged beers as he sat in a suite with Swift.

It was the Jason Kelce way.

He's been a showman off the football field, singing the national anthem at a 76ers game, partying with the Phillie Phanatic and pounding a beer to a roaring ovation at a Phillies postseason game.

But it was his work on the offensive line that made him a star. Kelce ended his career by making 156 straight starts, and he earned six All-Pro Team selections.

He was part of Philadelphia’s core four of stars that have experienced droughts and championship runs, multiple coaches and one of the worst collapses in the city’s sports history. 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.

Kelce is the first one to call it quits.

Sirianni added to Kelce’s lore by shipping a keg of beer to the center’s home to entice him to return in 2022.

“No Keg videos this year,” Kelce wrote Monday morning on social media.

Eagles fans came prepared to toast Kelce with a cold one.

Kelce and his family were greeted by cheering fans — and yes, one even brought a keg of beer — outside the complex.

He thanked a long list of mentors from his high school football, hockey and lacrosse coaches and his old band teachers at Cleveland Heights (Ohio) high school for putting up with a “rambunctious kid that was will full of immaturity, stupidly and cockiness.”

He thanked his coaches at Cincinnati for believing he could play center, a fortuitous decision that made him a great fit in Philadelphia, then thanked his four coaches with the Eagles.

Kelce choked up again thanking Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie for his leadership and general manager Howie Roseman for drafting him. He shared memories of his Eagles career and said he would never forget the day Reid called to tell him Kelce had been drafted by the Eagles. Kelce’s father rushed into a room, “with tears streaming down his face,” in a pure joy of the moment.

He never made the Eagles regret their decision.

“Has there ever been a more perfect marriage between a player, a city and a team,” Lurie said in a statement.

Eagles O-line coach Jeff Stoutland attended the news conference and later shared a hug with Kelce. Kelce singled out Stoutland several times during his speech, and the coach responded with a heartfelt note on social media.

“I’m so proud of the player you’ve worked to become and legacy you’ve built. I will miss having you by my side. It’s been my honor & I congratulate you on an incredible career,” Stoutland wrote.

Kelce, who made seven Pro Bowls, 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.

Kelce played 193 regular-season games for the Eagles.

“It has always been a goal of mine to play my whole career in one city,” Kelce said. "I couldn’t have dreamt of a better one if I tried.”


AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl

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