Eagles' Kelce tearfully retires after 13 seasons


PHILADELPHIA — Eagles star center Jason Kelce, one of the key leaders for a team that has made six postseason appearances and two Super Bowl trips over the past seven seasons, announced his retirement in a tear-filled speech Monday, closing the book on a Hall of Fame-worthy career.

“I’ve been asked many times why did I choose football — what drew me to the game — and I never have an answer that gets it right,” Kelce, wearing a sleeveless Eagles T-shirt, said during a 45-minute speech that he had to stop many times as he was overtaken by emotion. “The best way I could explain it is what draws you to your favorite song … your favorite book. It’s what it makes you feel. The seriousness of it. The intensity of it.

“Stepping on the field was the most alive and free I had ever felt. There was a visceral feeling with football, unlike any sport. The hairs on my arms would stand up. I could hit somebody, run around like a crazed lunatic and then get told, ‘Good job.’ I love football.”

A sixth-round draft selection in 2011, Kelce, 36, played his entire 13-year career with the Eagles. He was selected to seven Pro Bowls in 13 seasons and was named first-team All-Pro for the sixth time in 2023 — proof that he played at an elite level up to his final snap.

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

Since the 1970 merger, he is the only center who has won a Super Bowl and earned first-team All-Pro honors six times.

Kelce’s parents, Ed and Donna, were in attendance, as was his wife Kylie and brother Travis Kelce, the Kansas City Chiefs’ star tight end who was wearing sunglasses inside the auditorium.

Kelce had contemplated retirement at various points over the past several years, but it became clear that things would be different this time around when, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, he told teammates his playing days were over after the wild-card loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in January.

“If it was his last game, he was one of the best teammates I’ve ever had,” right tackle Lane Johnson said then. “A guy whose passion is unmatched. A guy who I saw Philly try to run him out of town. I saw a guy emerge from that and become the best center maybe that’s ever played.”

Kelce is the fifth center in NFL history with at least six All-Pro selections. The other four — Jim Otto, Bulldog Turner, Dermontti Dawson and Jim Ringo — are all in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Little was made of Kelce’s arrival when he was selected in the sixth round of the 2011 draft. A walk-on running back at Cincinnati who converted to guard and later center, he was undersized and overshadowed by the big “Dream Team” free agency splash signings of cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, quarterback Vince Young and others that year — a group that famously flamed out.

Kelce, meanwhile, won the starting center job and became a mainstay even as his head coaches changed from Andy Reid to Chip Kelly to Doug Pederson to Nick Sirianni.

“Jason gave of himself for others, played through injuries, and never wavered through all the ups and downs of our seasons and his own personal career,” Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said in a statement. “He is a man of many talents — he could chug beers with fans at a tailgate, he could sing in a Christmas album and raise millions for charity, or he could talks X’s and O’s all day with coaches and teammates. Then after all that, he could do things out on the football field that no other offensive linemen are capable of doing.

“If you talk to anyone in the organization about what Jason has meant to them, they would all come up with something different. That is a testament to who he is as a person and how much he cares about connecting with others.”

He missed a month after sports hernia surgery in 2014 and had a rough campaign in 2015 that raised questions about his long-term status in Philadelphia. He then went on to establish a franchise record by starting 156 consecutive regular-season games despite dealing with myriad injuries.

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

He endeared himself to the city and its hardcore fan base with his speech at the parade after the Eagles won the Super Bowl in 2017. Dressed as one of Philadelphia’s famed Mummers, he delivered a fiery, profane speech that whipped the crowd into a frenzy.

“I won’t forget the parade and what it meant to the city of Philadelphia,” Kelce said Monday. “The joy in our community and the closure it gave so many. The stories from fans that had been waiting generations for that moment fulfilled that triumph to another level. … That wasn’t my speech. It was Philadelphia’s.”

There is a succession plan in place. Cam Jurgens was selected in the second round of the 2022 draft to be Kelce’s heir apparent at center. Right after that selection was made, Kelce called Jurgens “my favorite player in the draft,” saying the Eagles had been asking him to evaluate centers coming out of college for the past two to three years. Jurgens was the one who compared most favorably to him.

Kelce has plenty of options for his post-playing career. He became a local icon after the Eagles’ Super Bowl LII win in 2018. That has since ballooned into national and now international fame, starting with the Eagles-Chiefs “Kelce Bowl” and the popular “New Heights” podcast, then hitting another level of the stratosphere when brother Travis started dating singer Taylor Swift, one of the most recognizable people on the planet.

Broadcasting is a strong option, with multiple networks reportedly courting him in Las Vegas in the lead-up to Super Bowl LVIII.

“Today is a bittersweet day,” Lurie said in his statement, “because while it is hard to imagine the Eagles taking the field without Jason Kelce in uniform, we are also excited to celebrate his career and support him as his journey continues.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.





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