February 25, 2024

No wonder Jason Kelce looked impossibly forlorn sitting on a bench behind the Philadelphia Eagles’ sideline as the final minutes ticked away in a 32-9 wild-card playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday night.

Not only was the Eagles’ once-promising season coming to a tortuous though predictable end, but Kelce knew this would be his last NFL game. The six-time All-Pro center, career-long Philadelphia icon, and brother of Taylor Swift’s boyfriend and fellow likely Hall of Famer Travis Kelce, told his teammates in the locker room afterward that he is retiring, according to multiple reports.

When the game ended, Kelce hugged Eagles longtime offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, jogged over to acknowledge his family in the stands and politely told reporters he wasn’t ready to talk to them.

He’d contemplated retirement for at least two years. After rumors swirled that the 2021 season would be his last, Kelce put a video on social media of him pouring a beer from a keg Eagles coach Nick Sirianni had dispatched to help induce him to return.

“I’m definitely not retiring from playing for the Philadelphia Eagles,” he said, as beer foam splattered his beard. “I’m having way too much fun doing that. Looking forward to another year, Philadelphia. To all my teammates, let’s go dominate.”

Kelce again contemplated retirement a year ago after the Eagles lost the Super Bowl to Kansas City (and his brother), talking about how emotional that experience was on his immensely popular “New Heights” podcast.

“The moment I saw Mom is when I got really emotional, because man, it was so awesome,” Jason said. “She was on top of the world for a week. … It was just so cool, man, to see her get to celebrate in that with us. It was an awesome moment. So just happy for her and so happy that she got her moment, Dad got his.

“Ironically, you lose the Super Bowl, and you’re crying after the game, and they’re not tears of sadness. They’re tears of joy.”

Kelce’s popularity soared in 2022 in part because of his documentary “Kelce” in which he wrestled with retirement, captured the emotions of his wife, Kylie, giving birth to their third child, and launching the podcast with Travis.

He did return for a 13th season. Kelce, 36, played in 193 regular-season games and helped the Eagles defeat New England in Super Bowl LII, one of his 12 postseason games and Philadelphia’s only Super Bowl win.

“He’s a legend in the city — really in the league,” Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts said after Monday’s game. “His journey to where he is now didn’t come easy. It’s been a long, long time coming for him, and every year since I’ve been here it’s been, ‘Are you going to come back?’ But he knows how much I love and appreciate him. He knows how much I’ve learned from him. He’ll forever have a special place in my heart.”

Despite his playing the least glamorous position in football, Kelce undoubtedly will remain in the public eye post-retirement, his everyman persona a function of his ability to toggle between hilarious and authentically emotional. To wit: The 6-foot-3, 295-pound Kelce was a finalist for People’s Sexiest Men of the Year in 2023 along with (eventual winner) Patrick Dempsey, Pedro Pascal, Timothée Chalamet, Usher, Jamie Foxx and Lenny Kravitz.

He responded with a tweet that said, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder … “ and said on a radio show, “I’m not even the sexiest man in my family, let alone the sexiest man alive.”

Travis Kelce, 34, ended speculation about whether he plans to retire when the season concludes, saying ahead of the Chiefs’ 26-7 wild-card win over the Dolphins on Saturday: “I have no reason to stop playing football. I love it. I just love the challenge it gives me every single day to try and be at my best.”

It appears his older brother, though, is done playing, and Jason could address it as soon as the “New Heights” episode is scheduled to air Wednesday.


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