Jason Kelce retires an Eagles demigod and a perfect fit for ‘the most passionate sports town in America’ (2024)

As Jason Kelce tearfully recounted memories of his career in Philadelphia, the perfect connection of the last 13 years wasn’t lost on him.

The Eagles center played out his NFL career for perhaps the only fan base capable of matching the passion he exudes. And after a poignant 40-minute retirement announcement from Kelce sent ripples through that fan base Monday afternoon, the bond between the two was only reinforced.

“It’s only too poetic that I found my career being fulfilled in the City of Brotherly Love,” Kelce said while thanking his brother Travis for pushing him throughout their childhood. “I knew that relationship all too well.

“Some people struggle to play in this city. They can’t handle the boos, or the media, or our fans. I consider it a great blessing to play in the most passionate sports town in America.”

» READ MORE: Jason Kelce’s career with the Eagles, by the numbers

That passionate sports town featured a small group of Eagles fans lining up outside the gates at the NovaCare Complex, honoring the 36-year-old icon. One of them even brought a keg, which was fitting considering that Kelce conceded Nick Sirianni’s keg deliveries the last few offseasons were the “key” to his heart.

Few athletes have experienced the city the way Kelce has, enduring down moments and lost seasons while also feeling the high of the first Super Bowl championship in franchise history. That experience has led to an understanding that goes both ways, an understanding Kelce explained midway through his remarks while seated in the front of the Eagles auditorium.

“The sense of urgency in this city to win has pushed our organization as fuel to take chances, fix problems, and work tirelessly in an effort to win,” Kelce said. “At times, you 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 spanned decades before.”

A demigod Kelce has become, solidifying his status with a decorated career that includes six All-Pro nods, seven Pro Bowls, and one impassioned speech in a Mummers costume, celebrating the Eagles’ 41-33 win over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LVII in February 2018.

“It was a speech that had written itself and one that had symbolized what we all lived as players, as a team and as a city,” Kelce said Monday. “That wasn’t my speech, it was Philadelphia’s.”

» READ MORE: Jason Kelce tearfully announces NFL retirement after 13 seasons with the Eagles

It’s fair to point out the vast majority of athletes who play in this city haven’t received the same adoration Kelce has. Some players struggle to deal with the city’s intensity and there are several examples of players who needed a fresh start elsewhere when facing adversity worsened by angry fans.

On a podcast with former Eagles cornerback Steven Nelson last week, current corner Darius Slay said the negativity from supporters during home games can have a palpable effect on players. Nelson, now with the Houston Texans after spending 2021 with the Eagles, said he had to get out of Philadelphia for the sake of his “mental health.”

For Kelce, though, the intensity is understandable given the environment.

“The Eagles are the No. 1 ticket in town, the most talked-about thing at nearly every moment,” he said. “With that amount of tension, you better be ready to overcome the lows that will happen and be ready to persevere in the face of the criticism. Yes, they will let you know when you are not performing well. Every time. But they will also love you if you show effort, aggression, desire — the will to fight.

“They will love you in this city if you love it the way you love your brother. You will be loved by going above and beyond to show that you care because they care. They’ve been caring for generations in this town about this team and they aren’t about to accept a bunch of excuses and ... nonsense representing the name on the front of the jersey, something they’ve invested their entire lives in. If you don’t like what the fans and media are saying, it’s very easy: love them, treat them like your brothers, go out and play your [heart out]. Play with your heart on your sleeve, and I guarantee that you change those narratives.”

Kelce came with receipts, too, telling a story about former Eagles tight end Zach Ertz drawing criticism for a missed block against the Cincinnati Bengals in 2016. Instead of taking on Vontaze Burfict while former Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz scrambled, Ertz sidestepped the notorious linebacker as he ran Wentz out of bounds.

“Rightfully so, the fans ripped him apart, crushing him for doing that,” Kelce 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 take him down, and I heard the Linc erupt with cheers for his effort. Today, you won’t find a single Philadelphian with a bad word to say about Zach Ertz and the legacy he left behind.”

» READ MORE: Here’s how Eagles teammates, coaches, and fans reacted to Jason Kelce’s retirement

Kelce will have no shortage of options in retirement. His success hosting the New Heights podcast with his brother and moonlighting on Thursday Night Football during the Eagles’ bye week led to him meeting with television executives from several networks last month to discuss broadcasting opportunities. He has a vested interest in cattle farming as well and would potentially be welcome to join the Eagles organization in some capacity similar to roles filled by fellow former players Connor Barwin, Brent Celek, and Darren Sproles if he chose to do so.

Regardless, Kelce said, he’ll always consider himself a Philadelphian.

“It has always been a goal of mine to play my whole career in one city,” he said. “I couldn’t have dreamt of a better one and a better fit if I tried. I don’t know what’s next, but I look forward to the new challenges and opportunities that await, and I know I’ll carry with me the lessons that I’ve learned here. And that forever, we shall all share the bond of being Philadelphians.”

Jason Kelce retires an Eagles demigod and a perfect fit for ‘the most passionate sports town in America’ (2024)
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