'That's all I've got.' Tears flow as Jason Kelce retires as Philadelphia Eagles legend (2024)

PHILADELPHIA − It took about 5 seconds for Jason Kelce to break down in tears. But you had to wait nearly 40 minutes later before Kelce officially announced that he was retiring from football, putting an end to a legendary Eagles career that will likely result in a Hall of Fame induction.

Everyone knew that was coming. Throughout Kelce's 41-minute speech Monday at the Eagles' practice facility, the tears flowed as freely as the spirit in which Kelce became a legend on and off the field.

Kelce began by recounting the first time he knew he wanted to be a football player, when he collided with a classmate on his middle school team, beginning the story with "There I lay."

Then Kelce paused several times to cry, before continuing: "Whenever I smell the clippings of freshly mowed grass, I am brought back to this day, 12 years old, Roxborough Middle School, first day in pads," Kelce said. "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. The best way I can 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 is the most alive and free I ever felt."

We saw that through a 13-year career, all with the Eagles. Kelce will always be remembered on the field for his seven Pro Bowl selections, second only to Chuck Bednarik's eight in team history.

But there's also Kelce's unforgettable speech at the Eagles' Super Bowl parade in February 2018, when Kelce dressed up in a Mummers costume and made an impassioned speech about how the entire team had been overlooked.

'That's all I've got.' Tears flow as Jason Kelce retires as Philadelphia Eagles legend (1)

All of that, and so much more, came rushing back to Kelce on Monday.

Often, Kelce, 36, could hardly get a sentence out before breaking down in tears. It was the same for a packed audience of family members sitting in the front row. Or coaches scattered in the audience, and teammates watching from the cafeteria.

There was Kelce's father, Ed, whom Kelce credited for instilling the work ethic he got from spending four decades in the steel industry. There was his mother, Donna, who became a national phenomenon cheering on both Jason and his brother, Travis, a star tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs when the Eagles and Chiefs played in the Super Bowl to cap the 2022 season.

No, Travis' more-famous girlfriend, pop star Taylor Swift, was not in attendance.

"I like to think I got my toughness, aggression, and lunch-pail mentality from my father," Kelce said. "And from my mother, I learned the all-too-important lesson of never letting anyone tell you what you can’t do."

Kelce begins by crying for nearly a minute: says “there I lay…” pic.twitter.com/MGKVuKcPgk

— Martin Frank (@Mfranknfl) March 4, 2024

Kelce's career was based on both.

Kelce gave a detailed history of how he went from an unheralded high school player as "a very young, rambunctious kid who was filled with immaturity, stupidity and co*ckiness," to a walk-on at the University of Cincinnati, to the Eagles' sixth-round pick in 2011.

He described his father's tearful reaction to when Kelce's name was called on draft night in 2011 when former Eagles coach Andy Reid called the house to inform them.

And Kelce also described how he felt like he was going to be cut or traded after he had what he called a terrible 2016 season.

"I imagined if the Eagles had received a trade offer for a brand-new set of washing machines, they may have pulled the trigger," Kelce said. "Hell, if I was in charge, I would have pulled the trigger."

The Eagles didn't pull the trigger. In fact, Kelce credited offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland for believing in him.

That began a run where Kelce would make the Pro Bowl six times in the next seven seasons. The Eagles would win the Super Bowl in 2017 and get back there in 2022. The Eagles missed the playoffs only once during that time, in large part because of the way Kelce anchored the center position.

Kelce became known for his ability as much as his durability.

He set a franchise record by starting 156 consecutive games, going back to the 2014 season. It's the most in team history as Kelce passed Jon Runyan's record of starting 144 straight games (2000-08) in the 2023 season.

In all, Kelce played in 193 games as an Eagle, second to defensive end and teammate Brandon Graham in team history. Graham, who said he does want to return in 2024, has played in 195 games as an Eagle.

Travis Kelce, in shades, is here. No Taylor Swift. #Eagles pic.twitter.com/FAxtbhjLCa

— Martin Frank (@Mfranknfl) March 4, 2024

Even though Kelce kept playing, the injuries were taking a toll. And Kelce began to contemplate retirement in each of the past five offseasons, only to return each time for one more season.

Kelce would often find a unique way to announce his return. Two years ago, for example, Kelce tapped and drank from a keg of beer that head coach Nick Sirianni purchased for him as an incentive to return.

"He knows the key to my heart," Kelce said.

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'That's all I've got.' Tears flow as Jason Kelce retires as Philadelphia Eagles legend (3)

Sure, Kelce snapped the ball for a few dozen quarterbacks during his Eagles career, beginning with Michael Vick in 2011 and ending with Jalen Hurts on Jan. 15 in the Eagles' 32-9 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Wild Card Playoff Round.

That capped a season that Kelce said "truly sucked" for not meeting the lofty expectations for a Super Bowl return.

After the last game, there were reports that Kelce had told his fellow offensive linemen that it was his last game. Kelce denied that one day later on his popular podcast "New Heights," which he co-hosts with Travis, saying he hadn't made up his mind yet.

Kelce then followed Travis during the Chiefs' run through the playoffs. He went shirtless in the cold in Buffalo, sharing a suite with Taylor Swift. He showed up to the Chiefs' Super Bowl game in Chiefs' yellow-and-red-colored overalls, then the after-party in a luchador mask.

Kelce also reportedly met with TV executives about a future career as an analyst.

Kelce was forthcoming about his trials and tribulations about retirement in an Amazon Prime documentary that came out last September. He described some of the injuries that he played through during his career, his worries about having CTE, and his desire to be around for his three young daughters.

To the GOAT. Thank you, thank you, thank you. pic.twitter.com/N4TMP2LbHH

— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) March 4, 2024

And here is where Kelce thanked his wife, Kylie, whom he described meeting at a Philadelphia bar after the Eagles' team Christmas party in 2014. Together, they have three young girls.

"I still remember the moment she walked through the door," Kelce said. "The first instance is burned in my retina. It was like she glided through the opening, an aura around her. And then she started talking, and I thought, ‘Man, is this what love feels like?’

"She has brought the best out of me through love, devotion, support, honesty, intelligence, and of course, a swift kick in the ass from time to time."

Now that Philadelphia Eagles star center @JasonKelce has announced his retirement, the year 2029 is worth noting. pic.twitter.com/WVsivlIHAW

— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) March 4, 2024

But then Kelce became emotional again describing his relationship with Travis, especially being conflicted about the pain of losing the Super Bowl to Travis and the Chiefs, while also being elated for his brother.

"This is where it's going to go off the rails," Kelce said about his speech, stopping often to cry as he recounted his feelings.

"We did almost everything together – competed, fought, laughed, cried and learned from each other," Kelce said. "We invented games and imagined ourselves as star players of that time. We’d envisioned making winning plays day after day.

"We won countless Super Bowls in our minds before ever leaving the house. ... There’s no chance that I’d be here without the bond Travis and I share."

All of that, however, didn't explain the meaning of Kelce's career and his impact on the region as much as his relationship with Eagles fans.

It was something Kelce learned right away and embodied throughout his career.

"Some people struggle to play in this city," Kelce said. "They can’t handle the boos, the media, or our fans. I consider it a great blessing to play in the most passionate sports town in America. The sense of urgency in this city to win has pushed this organization, has fueled it to take chances, fix problems and work tirelessly in an effort to win.

"At times, you’d 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."

Then Kelce recounted a story of tight end Zach Ertz, who in a 2016 game in Cincinnati, shied away from blocking Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict.

"Rightfully so, the fans ripped him apart, crushing him for doing it," 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 bring him down, and I heard the Linc erupt with cheers for his effort.

"Today, you won’t find a single Philadelphian with a bad thing to say about Zach Ertz, and the legacy he left behind."

And you won't find anyone questioning Kelce's legacy either.

So finally, it was time, as Kelce announced, "I am retiring from the NFL after 13 seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles."

But then he continued: "Today, I must admit, I am officially overrated. Vastly overrated. It took a lot of hard work and determination getting here. I have been the underdog my entire career, and I mean this when I say it, I wish I still was.

"Few things gave me more joy than proving someone wrong."

Kelce did this for 13 glorious seasons with the Eagles, longer and better than just about anyone who ever played for the team's 90-plus-year history.

It was only fitting then that Kelce pushed back at the table he was sitting at, got up and said simply: "That's all I've got."

As usual with Kelce, it was more than enough.

Contact Martin Frank at mfrank@delawareonline.com. Follow on X @Mfranknfl.

This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Philadelphia Eagles Jason Kelce announces retirement as all-time great

'That's all I've got.' Tears flow as Jason Kelce retires as Philadelphia Eagles legend (2024)
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