PHILADELPHIA - Jason Kelce stood on the sideline in tears as the final seconds ticked off in his likely final NFL game. Kelce embraced his long-time offensive line coach. He removed his helmet once the game ended — a Philadelphia Eagles loss that completed a harrowing season-ending collapse — and extended his hand to his wife and his father in the stands.
What Kelce knew then — what the gregarious center couldn't bring himself to say when he declined to speak to the media in the aftermath of the defeat — was that his football career was over.
The 36-year-old Kelce has waivered on retirement over the last few seasons. Coach Nick Sirianni added to Kelce’s lore by shipping a keg of beer to the center’s home to entice him to return in 2022.
He has been the heart of the Eagles, a hero on the Philadelphia sports scene, a Super Bowl champion. But after 13 seasons, 156 straight starts and six All-Pro Team selections, Kelce has told teammates he intends to retire, three people informed of the decision told The Associated Press.
They spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity Tuesday out of respect for Kelce's decision, which he has not yet made public.
Kelce has since addressed the reports of his retirement on his New Heights podcast that he hosts with his brother, Travis Kelce.
"I didn't announce what I was doing on purpose despite what's been leaked to the media," Kelce said.
"I just don't think you're in a position after a game like that to really make that decision, I really don't, there's just too much emotion in the moment, there's too much going down in the moment to really fully grasp that decision." he added.
"The goat!!!. Appreciate ya big time," Eagles cornerback Darius Slay Jr. wrote on social media.
Kelce could explain his decision as early as Wednesday, when the next episode of the "New Heights" podcast he co-hosts with his brother, Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce — boyfriend of pop star Taylor Swift — was expected to drop. The brothers played each other last season in the Super Bowl that was won by the Chiefs.
"I love him. Yeah, obviously we’re not there at that position yet, ready to talk about that, but he’s special and I love him," Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said after a 32-9 loss to Tampa Bay. "He’s one of the most special guys I’ve been around. He’s always got a place here and always want him to play."
The burly, bushy-haired and bearded Kelce has been a stalwart of the offensive line since he was a sixth-round pick in the 2011 draft out of Cincinnati. He turned into an Iron Man after he missed most of the 2012 season with a partially torn MCL and torn ACL.
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Kelce's credentials go far beyond football. He's a podcast co-host. He was the subject of the "Kelce" documentary. Heck, Kelce was even named one of People magazine's Sexiest Men for 2023, alongside Timothée Chalamet and Jamie Foxx.
Swifties flooded social media with homemade videos and tributes for Kelce. And who would have ever guessed that even during training camp?
Her song " Long Live " was a popular choice for social media tributes, in large part to lyrics that included: "Long live all the magic we made/And bring on all the pretenders/One day, we will be remembered."
One user with Swift as a profile photo wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, "Here I am crying over the loss of Taylor’s boyfriend’s brother."
Kelce is a beloved Philly personality that has done everything from belting out holiday hits on a pair of Christmas albums and playing celebrity bartender on the beach. Kelce performed the national anthem at a 76ers game and partied with the Phanatic while he pounded a beer to a roaring ovation at a Phillies postseason game.
TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 15: Jason Kelce #62 of the Philadelphia Eagles looks on from the bench during the fourth quarter of an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on January 15, 2024 in Tampa, Flo
But the moment that endeared him for life to the Philly faithful came at the Super Bowl parade in 2018 when he dressed as one of Philadelphia’s famed Mummers, and the ultimate underdog 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. "We’re from Philly! (Expletive) Philly. No one likes us! We don’t care!"
Eagles QB Jalen Hurts called Kelce a legend.
"He’s a legend in the city. Really in the league," Hurts said. "I don’t want to do a disservice to him and the things he’s been able to do and overcome. 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."
Kelce 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.
They won a Super Bowl under former coach Doug Pederson and won just four games in 2020. They’ve played hurt and set records. They’ve also raised the standard on what it means to be an Eagles player.
The Core Four is no more. Kelce is the first to call it quits.
"The fact that he’s done it for so long so consistently at a very high level, man, it’s a special thing," Sirianni said.