Goodbye, Jason Kelce 

The retirement of Jason Kelce this week came as a surprise to no one, but — like everything else in his Hall of Fame career — he exited the sport stage with an integrity and honor unrivaled in Philadelphia sports history.

Despite my well-earned reputation for negativity, I also have had my share of Philadelphia heroes over the past 40 years. Wilt Chamberlain, Brian Dawkins, Cole Hamels, Bernie Parent, Nick Foles and Julius Erving received mostly loud cheers during my boo-infested 33 years at WIP.

But as of March 4, 2024, one athlete stands above all the rest to me. It finally became clear during his extraordinary final news conference that Jason Kelce is my favorite player ever — because he has been so much more than just a great performer. He has established a standard against which every future sports star in our city will be measured.

No athlete had such a compelling combination of talent, resiliency, leadership, commitment, love for the game, appreciation for the fans and the ability to put into words how and why the Philadelphia sports enthusiasts are so special.

It doesn’t seem possible that Kelce could outdo his jubilant, defiant parade speech six years ago, and yet those final words he offered as a player this week were so perceptive, so genuinely emotional, that I think he may have done it. Certainly, the two speeches together are the best examples of bonding with fans ever in Philadelphia, if not the entire country.

The first one vilified all of the doubters and showed the inner fire that made Kelce so extraordinary. Among the hungry dogs in that championship season, no one had a bigger appetite for success than the overachiever who centered the football.

And then there was his tear-stained goodbye on Monday. As always, he was self-effacing. (Overrated? Not a chance.). He was also gushing with appreciation. (Has a position coach ever been more honored than Jeff Stoutland was in that speech?) He displayed an even deeper love for family. (Not to mention his potential new sister-in-law, Taylor Swift, whose lyrics he quoted.)

Finally, he gave a parting message to all of the millionaire crybabies who could never handle the pressure of playing in front of people who really care about their teams. These words should be inscribed forever in the locker rooms of every sports franchise in Philadelphia:

     Some people struggle to play in this city. 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 our organization, has fueled it to take chances, fix problems and work tirelessly in an effort to win. 

     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 span decades before. The Eagles are the No. 1 ticket in town, the most talked about thing at nearly every moment. But that amount of attention, 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 soft-ass 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 as a player, it’s very easy: Love them, treat them like your brothers and go out and play your balls off, wear your heart on your sleeve. And I guarantee you change those narratives.

     No one has ever said it better. No one has ever understood our sports city with the depth and appreciation that Kelce has. No one has bonded with the fans, opened up his life to the people and brought leadership on and off the field the way Jason Kelce has for the past 13 years.

There is much more ahead for Jason. He can pretty much name a job in the media, and it is his. If I were running WIP — a frightening notion, I admit — I would have already called him with an open offer to be major part of an already successful team. If his podcast with brother Travis is any indication, WIP would be bigger and better than ever with his voice filling our cars every day.

But my guess is, Jason will end up in an even bigger spotlight. He would be awesome on a studio show, perhaps replacing the work of Terry Bradshaw, Jimmy Johnson or Bill Cowher — all of whom have worked well beyond their broadcasting expiration dates. Or maybe he will follow Jeff Stoutland into coaching. Has any former player ever been more qualified?

I just hope Jason finds something he loves to do almost as much as he loved playing football. It’s hard to imagine it, but then Jason, a sixth-round draft pick, has defied the odds his whole life. Why stop now?

Before I started writing this blog post, I knew there was only one way to end it because no words are available that match those of my new all-time favorite player.

This is how Jason ended his speech:

Thank you, Philadelphia. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for letting me represent this city and allowing me into your homes every Sunday. It has truly been a privilege. You have all been so good to me and my family. 

    Growing up in Cleveland, I watched all of my favorite athletes leave the city. Hell, a whole team left the city. It has always been a goal of mine to play my whole career in one city and I couldn’t have dreamt 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 that I carry with me the lessons from my time here, and that forever we shall all share the bond of being Philadelphians.

     That’s all I got.


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