They had been rolling around the thought of launching “New Heights” for a couple of years, but had reservations. What if it’s a distraction? What if it’s viewed as something that’s taking away from the team or our preparation? And the big one: What if the season goes poorly? How bad of a look would that be?
“Luckily, that hasn’t happened,” Jason said.
The opposite has happened. The season couldn’t have gone better for either one of them. The Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles both went 14-3, earned the No. 1 seed in their respective conferences, and advanced to Super Bowl LVII (6:30 p.m. ET Sunday, Fox) — or the “Kelce Bowl,” as some are calling it.
“My mom can’t lose,” Travis said. “It’s going to be an amazing feeling playing against him … You won’t see me talking too much trash because of how much respect and how much I love my brother. But it’s definitely going to be an emotional game.”
Normally, Jason and Travis would go months without speaking to each other in-season because they’re both caught up in their own day-to-day responsibilities. “New Heights” made them talk to each other every week, adding to the special feel of this season.
The viewing public, meanwhile, has gotten a taste of the brothers’ larger-than-life personalities. We’ve learned about their next-level sibling rivalry growing up, where one-on-one basketball games morphed into fisticuffs. We’ve also heard about their contrasting sense of style — more specifically, that Travis has one, and Jason doesn’t.
And it has shown, for all their differences, they head into the biggest game of their lives — of their family’s lives — on the same plane.
“When you get to a certain point being brothers, it becomes more of a pure relationship,” Jason said. “I’m no longer telling him what to do or showing him the ropes or trying to offer guidance as an older brother, now it’s more as just a friend.”
“We get to genuinely just enjoy each other’s personalities and who we are as individuals,” he added. “And I think that makes it fun.” — Tim McManus
ANDY REID IS in a unique position when it comes to the Kelce brothers. He coached Jason for two seasons with the Eagles and has coached Travis for the past 10 with the Chiefs. Reid was head coach when the Eagles drafted Jason in the sixth round of the 2011 draft and was a big reason why the Chiefs took Travis in the third round of the 2013 draft.
“I have invested time in both those two, so I feel like I am part of the family,” Reid said.
Because he coached Jason, the older of the Kelce brothers by two years, Reid built a relationship with Travis even before he reached the NFL. Travis would be an occasional visitor to the Eagles’ practice facility while in college at the University of Cincinnati.
Reid took in a game between Cincinnati and Temple in the fall of 2012, when Travis was a redshirt senior. That’s when he decided he wanted the tight end to play for him. Reid was fired by the Eagles after a 4-12 season and joined the Chiefs in January 2013.
“I thought watching him at Cincinnati that this kid had a chance to be something special,” Reid said. “I remember he was a bigger guy but so smooth. He had that swagger. I remember thinking, ‘This guy would be great in the offense that we run.'”
Reid said it’s easy for him to see the similarities between the Kelces that make them brothers.
“They’re both, at heart, very competitive and compassionate,” Reid said. “They care and they care about people and they care about their game, their trade.
“[There is] a good relationship between the two of them. I think Travis has grown up a lot. I think Jason came in probably more mature, big brother, and Travis was a little more immature, but he has really grown.” — Adam Teicher
ALEX QUINTANA PAUSED and laughed as he considered the question.
For as many similarities that obviously exist between the Kelce brothers, what are some of the biggest differences?
“Well,” the Cleveland Heights barber said, “Jason never cut school to get a haircut.”
Quintana met the Kelces as middle schoolers on a lacrosse team his brother coached and offered to cut their hair. While Jason made the trip into Quintana’s shop every couple of months, the barber remembers Travis charming the high school security guard and slipping out during school hours to get a fresh cut every couple of weeks, most often before football games. Sometimes, Travis nearly collided with his coach during those midday excursions.
“He’d come in and I’d be like, ‘Travis, your haircut isn’t for a couple hours,'” Quintana remembered. “And he’s like, ‘Oh, it’s game day, so we get out half a day.’ I’d say, ‘Hey, you know, Coach is coming by in about half an hour because he’s getting a haircut?'”
Suddenly, Travis would have to get back to class, reappearing in Quintana’s chair a couple of hours later. It was the kind of dance that kept Quintana laughing and marveling at the difference between the brothers.
“Jason is just much more introspective,” Quintana said. “His eyes look into you. He’s a thinker. He’s always in deep thoughts. He doesn’t talk just to talk. … Travis, on the other hand, he’s looking how he can make you laugh. His eyes are just kind of always in a smile mode. He’s a little bit of a goofball.”
Neither brother paid for their haircuts out of pocket, and instead, their dad, Ed, came in every couple of months to pay their running tab.
Even after the pair graduated and moved on to Cincinnati and later the NFL, they kept in touch with Quintana and visited the barbershop, now expanded to Quintana’s Barber and Dream Spa with a bonus covert speakeasy, on trips back home.
While Quintana will be at the Super Bowl in Arizona, he and his wife helped organize efforts to distribute thousands of green, red and yellow bulbs to the area for another “Light Up the Heights” campaign, encouraging people and businesses in the community to turn on their porch lights Sunday night to show support for the Kelces.
“We’re going to be able to see this suburb from space,” Quintana said. “Whatever jersey they’re wearing, we’re Kelce fans.
“… You never know who your client is going to become. Never in a million years would we have been able to say that’s what the Kelces were going to do.” — Brooke Pryor
Donna Kelce brings Jason and Travis some cookies during interview
While doing their Super Bowl interview, Jason and Travis Kelce’s mother stops by with some cookies for them.
TONY PIKE IS still waiting for a thank-you note from Travis Kelce.
If not for him, Pike said, Travis might not have discovered his true calling as a tight end.
Pike was a redshirt junior quarterback for the Cincinnati Bearcats when Travis arrived on campus in 2008 as an otherworldly athletic prospect. Kerry Coombs, a longtime Cincinnati assistant, remembers being alerted to the younger Kelce by the school’s basketball staff after they spotted him at an AAU event on campus.
“They pulled him up to play against the UC players,” Coombs said. “They were like, you gotta look at this kid. And so we did, and we offered him. It had nothing to do with him being Jason’s brother. We didn’t think he’d be a quarterback, although we recruited him as such.
“He was such a special athlete. That fearless nature, being on the court with the college team and having no hesitance going out there and banging around and playing and ‘Give me the ball and get out of my way.’ Just one of those personalities.”
After taking a redshirt year, Travis competed with Pike for the starting quarterback job in 2009, and Pike won.
“I’ve never really received a thank you from Travis for beating him out at quarterback, so he had to move the tight end,” said Pike, who was the incumbent in the 2009 competition. “Now he is the best tight end to play.”
The coaching staff, led by Brian Kelly, still wanted to utilize Travis’ versatility, so they found packages for him as a Wildcat quarterback, starting his transition away from a full-time signal-caller to a Swiss Army knife offensive option. After a yearlong suspension for a violation of team rules in 2010, Travis rejoined the Bearcats’ program as a tight end under coach Butch Jones. More than a decade later, he’s the gold standard at the position.
And maybe, Pike joked, that’s because he beat out Kelce for the quarterback job more than a decade ago.
“At this point it’s all I got to hold on to,” Pike said. “I’m going to hold onto that, and I’m going to hitch my wagon to know that once Travis moved to that tight end position, I could have played a small role for him.” — Pryor
COOMBS WATCHED AS a helmet flew into the bleachers during a Bearcats practice.
Jason was livid, and everyone was going to know about it.
“He had a temperament about him that was no nonsense,” Coombs said. “I remember vividly him getting really pissed off at another guy on the offensive side of the ball and ripping his helmet off and throwing it, I think, into the 43rd row of the bleachers.
“I’d never seen anybody throw a helmet as far as Jason. And he was just a guy, nobody was going to cross him. He was in charge, and when he spoke, everybody got quiet. There were a lot of dominant personalities on that team, but Jason was one of the most dominant kids that you met right from the outset, and you felt him.”
Though Coombs was never either brother’s position coach, he developed a tight bond with Travis and Jason. Opposites in their approach to practice, the Kelce brothers shared a magnetic quality that endeared them to coaches and teammates.
Travis arrived on campus during Jason’s redshirt junior season in 2008, and the team quickly got a taste of the Kelce brotherhood.
“They made me a better coach,” Coombs said. “They made me a better man. They challenged me. That doesn’t happen very often with players that you coach and that’s how I feel about them.”
It was Jason, along with Coombs, who were Travis’ strongest advocates to get him reinstated after a year-long suspension for violating team rules at Cincinnati.
“[Jason] understood that Travis made some bad decisions and that it wasn’t anything that he hurt someone else, he was hurting himself more than anyone else,” Donna Kelce said. “And he knew that one bad act isn’t the measure of who [Travis] was as a human being. He was a very loving individual, he was very loyal to his friends, he helped individuals as much as he could, he liked to help out the community, he did whatever he needed to do. But sometimes kids make bad decisions, that’s all there is to it, and you have to learn from them.”
With Jason and Coombs lobbying to coach Butch Jones on Travis’ behalf, he got reinstated and excelled at tight end for two seasons before being picked by the Kansas City Chiefs in the third round of the 2013 draft.
While they’re each other’s biggest supporters, they’re also each other’s biggest antagonists.
A walk-on linebacker-turned-offensive lineman, Jason attacked every practice with the kind ferocity that can only come from a lifetime of having to prove yourself. Travis, meanwhile, carried his happy-go-lucky persona onto the field, practicing with the casual arrogance of a naturally gifted athlete.
“Jason was wired in a way that when practice started, it was time to work,” Pike said. “And Travis was always that goofy demeanor.”
Their different approaches sometimes led to brotherly blowups. Jason often wanted Travis to settle down and get serious, while Travis enjoyed getting under his older brother’s skin.
“Don’t be surprised if he [tries] it on Sunday,” Coombs said with a laugh. “Because if he thinks that’s going to help him win, he’s going to find a way to do whatever. He loves his brother now, but he wants to win that game. If he can needle him, he’s probably going to find a way to do it.” — Pryor
TRAVIS KNOWS BETTER than anyone that Jason’s temperament can turn on a dime.
He saw that up close as kids, most notably when he finally got the better of Jason while playing basketball in high school. Jason was angry he couldn’t stop Travis’ hook shot, Travis threw the basketball at him, and when the pair went inside the house, Jason punched Travis in the face. Travis drove Jason to the ground so hard a casserole dish bounced off the stovetop and shattered on the ground.
“They’re tangled up, so I just grabbed them together, and just go down, and they fall down on top of me. I screamed, ‘Oh my god, my back!'” their father, Ed, said. “There was nothing wrong with me, it just hit me: What a great idea. Let’s change the whole dynamic here. And so now everybody’s worried about Dad.”
Other stories from Jason’s time with the Eagles that speak to his temper, like the time right tackle Lane Johnson hid his helmet during a walk-through. A fired-up Jason saw the look on Johnson’s face and knew he was behind it, so he ran over to him and tried to kick him in the crotch but missed and hit him in the kneecap instead. Jason hurt his foot in the process and had to leave practice to get an MRI.
Teammates say Jason sees the game at a level that most of his peers can’t match.
“When we’re going through the script and you see all the pictures of how the routes are drawn and the O-line responsibilities, for us, it’s a picture. For Kelce, he sees it like it’s a five-second clip. He can see everything just off something like that, like the picture’s moving,” Mailata said. “It’s a beautiful mind.”
But it has also led to his frustrations boiling over when the details don’t look right.
“I’ve seen him get mad and knock over a big-ass bowl of chalk in the weight room. The whole f—ing weight room was just a white cloud,” Johnson said. “He’s done that a few times. He just gets super mad in walkthroughs or any type of meetings where something isn’t done right or the game plan feels like it’s not right, he gets very frustrated.” — McManus
Jason Kelce inspires Jordan Mailata so much … he’s his screensaver
Jordan Mailata shows how much Jason Kelce means to him and shares that Kelce’s photo is his screensaver on his phone.
JASON HAS A little Santa Claus to him — a comparison that would be even more spot-on if Santa had a hankering for beer instead of milk and cookies.
His interests in giving and swilling came together one night in 2019 at a fundraiser for the Eagles Autism Challenge. A group of players descended on a pub in the Philadelphia suburb of Conshohocken. The place was packed. The main attraction was the opportunity to go toe-to-toe with Jason in a chug-off for any patron willing to pony up a donation.
For Jason, it was win at all costs — for a good cause, of course.
“I just remember Kelce taking everybody’s money, man,” left tackle Jordan Mailata said. “I’m behind [the bar] with him watching him do this. As he’s talking to the person he’s making serious eye contact but he’s peeling the can opening back with his thumb, so he made the mouth bigger. He’s just talking the whole time. It was like breathing to him, that’s how easy it was, he just ripped that [beer] open.
“Then he’d cut the guy off and he was like, ‘All right, Let’s do this.’ One second, crushed it. Next dude, same thing. Nobody could beat him that night. I just remember thinking, Kelce, you’re a GOAT. You really are the GOAT. And he’s just like, ‘Hey, if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying. We’re trying to raise some money here.'”
The giving spirit hits Kelce around the holidays, as evidenced by the “Philly Special Christmas” album he helped spearhead that has raised over $1 million for Philadelphia-area charities. His fellow offensive linemen feel Jason’s generosity as well, though it’s decorated in humor.
“Usually every Christmas he’ll give a s—ty gift, or what’s perceived as a s—ty gift, and he’ll hide like five or 10 grand in there. He’s done that multiple times,” Johnson said. “There’s been times where he has a box full of shirts and stuff, it doesn’t look like much in there, a bunch of bulls—, and he’ll hide money in there.
“I think he really cherishes his team. You can’t help but feel like a family in an NFL situation, especially with the Eagles and the Chiefs, and it’s like your brothers and your sisters — you’re with them all day long throughout the season, you travel with them, you eat with them, you toil with them, you practice with them. It means a lot to him.” — McManus