Mar 5, 2024 - Sports

Eagles' center Jason Kelce gives tearful goodbye

Eagles center Jason Kelce sobs during his retirement announcement.

Jason Kelce enters the next phase of his career. Photo: Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

It took Jason Kelce more than a half-hour into Monday's news conference to say the word "retiring" — but everyone in the room knew that's what he was doing when he stepped in front of the cameras and sobbed.

  • "Not a good start," managed Kelce, who sported a cutoff muscle shirt and expensive gold watch in his trademark casual style.

Why it matters: After 48 days of anticipation and speculation, the beloved Eagles All-Pro center and "King of South Philly" officially called it a career after 13 seasons in Philadelphia.

  • He leaves a gaping hole in the middle of the Eagles' offensive line but an even bigger one in fans' hearts.

Driving the news: Kelce's retirement speech doubled as a love letter to football, a game he said he adored from the minute he donned full pads in middle school.

  • He returned to that moment each time he smelled freshly mowed grass, the "most alive and free I had ever felt."

What he's saying: The sport gave him purpose, powering Kelce to unimaginable heights that he never thought possible as an unrecruited walk-on running back at the University of Cincinnati, where he'd later team up with his little brother, Travis.

  • "I had no stars, no investment," he said. "I had to earn everything."

What happened: His college career took off after a coach, Paul Longo, approached him about switching to center.

  • Despite being undersized for a lineman, Kelce had a standout college career and was selected by the Eagles in the sixth round of the 2011 NFL Draft.

Later, he recalled his agent telling him: "This is your kind of town."

  • Kelce, now regarded as a future Hall-of-Famer and one of the game's best centers, went to seven Pro Bowls, was selected All-Pro six times and helped the Eagles win the 2018 Super Bowl.

Flashback: The speech Kelce gave at the Super Bowl parade is among his fondest memories.

  • "That wasn't my speech," he said, recalling that he met a woman there who brought the ashes of a dead relative. "It was Philadelphia's."

Two years before, following a tough 2016 season that had some wanting to run him out of town, Kelce endured trade rumors.

  • He wouldn't have blamed the Eagles if they shipped him out for a couple of new "washing machines."

But offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland believed in him, and they spent the offseason improving his technique, leverage and footwork.

The bottom line: Kelce echoed Stoutland's words in summing up Philly's ethos.

  • "Hungry dogs run faster," he said.
  • Success in Philly boils down to one thing: Love Philadelphia "the way you love your brother."
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