Jason Kelce became everything a Philly Legend should be

Cutline: Jason Kelce says he believes the NFL will not let players work together in the locker room unless it is completely safe. Photo by Al Thompson

Noted Eagles fan Victor Frankenstein couldn’t have created a more perfect creature than Jason Kelce.

Last week the 13-year veteran Philadelphia Eagles center retired with a nearly hour-long retirement speech that was at times funny, poignant, heartfelt and profane. In short, everything a Philadelphia Eagles legend should be.

Kelce took to the stage of the auditorium that serves as the team’s primary meeting room wearing a sleeveless Eagles workout top, shorts and flip flops over freshly taped ankles. No business attire, no formal wear, no artifice, just Kelce as Philadelphia has come to know him.  

Days later, the reason Kelce had his ankles taped came to light. The explanation is pure Kelce, mostly because it was not shared by Kelce.

Eagles associate athletic trainer Joe O’Pella taped Kelce’s ankle for the news conference because he had missed the opportunity to be in his accustomed role of taping Kelce’s ankles for the NFC Wildcard game in Tampa. The game turned out to be the final time Kelce would suit up as an Eagles player.

O’Pella had taped Kelce’s ankles and thumbs countless thousands of times throughout his 13-year career. O’Pella was absent from Tampa due to radiation and chemotherapy treatments after a recent cancer diagnoses.

Kelce made it a point to include his close friend and confidant in his final official act as an Eagles player.  

That small detail came from O’Pella himself. Because it had to.

As much as Kelce, his mother Donna and father Ed, his brother Travis, and his brother’s international superstar girlfriend have dominated the media landscape this NFL season. As transparent as Travis and Jason are on their weekly New Heights Podcast. As open and honest as Kelce is, the little things most people don’t know about him would make fans love him even more.

After Kelce spoke for the cameras, he took the time to individually thank every member of the media present, many who first met Kelce as an undersized, unheralded sixth-round rookie chosen with the 191st pick of the draft.

It was a heady time. The Eagles signed a dizzying array of free agent talent that would eventually become known as the “Dream Team” at first excitedly, then later derisively once the season cratered. Kelce earned the starting assignment that first season and never gave up that role.

Kelce has a natural understanding for both this city and its fans. He understood, immediately, the role reporters have as the window for the fans into the Eagles’ locker room. Kelce is unfailingly patient, generous and most importantly honest in giving his time and his answers.

Even unfamiliar reporters who may have been occasional visitors to the locker room were treated respectfully. Through it all, Kelce showed an unusual intelligence, grace and generosity that was and is entirely genuine.

Every person who looks at Kelce’s public persona and thinks he’d be a fun guy to hang out with is more right than you’d know. Kelce isn’t as fun as he seems like he’d be. He’s more fun.

Kelce would become a fixture at the Pro Bowl and was named first team All-Pro — the best center in the NFL — six times in his final seven seasons. Kelce retires at the very top of his game, on his terms, with his legacy intact.

The undersized former University of Cincinnati walk-on from suburban Ohio has become the face of the Eagles and this city. Get used to him. He is as much a part of Philly as the Mummers Parade and a cracked bell.