PHILADELPHIA – Jason Kelce felt the pull of retirement after the Eagles slogged through a miserable 2020 season and a second Super Bowl any time soon seemed like a joke. The Christmas album crooner,honorary Mummer and All-Pro center — how many players have all those titles in their NFL.com bio? — considered walking away at the end of last season. His future was one of the more pressing offseason questions on tap, so Philadelphia Eagles coach Nick Sirianni shipped the big guy two cases of beer to coax him to stay.
So Kelce stayed.
“I’ve learned now I don’t know when that last game is going to come,” the 35-year-old Kelce said.
Hey, at least Kelce knows for sure when the last game this season is going to come.
Kelce has tried not to consider that the Super Bowl against Kansas City could be his final game as an Eagle. But he’s not the only veteran Eagle and Super Bowl champion with a murky future. Kelce, Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham are the lone holdovers from former coach Andy Reid’s last season with the Eagles in 2012. There’s a chance none of the three will be back for the 2023 season.
“I know them personally and they are tough guys, tough-minded,” Reid said. “They’re good leaders, fun to be around, and they’re good football players. Each one has their own characteristic, but in general I’d tell you that about all of them, great team guys."
Lane Johnson completes the four veteran anchors and was a rookie in former coach Chip Kelly’s first season in 2013.
The tenured stars — the Core Four — have won a Super Bowl under former coach Doug Pederson and won just four games in 2020. They’ve been hurt and set records. They’ve also raised the standard on what it means to be an Eagle. The best way to do that is go out and win the big one in style.
“Since the day I got here, that’s all they talk about,” defensive tackle Javon Hargrave said. “Tell me how they feel when they went to the Super Bowl and all the memories they had. It’s pretty cool to have people who have done it before.”
Hargrave’s nod to the veterans was interrupted when Graham pulled on his gaudy Super Bowl jacket — with tags dangling from the sleeve — at the neighboring locker. All they need is a new ring to complete the ensemble.
If they beat the Chiefs, some might go out in Philly on top.
This is no ordinary game for Kelce. On the Kansas City side, there’s Reid, the coach who drafted him. Also over there is his brother, tight end Travis Kelce, marking the first time siblings will face off in the Super Bowl. One more thing, Kelce’s wife Kylie is pregnant and the couple is bringing their ob-gyn to Arizona just in case.
Kelce has been as durable as they come, with the Super Bowl putting him at 149 consecutive games.
“He’s out there at practice every day limping around and giving his all to the team,” tight end Dallas Goedert said.
Let’s take a look at some of the foursome’s finer moments:
Jason Kelce. Age 35. Center. Sixth-round pick, 2011. Five-time first-team All-Pro.
The burly, bushy-haired Bird has been a stalwart of the offensive line since he was drafted and as an Iron Man after he missed most of the 2012 season with a partially torn MCL and torn ACL. He’s in the last season of his contract.
He’s a fan favorite and has done it all outside the football field, such as singing the national anthem at a 76ers game, partying with the Phanatic and pounding a beer to a roaring ovation at a Phillies postseason game.
But the moment that endeared him for life to the Philly faithful came at the 2018 Super Bowl parade when he dressed as one of Philadelphia’s famed Mummer’s 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!”
Brandon Graham. Age 34. Defensive end. First-round pick. 2010. 2020 Pro Bowl.
The most famous moment in Eagles history is the trick play that saw QB Nick Foles catch a touchdown to lead them past the New England Patriots for the franchise’s first Super Bowl victory. Right behind it? Graham’s strip-sack of Tom Brady in the same game with 2:21 left in the fourth quarter. Derek Barnett recovered and the Eagles hung on to win 41-33.
He missed most of last season with a torn Achilles but came back to post a career-high 11 sacks. Graham said he’s not retiring and was excited about testing free-agency for the first time in his career.
“I know I’m not the guy I was early on,” he said. “I do feel like I’m still pass-rushing the same. I’m able to be dominant in the run game. I’m enjoying being the leader for the guys.”
Lane Johnson. Age 32. Right tackle. First-round pick. 2013. Two-time first-team All-Pro.
Johnson, signed through 2025, bypassed surgery late in the season and has played through the postseason with a torn adductor in his groin. He did not allow a sack all season. But Johnson has received kudos for his openness in dealing with his mental health. Johnson took a leave during the 2021 season as he battled anxiety and depression and has since shared his story at depression treatment clinics in the area.
“I felt the shame, I felt like it was a crutch,” Johnson said last year.
Fletcher Cox. Age 32. Defensive tackle. First-round pick 2012. First-team All-Pro 2018.
Cox added seven sacks this season to give him 65 in his career. Cox was briefly released last season before signing a new deal for essentially one season. He may not be back in Philly next season but he’s not calling it quits.
“I’m still playing at a high level,” Cox said. “That hasn’t crossed my mind once, at all.”
AP Super Bowl coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/super-bowl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL