Kelce Brothers Will Share the N.F.L.’s Biggest Stage

PHOENIX — During Super Bowl media night on Monday, hundreds of reporters swarmed the floor of the Footprint Center — converted from a basketball venue to accommodate sports’ biggest pop up news conference.

Amid the bustling and elbowing for face time with players from both Super Bowl teams, Donna Kelce perched atop a stage. She stood next to her sons wearing a custom-made jersey emblazoned with Travis Kelce’s No. 87 Kansas City Chiefs uniform on the front, and Jason Kelce’s No. 62 Philadelphia Eagles kit on the back.

After hugging them, she handed each a plastic container filled with homemade cookies.

She has celebrated her sons’ championship wins before: Travis, a tight end, won in the 2019 season and Jason, a center, in the 2017 season. But this Sunday she’ll be in a much more precarious position as her sons become the first pair of brothers in N.F.L. history to compete against each other in a Super Bowl.

When asked if she would root for any child in particular, she deflected, saying she would be screaming through the whole game.

“It’s just been amazing that they’ve both been able to get to this point in their careers and both enjoy the Super Bowl together,” Donna Kelce said in an interview with NFL Network.

Travis, 33, and Jason Kelce, 35, are less conflicted. “I think we more dreamed about being on the same team, but this is pretty good,” Jason Kelce said. “It’s close enough.”

The brothers played together at the University of Cincinnati before going to the N.F.L.Credit…Ed Zurga/Associated Press

Despite their career arcs leading them both to football’s biggest stage, the two brothers are quick to note their differences. Raised in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, the Kelce brothers were college teammates at Cincinnati from 2008 to 2009. Travis Kelce was suspended for the entire 2010 season for failing a drug test. During his senior year, Travis Kelce caught 45 passes for 722 yards and eight touchdowns, earning first-team all-conference honors. Jason Kelce earned second-team all-conference honors and started all 13 games in his senior year.

Jason Kelce was selected in the sixth round of the 2011 draft, while Travis was selected in the third round two years later.

But while their paths share some similarities, there are stark differences — both on and off the field. Travis Kelce said that they began to seek their own paths at Cleveland Heights High School. They both played football, but Travis was also on the basketball and baseball teams, while Jason opted for hockey and lacrosse.

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“I feel like those winter and spring sports, we’re just hanging around different people and that’s what kind of guided us into who we are and kind of molded us into who we are today,” Travis Kelce said.

As N.F.L. pros, both are known as boisterous team leaders with different approaches. Travis, the W.W.E.-quoting, highlight-reel playmaker, tends to celebrate touchdowns with ball spikes and dancing. He is known for leading Kansas City fans and teammates in shouting “you gotta fight for your right to party!” after big wins.

Jason, playing a workman position on the offensive line, is considerably less flashy but still a vocal leader in the Eagles’ locker room.

The two last year started a weekly podcast, “New Heights with Jason and Travis Kelce,” that has grown in popularity to have over 500,000 subscribers on its YouTube channel.

On an episode in November, Jalen Hurts, the Eagles’ starting quarterback, said he bought two pairs of Air Jordan shoes for the offensive linemen for Christmas. Hurts and Travis Kelce began discussing the specific model the sneakers were before reverting to more basic terms and calling them the “gray ones,” — the coveted Jordan 11s known to sneaker heads as “cool greys” — so Jason Kelce could understand.

“I got to speak his language” Hurts said, chuckling.

But the brothers’ teammates and coaches respect them for their unique personalities and interests, saying they both act as glue to their locker rooms. Jordan Mailata, an Eagles offensive tackle, has a picture of Jason wearing a Batman costume as his cellphone’s wallpaper.

“That’s how much of an inspiration he is to me,” Mailata said. “You couldn’t ask for a better teammate and a leader. He leads by example. You see it by his play on field. But more importantly, we all see the way he attacks every week in the classroom.”

Jeff Stoutland, the Eagles’ offensive line coach, said Jason Kelce acts as an assistant coach during film review sessions and often helps point out alignments and adjustments to him during meetings. Stoutland said Jason’s mental preparation is one of the main reasons he has been selected to six Pro Bowls and named an All-Pro five times in a 12-year N.F.L. career spent only in Philadelphia.

On the verge of the championship game, Jason told reporters that he had been contemplating retirement, but said last week that he did not anticipate that the result of the Super Bowl would influence his decision.

Meanwhile, Travis Kelce, an eight-time Pro Bowl selection and four-time All-Pro, continues to bolster a case for being the best tight end in N.F.L. history. He finished the regular season ranked second in the league in receiving touchdowns (12) and the tandem of he and quarterback Patrick Mahomes has now appeared in three Super Bowls and five consecutive A.F.C. championship games.

Travis Kelce has been Mahomes’s leading receiver in three of those seasons. Teammates and coaches credited that consistency to his work ethic, leadership and ability to relate to them.

“He has a very loud voice and a very significant voice and when he speaks, you listen,” said Orlando Brown, a Kansas City offensive lineman. “He’s full of energy and a great teammate and fun to be around.”

As the two brothers prepare for Sunday, the fact they will be opponents with different personalities is trivial compared to what the moment means to their greater support system.

“For us to go compete against each other at this highest stage, it’s a really awesome reflection of our family and both of us but more so it’s an incredible moment for our community and who we grew up with,” Jason Kelce said.

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