Technically, it’s not the first time that the Kelce brothers have faced each other in a game. This past January at the Pro Bowl, Jason and Travis Kelce were on opposite sidelines as each brother earned his second trip to the all-star game. Today, however, marks the first time the brothers square off in a regular-season game. The two were teammates all the way through college. Back in 2013, Travis Kelce was sidelined with a knee injury keeping the matchup from happening.
The day will be the toughest for Jason and Travis’ parents, Ed and Donna. These interviews are from an episode of the Eagles Insider podcast last season detailing what it was like raising two outstanding NFL players.
How did you develop two tremendously successful young men?
“I think the first thing was to make sure they’re doing what they absolutely love to do. At least in the off time. They always have to go to school but find out what they really love to do because if you like what you’re doing you will excel at it. That’s pretty much it. We wanted to keep them busy to cut down on all the broken windows in the house. Basically, keep them moving, keep them busy and keep them occupied, and make sure they’re always moving. They didn’t watch a lot of TV when they were growing up.”
How much trouble did they get into around the house?
“There was a lot. Probably as most boys do. There’s a lot of ranting, a lot of jabbing, a lot of fighting, and that’s what spurred both of them on. I think because they’re both extremely athletic. Jason was obviously the older one and he won a lot just by sheer size.
“You know they’re loud and hysterical all in one. There was just a lot of fun. A lot of fun meeting parents and friends. They both played hockey, baseball, lacrosse, so there were a lot of team sports in there with football included. Soccer, basketball you name it. It’s all in there. I think Jason even tried wrestling once.”
There was apparently a waterbed incident?
“That’s kind of funny. A lot of throwing footballs over the house but going through the second-floor window. Hockey pucks going through glass. I had to put in glass block on the bottom in the basement. Puck marks on the side of the garage. Yeah, the house was a total mess with the two of them. They’re pretty big and a lot of times kids will jump over and land on the couch. Well, the couch would go right through a floorboard when they would jump on it.”
How did you instill that fire?
“I think some kids are just born with it. He’s one of those individuals that’s just a driven human being. He always was and everything he had to do to the best of his ability. Except for maybe cleaning his room. But just telling them you can do whatever you want if you set your mind to it. You can do it. If you can see it, it can happen, things like that. Instead of saying no all the time, say this is what you can do. So I tried.”
Both sons in NFL on different teams, what kind of challenge does that present to you as a mom?
“That is so difficult and especially with the generation that they came from. Everything is all tweeting and texting instead of picking up the phone. It’s just the way I think children nowadays like to communicate, including with their friends. They’d rather tweet than sitting right next to them and having a conversation. It’s difficult we try and do that as much as we can. I miss them. I know that their careers are very time-consuming because Jason gets involved a lot in community service. He does a lot of things around town. He lives in Philadelphia so I try and get up there at least for a week or so. We were lucky enough to be able to go to the Pro Bowl and spend the week with them. It’s just moments like that that are special for me that I get to connect back with them. I miss them but I’m very happy that they get to lead the life that they want to and that their dreams came true.”
What makes you most proud of what Jason has accomplished?
“Not so much who he is or what he does but the man that he’s become. And there’s a lot of people that get athletes to where they are and if they have the right mentors, the right coaches, the right people that surround them every day. It’s just amazing. He’s just a really good guy. There isn’t just one event but every time I see him when he’s doing community service. Him giving back to society is one of the most important things. I think that makes me the proudest.”
Even with all of his success, Jason is still grounded.
“He does really care about family. I keep thinking as a mom what 20-year-old wants to have their mom hanging around. He’s said on more than one occasion that’s not the case. ‘I want to hear from you. I want to see you. I want you coming into town. This isn’t going to be forever. He said, ‘Just right now I’m just in a whirlwind of things that are happening,’ and the demands around him every day, with the job, with things outside of work. What the Eagles organization asks of him, it’s a huge job.”
Any special pregame ritual something you do with Jason?
“I usually send him a text of a picture of him when he was young. Just to bring him home, just something for him to laugh at to maybe cut the seriousness because he’s so focused on what he’s doing. Just something that might give him a little chuckle before he goes into the game. That’s basically what I try to do.”
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Jason?
“Work ethic and attitude. Could be can be anything he wants to be.”
Where did that come from?
“I don’t know about born and bred. I think there’s an attitude that seems to be pervasive in Western PA, Northeast Ohio, Southeast Michigan, those kinds of areas. There’s probably a big reason why so many football players are from that part of the country. But as far as the neighborhood or the actual city that they’ve grown in, I don’t know how much that had an input. I don’t necessarily think that’s genetics. It probably has to do with the attitude around the house. As a parent, you’re always trying to encourage your children, help them find their passion, and then beat it.”
First football memories of Jason and Travis?
“In the living room, they were 3 and 1. They had to get past me with the football and if you fumbled you had to do pushups.
Make believe. Actually, Jason could do a pushup at 3 years old. It wasn’t pretty and we’re not talking Marine Corps here but he had the basic idea. That’s the earliest thing to do with football. And really, after that, football was not much of a factor until they got into middle school. Neither boy played midget football, youth, Pop Warner, any of that. First of all, there wasn’t a lot of that going on around Cleveland Heights (Ohio). Baseball was probably the first organized sport followed closely by hockey. And hockey really dominated from 8 (years old) until high school. Actually Jason played through high school. Hockey was a big part of our life.”
How surprising is it that the two ended up as pro football players?
“I don’t think surprising. I think they could have been as successful in hockey if we as parents were willing to pigeon-hole them to hockey. That is, have them play year-round hockey. Move to Ontario when they were 14 so they could play in the Ontario League until they’re ready to go to college. Nothing like that was ever going to happen. They were drawn more to football. I think they both could’ve made it in baseball. Of course, baseball’s another sport when you’re 13, 14 years old you better be playing it year-round if you had aspirations of playing it professionally. They were both very good at soccer one time. Then again soccer’s another one of those sports when you reach another level, you’re doing it year-round.
“I was never very big on trying to get them to focus on one particular sport. I never really put a lot of emphasis on trying to get a scholarship and this or that. It was more of a enjoy yourself. Every game is a test for how well you prepared yourself whether it was football, hockey or baseball.”
What was it like for you when Jason started getting offers for football?
“Very heavy experience. Invigorating. He had Northwestern. Their coach had been to see him a couple times. I think this was his junior year. They had him scheduled for, I think, a day at Northwestern with a bunch of other players. When we showed up there they had a jersey for him to wear during the workouts. It was the same as his high school number. I mean we were really enthusiastic but then his recruiting coach left to go work for the (Miami) Dolphins and the new tight ends coach wasn’t as excited about Jason. The other thing is we went to a bunch of camps that summer their junior and senior year went to a lot of college camps. And Jason frankly hadn’t spent a lot of time in the weight room. Every year, he went from playing football, then he played hockey, then he played lacrosse. I think his last two years of high school he had two music classes a day. He was in three different bands. He was at Michigan State he couldn’t bench press 200 pounds. Everybody lost interest after that. He was a tall kid very athletic kid who just wasn’t very strong in their opinion.”
What went into the decision to walk-on at Cincinnati?
“He had some partial offers from 1-AAs. At least that’s what they were called at the time. Boatload of partials from Division II schools who were all over him. He was a little disappointed that there was nothing for him Division I. It was Paul Rhoads at Pitt who was one of the coaches who was the recruiting coach for Cleveland … I talked to Paul Rhodes and said what do you think of walking on? They were real interested and sort of launched that and as soon as you get a spot you get a scholarship. So that was a no-brainer to me.
“I know Jason and you put him there for one year on his own nickel and the next year he’ll have a scholarship. He was all ready to do that and … He went down to Cincinnati and just fell in love with Mark Dantonio and his staff and eventually decided, ‘I’m going to do it at Cincinnati.’ He went down there and they were working out in July and less than a week in of camp he redshirted.
“But it only took (new head coach Brian) Kelly’s staff a few weeks approaching spring ball. That time Jason was a linebacker. Kelly’s staff convinced him to become an offensive lineman. To his own credit, he said, ‘I could do that. Who’s paying for my education fellas?’ He actually went up there and said that and they gave him a scholarship. So there was never any doubt in my mind. At one point in high school, Jason was a little depressed and a little concerned. But a little reminder from his mother and me, ‘This is nothing you can’t handle.'”
What was that moment like when he told you he received a scholarship?
“He called me. It was (Kelly’s strength and conditioning coach). This guy had a habit when they were in Central Michigan, taking young guys that were very athletic tight ends, linebackers, fullbacks, and turning them into offensive linemen. Told him very clearly, ‘If you do what I tell you, you’ll be able to play on Sunday for a very long time.’ Lo and behold. I remember the moment because Jason called me and said ‘They want me to be an offensive lineman. They want me to bulk up.’ I said, ‘And what did you tell them?’ He said, “I told them, you want me to do that. Where’s the scholarship, fellas?’ Kind of gutsy for a kid who’s there as a walk-on. He wanted to call and ask what I think he should do although I’m sure he would’ve considered my opinion by that point. You don’t do stuff for dad anymore, you have to do what you want.”
How did his experience as a walk-on prepare him for the NFL?
“I think that prepared him very well. There were a series of things that went wrong for him. He was pretty well regarded heading into the Combine. But then he goes to the Combine and he’s dropped down from 295 and down to 280 and sick. There was a stomach flu going around the team at Cincinnati. He lived in a house with seven football players so he gets the stomach flu and he’s too weak to lift weights. All he does is run. So he looks undersized. He looks pale. That was depressing. So he gets out of there and thinks that’s all right, I’ll have a senior day. Lo and behold, a week later the stomach flu is still around. He goes to the doctor and boom. (He’s) in the hospital to get that appendix out that burst which killed his senior day. So if he had the chance to work out healthy, things might have been different. But he didn’t, he was going there. He was undersized and too weak. I don’t think he doubted himself. It was kind of like here we go again.”
What makes you most proud of what Jason has accomplished?
“He has not lost sight of who he is or where he’s from. Knows how fortunate he is and has always been. With the family support that he’s had. Well, he realizes being a professional athlete does not make you a better man. The content of your character, one man said.”