When Mike Jones thinks of Jason and Travis Kelce, the thing that sticks out most is the car they drove in high school.
He can’t remember the make or the model, just what it symbolized for the brothers from Cleveland Heights High School who each would go on to have a decorated NFL careers during their shared years.
Jones, who coached the two in the mid-2000s, held early-morning practices and required his players to be on the field by 5:45 a.m. Most mornings, he’d see Jason Kelce dragging his groggy younger brother onto the field after the two drove in together.
“He’d be moving slow, not getting to the field on time,” Jones said of Travis. “Jason would almost literally drag him out there to make sure he was on time. Jason always kept him in check. Travis would push back a little bit, but Jason would just say, ‘Look, man, I’m not going to tell you again. This is what we’re doing.’
“Then you’d just see them laughing and giggling and joking as they got in that car going home together at night,” Jones added. “It was just awesome to see.”
The Eagles’ matchup against Travis’ Kansas City Chiefs this Sunday will be the first time the two brothers have lined up on opposite sidelines for a regular-season game since 2017. Travis, who is two years younger than Jason, has become one of the league’s best tight ends since being drafted in 2013. Jason has also established himself as one of the best at his position with the Eagles and is one of the leaders in the team’s locker room.
Plenty has changed since the brothers’ last meeting four years ago. Both have won a Super Bowl, they’ve accumulated five All-Pro nods and six Pro Bowl berths. Travis was named to the NFL All-Decade team for the 2010s, and Jason has crept up the ranks of the best centers in league history.
Largely thanks to Jason’s last four seasons, the two could be one of the first pairs of brothers to both get inducted into the Hall of Fame.
The highest honor
Regardless of their Hall of Fame chances and collective All-Pro selections, the most important honor for the Cleveland Heights natives who have followed the Kelce brothers wasn’t a trophy at all, but a nomination.
Jeff Rotsky, who coached Travis at Cleveland Heights his senior year and coached against Jason before that, takes pride in the tight end being a finalist for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award last season.
“The greatest thing about Travis was him being a finalist for the Man of the Year,” Rotsky said. “The fact that he gets to give back and care like he has, I was just so proud. Travis has learned through his fame that he can become a very strong social justice [advocate.] If there’s anyone that grew up in a very, very diverse place, it’s Jason and Travis and both of them have done an amazing job of giving back.”
Travis being recognized as one of the 32 most charitable players, both in terms of philanthropy and volunteer work, represented the progress he has made since his time in college.
Both Jason and Travis went to Cincinnati, but Travis struggled in his first few years. He was temporarily dismissed from the team because of a positive marijuana test and had his scholarship revoked.
Jason, who also went to Cincinnati, took advice from their mom, Donna, and had Travis move in with him on campus.
Rotsky remembers talking to their mother during Travis’ graduation party before he left for school and saying that misbehavior would be the only thing to keep Travis out of the NFL.
“I said, ‘Travis is going to play on Sundays, so the only thing that’s going to get in Travis’ way is Travis,’” Rotsky said. “I told her to trust me on that and that I’d be there for her and I felt like when Travis had his rough spots, Jason was the key. But I know I spent quite a bit of time with him talking through situations with him, there were a few late nights, but that’s OK. That’s why God makes us coaches.”
Travis eventually found his way onto the field and out of trouble at Cincy, becoming a third-round pick in the 2013 draft. Jason, who started his college career as a linebacker before moving to offensive line and was taken in the sixth round two years earlier, had gotten through to him.
Earlier this week, Travis conceded he felt a twinge of disappointment when the Eagles took Zach Ertz the round before him in 2013.
“They took the opportunity away from me to play with my brother in Philly when they took Zach Ertz in the draft,” Travis said. “Zach Ertz has been awesome for them, he helped them get a Super Bowl, so it wasn’t the wrong pick, but in my mind they took that opportunity away. I thought it would be so cool to play at all three levels with my brother, but I’m happy I landed here in Kansas City, I can tell you that much.”
The fun side
Jason spent his teenage years on the hockey team and was a member of the school band. He was “all business,” as Jones put it. Travis played on the basketball team and was more outgoing.
The dynamic of Jason keeping Travis in line is well-documented, but Travis’ influence on Jason not as much.
When Rotsky saw Jason dressed in a Mummer’s costume and delivering an impassioned, R-rated speech at the Eagles’ Super Bowl parade in 2018, he reflected on the way Travis had influenced his stoic, gruff older brother.
“The cool thing is, Travis is Travis and Jason is Jason and I think both of them have rubbed off in positive ways,” Rotsky said. “Do I think Travis becomes the type of young man he is without Jason’s influence? No way. I think Jason taught him how to do things right. How to grind. Not that he didn’t know how to work hard, but he taught him the right way to do things in college and then I think he taught him how to truly be a professional.
“On the flip side, I think Travis taught Jason how to have fun,” Rotsky added. “I think that’s equally as important. I think, when you saw Jason give his Super Bowl speech, it definitely surprised me a little bit. I definitely saw a little Travis in that. I think they both helped each other in that respect.”
Jones thought the same thing.
“Jason was all business. He was very focused, it was all business, but Travis really lightened him up,” he said. “Even when Jason didn’t want to be lightened up, he gave in to Travis’ pushing him to be a little lighter.”
Travis made his own Super Bowl speech two years later; donning a WWE championship belt and persona, and dropping a few expletives himself.
“It’s been cool to see him become who he is,” Travis said of Jason. “People get attracted to that because he’s a fun guy to be around.”
Even though they have different paths and different personalities, Jones said he found comfort in knowing they’d always finish practice, walk to the parking lot together, and go home.
“They both went down different alleys, but at the end of the day, they both got in that same car and drove home. That was the beauty of it.”