An underdog in every sense of the word, Eagles center Jason Kelce has become one of Philadelphia’s most beloved athletes.

From walk-on running back to sixth-round pick, from Pro Bowls to his epic speech — and outfit — at the Super Bowl parade in 2018, Kelce has been embraced by the city seemingly since his arrival in 2011.

But how has a center of all people achieved such cult-figure status?

There are so many reasons, but our Jeff McLane puts it perfectly when he says most of all for his general Kelceness.

He has core beliefs that aren’t exactly revolutionary, but that he lives by: hard work, honesty, and when it comes to football, competition and the importance of each individual on a team, no matter how seemingly insignificant, McLane writes.

Ahead of what potentially could be the 34-year-old Kelce’s final NFL game, McLane looks at the many layers of the Eagles center and what has, against all odds, put him in the company of Mike Schmidt, Wilt Chamberlain, and Brian Dawkins in the hearts of Philadelphia sports fans.

— Inquirer Sports Staff, @phillysport

Which Philadelphia athlete have you identified the most with during your time as a sports fan?:

Remember to scroll all the way to the bottom to answer the latest installment of Who Said It?

Early Birds

Although Alabama lost Monday night’s title game to Georgia, the program has a pedigree of winning, especially since the arrival of Nick Saban in 2007.

Alabama has won six national championships since 2009, and a trio of Eagles players hope that winning pedigree will translate to the NFL playoffs. Jalen Hurts, DeVonta Smith, and Landon Dickerson all spent time in Tuscaloosa under Saban, and all three tasted victory by winning a national title.

While none of the three has played an NFL playoff game, Nick Sirianni believes in his three youngsters.

“Jalen’s never played in the playoffs, DeVonta’s never played in the playoffs, Landon’s never played in the playoffs, but they’ve played in national championship games,” Sirianni said Monday. “Those games are huge. They have the same type of hoopla that surrounds them, so I’m confident. We have winners on this football team.”

Another key for the Eagles this Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could be field position. When it comes to punting, that responsibility falls on Arryn Siposs, the latest in a long line of Australian punters to land on American football fields. Matt Breen chronicles Siposs’ transformation from up-and-coming Aussie rules player to NFL punter.

Off the Dribble

Tuesday ended with Charlie Brown Jr., who attended St. Joseph’s and hails from Northeast Philly, signing a two-way deal with the 76ers. It was the “perfect” story for an imperfect season that has left many NBA teams relying on players from the league’s fringes like never before.

Brown’s story is one of perseverance. He wasn’t highly recruited, he went to prep school before he attended St. Joseph’s, and he went unselected on draft night. But after gutting through three seasons mostly spent in the G League, he has a place on the Sixers roster. Breen has the story.

Next: The Sixers play the Charlotte Hornets at the Wells Fargo Center at 7 p.m. Wednesday, welcoming LaMelo Ball and Co. to town (NBCSP).

On the Fly

O Captain! My Captain!

Captain Claude Giroux returned to practice Tuesday after a week out and three games missed due to COVID protocols. While Giroux’s return was a welcome sight, Rasmus Ristolainen’s absence was not. The rugged defenseman became the latest Flyer to enter into the league’s protocols, joining Travis Konecny, Justin Braun, and Ivan Provorov, who remain sidelined.

Tuesday was set to be a quiet day with the Flyers’ game against the Hurricanes postponed. No one told that to Bobby Clarke, though, as the former Flyers great bashed former goalie Ron Hextall for his decision-making as the team’s general manager (2014-18) on The Cam and Strick podcast.

“We get the second pick in the draft and we end up drafting Nolan Patrick,” Clarke said (at 1:47 of the episode). “None of our scouts wanted Nolan Patrick.”

Tell us how you really feel, Bobby!

Next: The Flyers travel to Boston on Thursday to take on the Bruins (7 p.m. on ESPN).

Fleet Street

A joint contract for the U.S. men’s and women’s soccer teams?

Not yet, although according to U.S. Soccer president Cindy Cone, talks are progressing.

“These discussions have benefited greatly from the consistent and active participation of the women’s players at the bargaining table,” said Cone, a former U.S. star player herself, in a letter published on U.S. Soccer’s website.

“We’ve told both players’ associations that we will not reach a deal unless we find a way to equalize the World Cup prize money,” Cone said on the conference call. “So we’ve asked the men and the women to get together to find a place that is best for them. … U.S. Soccer has made proposals on ways that we should get there, but obviously, we need the help of the men and the women to get there — we can’t unilaterally do it.”

Other nations have agreed to equal pay deals in recent years, beginning with Norway in 2017.

Worth a look

  • Football mentality: It is often said that a point guard must serve as a basketball team’s quarterback. For Villanova, that rings extra true as freshman point guard Jordan Longino actually was a quarterback in high school at Germantown Academy. As Mike Jensen writes, Longino, who was recruited by several D1 schools including Penn State, brings an obvious football mentality and toughness to the floor for the Wildcats.

  • ‘Bigger than basketball’: After three ACL tears and a season canceled by COVID-19, Penn’s Jelani Williams, a fifth-year senior, finally played his first home collegiate basketball game earlier this season. While Williams has made an impact on the court for the Quakers (6.1 ppg), he’s more proud of the impact he and his teammates are making off of it in terms of sparking the conversation around race and social injustice.

  • Dragons downed: Drexel dropped a tight CAA encounter with Delaware on Tuesday night, 81-77. Some familiar names downed the Dragons, as Jameer Nelson Jr., son of former St. Joe’s Naismith College Player of the Year Jameer Nelson, poured in 22 points and former Villanova Wildcat Dylan Painter added 14. Drexel fell to 6-6 and 1-1 in conference play.

  • Explorers fall: St. Bonaventure was too much for La Salle, posting an 80-76 victory in overtime at Tom Gola Arena.

Who said it ... and about whom?

“He wants to make everybody around him better and doesn’t stand for mediocrity. I think that’s a really good lesson to have is be your best, always try to be your best, and if you’re not, that’s a you problem.”

A. Nick Sirianni about Jalen Hurts

B. Jay Wright about Collin Gillespie

C. Justin Williams about Rod Brind A’mour

D. Lane Johnson about Jason Kelce

We compiled today’s newsletter using reporting from Jeff McLane, EJ Smith, Olivia Reiner, Giana Han, Mike Jensen, David Murphy, Jonathan Tannenwald, Matt Breen, Rich Flanagan, Manning Snyder, and Sage Hurley.