On a chilly March afternoon — inside the Nova Care Complex Auditorium whose walls bear the photos of Eagles greats like Chuck Bednarik and Tommy McDonald — an emotional Jason Kelce stepped to the podium to announce his retirement.

“Whenever I smell the clippings of a freshly mowed grass, I am brought back to this day, twleve years old, Roxboro Middle School, first day in pads,” he said. “I’ve been asked many times why did I choose football, what drew me to the game, and I never have an answer that gets it right.”

Sixty-five years ago next year, the Eagles stood at Franklin Field at the precipice of another NFL Championship. Up 17–13 in the fourth quarter with the University of Pennsylvania looming large in the backdrop, Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers had one last chance.

After catching a pass from Bart Starr, Green Bay running back Jim Taylor was stood up and dropped by Eagles Defensive Lineman and Center “Concrete” Chuck Bednarik at the Eagles 9 yard line. Taylor squirmed and yelled as the officials frantically tried to get to the football, all the while Bednarik sitting on Jim Taylor as time expired.

As Franklin Field erupted into euphoric applause, Chuck Bednarik stood over Jim Taylor and said, 

“You can get up now…”

My father was among the overjoyed fans.

Bednarik, and off-season concrete salesman and a waist gunner in a B24 aircraft during World War 2 has just won his second World Championship with the Eagles.

Concrete Chuck had retired in 1959, but changed his mind when he found out that his wife was pregnant. When he finally called it quits in 1962, we thought that the last of the sixty-minute men (a term crowned for those players who were on both offense and defense) would forever be our favorite Eagles Center.

Then we met Jason Kelce.

This Cincinnati Bearcat was undersized, and had only played center during his senior season. What ensued when the sixth round of the 2011 NFL Draft brought Kelce to Philadelphia was a link between he and this City that will never be forgotten.

Kelce connected with the City of Philadelphia almost immediately. Whether it was Eagles Autism Foundation or his own bephillyfoundation, Kelce is always present in the community. He would come to love the Eagles fanbase who considered him one of their own.

Jason Kelce was a true Philadelphia underdog. He emerged as a leader for the Eagles during dark times like the end of the Andy Reid and Chip Kelly Eras. Starting 193 games for the Eagles, his size never played a factor as he seven time Pro Bowler, six-time First Team All-Pro, and an NFL Champion.

All one has to do is to search online for a replay of Kelce’s February 2018 Super Bowl Parade Speech — a tirade that has endeared him to Philadelphia fueled by alcoholic beverages along the parade route along Broad Street and a Mummers Costume — to see in under six minutes why he is beloved by Philly. Or listen to his views of Philadelphia football and life in his regular podcast with he and brother Travis Kelce, New Heights.

In Philadelphia, Kelce has stiff competition in it’s almost 91-year-old franchise that grew from the opportunity left by the Frankford Yellow Jackets. Jim Ringo and Chuck Bednarik were both two-time NFL Champions and Hall of Fame NFL Players. 

But Kelce’s connection to the City placed him above all others.

“I don’t know what is next,” he told the media on Monday, “but I look forward to the new challenges and opportunities that await and I know that I carry with me the lessons from my time here and that forever, we shall all share the bond of being Philadelphians.”

Just like the call will always by Philly, Philly — that iconic, daring play call in the lone Super Bowl that the Eagles won — the greatest center in Philadelphia Eagles history that is an indelible part of one of the oldest, most popular, most iconic NFL Franchises . 

It will always be Jason Kelce.

Michael Thomas Leibrandt lives and works in Abington Township, Pennsylvania.

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