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February 04, 2023

Jason Kelce isn't taking his second Super Bowl trip for granted

"Getting to one's hard," the veteran center said. "Getting to two's obviously an incredible feat by the organization, all the guys here that have made that happen."

Jason Kelce never took that first trip to the Super Bowl for granted and he definitely won't with the second when the Eagles leave for Arizona at the end of the week. 

"Getting to one's hard," the All-Pro center said Friday down at the NovaCare Complex. "Getting to two's obviously an incredible feat by the organization, all the guys here that have made that happen."

Especially since there are never any guarantees.

Just like Brandon Graham did ahead of the NFC Championship, Kelce called back to former tight end Brent Celek and what he had told the team during the 2017 run that ended with the Lombardi Trophy atop the Art Museum steps. 

"I think he knew that the team was really special and he was a guy who had been around for a long time at that point," Kelce said. "I remember him talking to the offense before the first game about how he had went to the NFC Championship his second year and how he thought he'd just be back there every year or 'We'll get 'em next time!' And it took him another eight years after that or nine years to get back there.

"So I think it was kind of – There's a sense of urgency here. We have a really good team. We have a great roster. You're only going to get so many chances to do something special in this league and he realized it very early on that year that we had a chance to do something great."

And at this point, Kelce has been around a long time – Graham, Fletcher Cox, and Lane Johnson too – and going into this season, after making major acquisitions like A.J. Brown and Haason Reddick, while getting a full year to settle into head coach Nick Sirianni's system, he recognized similar signs about the 2022 squad.

"It's hard to go into a year not expecting to be great," Kelce said. "It just doesn't happen often, but I think we made a lot of improvement over the course of last year. I think all of us felt, collectively, really positive going into this year. 

"We made a lot of acquisitions that we felt were gonna improve, but you never know until you start playing, and once we started playing I think we all realized we have the talent to make it happen. It's really gonna come down to how well we execute, how well we prepare, how well we take care of the football. Really, just all the things we can do to not beat ourselves. That's gonna probably dictate how far we go."

For the majority of the season, they did all of those better than anyone, and it's taken them all the way to the end against Kansas City after a 14-3 record, a division title, and back-to-back thrashings of the Giants and then the 49ers in the playoffs. 

Jalen Hurts didn't just take a leap as a passer but became one of the most protective of the football, while Brown, DeVonta Smith, Dallas Goedert, Miles Sanders, and a dominant line made for one of the most efficient offenses in the NFL.

At the same time, Reddick and mid-season acquisitions Ndamukong Suh and Linval Joseph helped round out a defensive line that terrorized opposing quarterbacks – setting the franchise record for total sacks in a season – while Darius Slay, James Bradberry, and C.J. Gardner-Johnson formed one of the league's better backfields. 

It's a testament to the players, to coordinators Shane Steichen and Jonathan Gannon, and in the case of the offensive line's continued dominance, that unit's coach Jeff Stoutland. But above all else, Kelce said Friday, it's a testament to what Sirianni has built up within such a short window of time. 

"I mean, the head coach always deserves the ultimate credit," he said. "That's just the way it goes. With all the glory, with all the negative stuff that the head coach gets put on his plate, he should also get the positive. 

"His atmosphere and culture that he's built within this building is a really big reason why the coaches have flourished, why the players have flourished. That's what a head coach's main role is, whether he's calling the plays, offensively, calling the plays defensively, managing the game, his No. 1 job is to facilitate a team, an organization, that is focused on improving, that is focused on working, that comes into the building with energy, that's motivated to get better. These things far outweigh what play we call on third down and I think Nick does a phenomenal job at that. I think he deserves all the credit in the world for that."

Credit to the organization too. 

Twelve years in, Kelce has gone through three separate coaching changes – from Andy Reid to Chip Kelly to Doug Pederson and now to Sirianni – and while there have been down years for sure, the Eagles never stayed that way for long. 

Constants like himself, Cox, Graham, Johnson, and even Stoutland, who remained on staff through all three changes (and isn't going anywhere anytime soon), maintained a good culture around the team, even when things were bad, all while GM Howie Roseman either found a way to pull them out of it or in the case of this season, put them over the top. 

"When you have a good culture established, that far precedes me – I mean this culture was established, I would say, with Andy Reid, maybe those guys would say even before that," Kelce said. "We have a great locker room, we have a lot of guys who care for one another, and I was brought into that as a young player, and I think that the organization has done a phenomenal job of continuing that through all of three changes, as well as I think Howie. 

"As much as people have not given him credit for a lot of things in the past, it's hard to not give him credit this year."

When you know, you know

Kelce has mulled retirement every offseason for the past several years. 

Almost inevitably, he was asked Friday whether a second Super Bowl win would be his cue to call it a career. 

"I don't think so," he said. "From everybody I've been told about when you know it's time to retire or not, you just know when you know and it's gonna be when you don't wanna play football anymore. 

"I don't think that winning this game is going to determine whether I want to continue to play football or not."

Kelce came back for this season on a one-year deal and continued to perform as one of the league's best centers. But at age 35 and with the selection of center Cam Jurgens in the draft last April, with his input, it's been clear for a while that Kelce only has so much time in midnight green left. 

On Friday, he brought up conversations he had with Stoutland and the late Howard Mudd in the past on the thought of retirement. 

Stoutland told him that, as much as he'd think it wouldn't, a day will eventually come when he doesn't want to play football anymore and he'll know it.

And Mudd gave him the advice: "When in doubt, don't."

"You can use that for anything, by the way, not just retirement," Kelce recalled.

But for now, no doubt yet.

"I don't know when that's gonna happen," Kelce said. "Obviously, I contemplate it every offseason at this point, but just gonna appreciate the next week and a half now with the guys in this room and all the coaches, and hopefully put together another special game."

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