SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Travis Kelce isn’t supposed to be on this Super Bowl stage, at least not at the level he’s still playing at.
Let’s start with his age. Kelce has destroyed the model for what a tight end should do at age 33. Before Kelce, only two tight ends at age 33 or older had passed 867 yards in a season. Only one, Pete Retzlaff of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1965, had 1,000 yards. Retzlaff put up 1,190 yards back before the first Super Bowl was ever played.
Kelce shattered that record. He had 110 catches for 1,338 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was first-team All-Pro. He laughed when asked how he has beaten the age curve for tight ends.
“Man, I don’t know how I beat it,” Kelce said. “I guess it’s my nutrition. Shout out to KuEatsFresh, my man [private chef] Kumar Ferguson. Whatever he’s feeding me is keeping me young.”
Kelce wasn’t too excited to talk about the aging process, but teammates are impressed at how being 33 hasn’t seemed to affect his play at all.
“Age doesn’t really matter to him,” Chiefs receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling said. “He’s a guy that’s going to go down as one of the best to ever do it and I’m grateful to have him as a teammate, to learn from him.”
“It’s definitely impressive, being able to sustain that much success for this long,” Chiefs center Creed Humphrey, who is 23 years old, said. “You can tell he’s someone that works very hard on staying healthy.”
Travis Kelce’s improbable path
Aside from the improbability of Kelce being the NFL’s best tight end, by far, at 33 years old, he probably shouldn’t have made it this far for other reasons.
Kelce’s career almost didn’t get off the ground. Kelce shared stories Tuesday about being suspended from the team at University of Cincinnati. He was suspended for a violation of team rules, which was a positive test for marijuana.
“I got kicked off the team for having a little too much fun off the field,” Kelce said. “I had to refocus. There were a lot of people that were at the University of Cincinnati that helped me and guided me.”
He said he thought “football was over for me.” He started playing in a summer baseball league. He had a certain set of guidelines that he had to meet, including making the dean’s list, to get back on the team.
“Doing things you didn’t typically see Travis Kelce doing his first couple years at Cincinnati,” Kelce said. “What that helped me do is mature a lot. It let me see I can have a lot of happiness if I just do some things like going to class.”
It’s rare for that type of off-field college trouble to lead to a long, successful pro career. But Kelce is 10 years into his NFL career, with eight Pro Bowls and a third Super Bowl appearance. Kelce said he finished his degree from Cincinnati last summer.
“The players, coaches and staff at the university at the time really believed in me to be able to turn things around and do better for myself,” Kelce said. “That was huge for me at that time.”
Kelce taking in another Super Bowl
Maybe all of the reasons Kelce shouldn’t be in this Super Bowl — the rocky college career, microfracture knee surgery that cost him all but one game as a rookie, thriving at an age in which almost no other tight end has had any success — is the reason Kelce seems to appreciate what being back in the Super Bowl means.
“It’s the excitement of it; these are the games that are meaningful,” Kelce said. “You play this game in order to win Super Bowls. I’ve been fortunate the past five or six years to be in that conversation. You take these games to heart.”
Kelce is putting the final touches on a career that will lead him to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. At his age there’s no guarantee he’ll have another stellar season like he just had, though he has already broken through that wall with his age-33 season.
It’s uncertain how long Kelce will play, or want to keep playing, but all that matters for the Chiefs this week is he’s still an elite-level tight end that can carry most of the offense along with Patrick Mahomes.
“I’d like to think that I’m at my best in the playoffs when it means the most,” Kelce said.