“It’s been a fun ride to be on,” Donna Kelce, the mother of the NFL superstars tells PEOPLE in this week’s cover story
On Monday night, as Philadelphia Eagles fans watched the seconds tick down on their team’s season — and tears welling in star center Jason Kelce’s eyes, signaling an apparent decision to hang up his cleats — it was hard not to sense the end of an era.
“Thirteen seasons. Seven-time Pro Bowler. Six-time All-Pro. One Super Bowl. One No. 1 podcast. And one Sexiest Man Alive title,” ESPN analyst Pat McAfee said the following day on his show, ticking off Jason’s career accomplishments. “Hell of a run….”
But for the Brothers Kelce, “the run” seems nowhere near done, even if Jason has played his last down in the NFL.
If last February’s Super Bowl LVII, in which Travis’ Kansas City Chiefs defeated Jason’s Eagles, touched off the dizzying hype of Kelce Mania, the ensuing months — crammed with their chart-topping New Heights podcast, the record-breaking Amazon Prime documentary Kelce, a slew of endorsements and Travis’ high-profile relationship with Taylor Swift (which helped boost the NFL’s female viewership by more than 2 million) — have only supercharged the fascination.
“It’s been really surreal and a fun ride to be on,” their mother Donna Kelce, 71, tells PEOPLE of her unique vantage of the phenomenon.
“Being able to be with my kids — the experiences, the places, enjoying people I’ve never met before. And I’m very happy they get to enjoy the fruits of their labor, because it’s [been] a tough ride to get where they are now.”
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The secret to the Kelces’ success is their easy charm and undeniable authenticity (and their unfailing willingness to goof on each other about what their own personal scented candle would smell like) — and father Ed Kelce, 72, says that effortless brotherly banter is nothing new.
“I’ve been listening to the shtick between these [two] since they were toddlers,” he told PEOPLE last October. “The way they interact on the podcast, that’s the way they’ve always been. And that’s always been fun to watch.”
Jason and Travis grew up Cleveland Heights, Ohio, playing every sport they could and making their fair amount of well-intentioned mischief, like the time a bocce ball found its way through the family car’s windshield. (“Those kinds of things happened constantly when they were growing up,” admits Donna.) But they learned fierce commitment to each other through their parents’ commitment to them.
“My brother didn’t have any children, and my husband’s sister didn’t have any,” explains Donna. “[Jason and Travis] used to yell at me because they didn’t have any cousins to play with on Christmas. We were tight-knit, always trying to help each other as much as we could.”
As Travis told PEOPLE last April of what he learned from his parents, who remained together for the sake of their kids until Travis left to join Jason at the University of Cincinnati: “My entire upbringing [was about learning] to fuel people. . . . I was always taught to be a fountain, not a drain, [to] provide something instead of [taking].”
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These days, both Jason and Travis find themselves with plenty to offer — and plenty to devote to second acts whenever the time comes, from their growing media empire to investments in everything from F1 Racing (Travis) to a Missouri cattle farm (Jason).
Recently, Travis’s management team revealed to The New York Times their vision to make the nine-time Pro Bowl tight end as “famous as the Rock,” referencing Dwayne Johnson’s transition from WWE star to A-list actor.
“He really enjoyed Saturday Night Live,” a source tells PEOPLE of Travis’s March 2023 hosting stint. “He had a blast. After he retires, he wants to lean into acting and hosting.”
For now, Travis will continue to hone his charisma on the New Heights podcast, opposite Jason, his worthiest foil. “They’re just as competitive as adults today, always jabbing at each other [about] who’s the best,” says Donna, laughing. “It doesn’t stop. They’re each other’s biggest fan.”
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