As another Philadelphia Eagles season winds down, we’re faced with the inevitable fact that a good number of players are about to play their final games with Birds. And long-time fixture Jason Kelce may, unfortunately, be in that group. After 11 years of all-out effort, he’s earned the right to call it quits whenever he sees fit. Yet, regardless of whether we see more of Kelce in Midnight Green after this season, his career should put this thought in the minds of this fanbase:
Dude might be the most Philly athlete we’ve ever seen.
It’s a hard thing to quantify, really. What does it mean to be “Philly”? In the world of sports, it often includes facing adversity and overcoming any obstacles in your way. Maybe it’s your size, lack of pedigree, or anything that could have caused other teams and other cities to shy away from drafting or signing you. But when a Philadelphia team came calling, you rose to the occasion and maximized every bit of your ability. You left it all on the field or the ice or the court, leaving none that could ever doubt your effort or how tough you were. Being Philly means being a gamer.
Oh, and winning a championship doesn’t hurt.
For all of us, the Eagles’ parade was probably the turning point where Jason Kelce went from “important player” to “straight up legend”. By embracing all things Philly, including the beloved yet dumb Mummers, Kelce bought in to the culture of this city in a way that not many athletes ever had. To this end, let’s take a look at a few of the athletes who have been very Philly over the decades and who may deserve being mentioned in the same breath as Kelce.
Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce has essentially become a Philly sports legend.
Among other Eagles, the team’s hallowed “Gang Green” defense might feature the best contenders for Kelce. You know the drill. Reggie White, Seth Joyner, Andre Waters, and on and on. Maybe there was never a group of players who was more Philly collectively, but none of these individual players matches Kelce’s longevity with the Eagles (and also never won a title in Philly). I also won’t fault you if you really want to reach back to Chuck Bednarik, but old “Concrete Charlie” is just a mythical figure to most living Eagles fans these days.
I love baseball, but even I will admit that it’s difficult for someone who plays that sport to exude the kind of tenacity that a football player like Kelce has. For the Phillies, though, Chase Utley is the first name that leaps to mind. A California boy wouldn’t seem to be the kind of player who could connect with the fans of this city, but speak the name “Chase Utley” to any Philadelphia fan ages 25-50, and their knees tremble with reverence. Utley pulled off a nearly Hall-level career by playing hard every night and leading his club by example. And he also got drunk at a parade and set a high bar for celebrating, nearly a decade before Kelce. Harry Kalas was never wrong. Chase Utley, you are the man.
I’d argue that Bryce Harper is slowly building up his case as well, thanks to the commitment which he made to the city by signing for 13 years without an opt-out and then backing it up with his play on the field. Unfortunately, the rest of the Phillies are going to need to start supporting him and winning more games before he gets full credit, though.
When it comes to the 76ers, it’s a tough area to examine. Allen Iverson may have been the scrappiest player we’ve ever seen in this city in any sport, which we love, but there was so much other tomfoolery that some people still never liked him. And while you can’t doubt how dominant Joel Embiid is and how hard he plays, there have been so many missteps by the franchise in recent years that one wonders if he’ll ever attain full cult status. Again, winning a title would help, but that ship may have already sailed.
The Flyers, with their small but rabid following, probably can’t tout any of their players as the most Philly athlete of all-time, but franchise icon Bobby Clarke has to be in the discussion. We’ll dock some points, however, due to playing so long ago that most current fans didn’t see him play, as well as his front office career that had its fair share of blemishes.
In the decades since Clarke hung up his skates, some other players like Rick Tocchet might come to mind, guys who played a hard-nosed style that meshed perfectly with what we’ve always been told a Philadelphia Flyer should be. A tip of the cap to the likes of Ron Hextall and Scott Hartnell as well. Most recently, Wayne Simmonds fit the mold of being a Philly kind of athlete, a true heart-and-soul player who worked for every ounce of the success he achieved. But Wayne was merely a good player whose status was elevated in the minds of fans thanks to his effort level, not a bona fide great player to begin with like Kelce.
When discuss who the “most Philly” athlete ever is, simply talking about those with the most talent isn’t enough. The player in question has to have the right kind of personality and the drive for success that matches or even outpaces his natural ability. Plus, bonus points forever for the parade. And so I’m going to declare Jason Kelce as the most Philly athlete to have graced our eyeballs, though I won’t totally dismiss some of the candidates I’ve mentioned. But no matter how you ultimately fall on this topic, I think we can all agree that Jason Kelce’s time in Philadelphia has been a blast. There will never be another player quite like him.