On Sunday, Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce came into the Denver Broncos game needing 11 yards for 1,000 on the season. And late in the first quarter, he got just that many with his first target — an 11-yard catch with the Chiefs facing third-and-4.
Kelce would go onto have 10 more catches and another 131 yards in the game. With two games to play, he has 1,131 yards and counting.
By reaching 1,000 yards, Kelce made NFL history. No tight end has ever had four consecutive seasons of 1,000 yards or more.
In the locker room after the game, Kelce was reluctant to say too much about his personal achievement.
“Right now, it’s just a bunch of numbers, honestly,” said Kelce, who has just four touchdowns on the year — something that might have bothered him in the past. “I’m focused on winning games and trying to get to a Super Bowl with this team and this organization like I have been since I got here. With that being said, I’m very fortunate that I have been here in the Kansas City Chiefs organization under Coach Andy Reid, under Clark Hunt, under the unbelievable coaches that have been here.
“Just being able to gain their trust. That’s everything in terms of a team sport. With it being a team sport, the individual accolades, I like to just put them aside and focus on how I can get better for my team.”
Kelce’s Chiefs story began on NFL draft day in 2013 when he thought he was answering a call from the then-St. Louis Rams.
How @tkelce’s first phone call with Andy Reid helped shape his career with the @Chiefs pic.twitter.com/85lcnwH3K5— Herd w/Colin Cowherd (@TheHerd) January 31, 2017
KELCE (via The Herd with Colin Cowherd): “It’s a Missouri number — so I’m thinking it’s St. Louis. I’m like, ‘Oh, crap, I’m going to freaking … I’m going to the Rams? Come on.’
So I answer and he’s like, ‘Hey, it’s Andy Reid.’ I’m like, ‘Oh man! Life just got better! Life just got pretty cool!’
He says, ‘Listen, shut up. Are you gonna mess this up? Are you gonna screw this up for yourself and this team? Can I count on you?
I’m just sitting there like, ‘Ohhhhh …’ You’re thinking, ‘Draft Day, this must be the best call of my life. Like hey, ‘Yeah, we’re gonna draft you, excited for you.’
He’s questioning me like, ‘Are you gonna [expletive] this up?’ I’m trying to give him every answer I can give, like ‘I’m gonna work hard and be the best tight end you’ve ever had,’ this and that.
He’s like, ‘Yeah, alright, put your brother on the phone.’ My brother [Jason Kelce] played in Philly for him for two years, actually got drafted by Andy as well. I just hear my brother saying, ‘No coach, I got you.’ I guess he told my brother, ‘Make sure this kid doesn’t screw this up for me.’
I get back on. ‘All right, we’re gonna take you. This minute you start to go astray I’m going to kick your ass.’”
Reid remembered the story a little differently.
”You have to understand that I knew Travis before we took him,” said the Chiefs head coach. “I had his brother (Jason) and he came to visit his brother all of the time. I knew him. I didn’t ask him if he was going to screw it up, or tell him that he was going to screw it up, I just said that you know how I operate, and welcome aboard — and that I’m probably not going to be the easiest on you. He said, ‘I got it.’”
The Chiefs took Kelce in the third round of the draft, and it turned out he was right.
And over the past seven years, we watched him grow from backup to Anthony Fasano, to a firecracker with a different touchdown dance every week to a reality dater to a two-time All-Pro and undeniable team leader.
“I think he has grown up tremendously,” said Reid, reflecting on seven years of Kelce. “The talent was always there, it has always been there. He is very gifted. He has a great feel. He loves playing the game. Then, he has been on the other side of it. He has been a quarterback, so he knows how to be quarterback-friendly. There is something to be said for that. It was just a matter of growing up, having the responsibility that he had here and understanding that and handling that. I think he has done phenomenal with it. He has been voted the team captain for every year that we’ve been to the playoffs here, the last three or four years. He is respected by his peers, teammates.”
That includes his most important teammate.
“I mean just how consistent he is on a game to game basis, it’s truly special,” said quarterback Patrick Mahomes after Sunday’s win. “He’s going out there trying to win and being a competitor. He doesn’t look at stats. He doesn’t look at that stuff. He’s just a competitor on that field who wants to win a football game and he does whatever he can to get himself or other players open. He’s a guy you want to have on your team.”
Gonzalez had four (and only four) 1,000-yard seasons in his 17-year career — but never in a row. Former New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski can say the same. One player is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the other will be there soon enough.
Kelce, at the ripe age of 30, has that potential.
“He has that ability, yes,” said tight ends coach Tom Melvin of Kelce’s Hall of Fame chances. “Longevity is the difference there. If his longevity’s going to put him there, then I think he definitely has a chance on that, but he’s years away from getting to that point. As far as now — where he is at this point in his career — he’s on track.”
When Gonzalez was Kelce’s age, he went on to play for eight more seasons, and Kelce has already gone on the record saying he would play for the Chiefs forever if he could.
Asked about what sets him apart from other tight ends in the league, Kelce again diverted any attention.
“I think it’s just the Kansas City barbecue seeping through my pores — it makes me a little slippery when I’m out there,” he said, making the media laugh. “I couldn’t tell you. I’ve been fortunate that the ball is even in my hands and just trying to make a play and get the ball north when I can.”