Earlier in the week of the Divisional round matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns, much was made of former Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt’s Instagram video from the locker room following the Browns’ victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night, in which Hunt said, “Next week personal.”
It will be personal for a member of the Chiefs, too — but for entirely different reasons. Like Hunt, tight end Travis Kelce is Cleveland born and raised. For both himself and those in his life, the game will bring up a lot of conflicting feelings.
“Being from Cleveland and playing the Browns is definitely kind of upped the ante a little bit,” Kelce told reporters on Wednesday. “Made it a little more personal. I absolutely love Cleveland, but I understand that we are each other’s enemies right now. So I’ve got a lot of friends — and a lot of family — back in Cleveland, telling me I’m the enemy.”
Kelce said he harbors “no hard feelings” for any of those back home who find it difficult to put aside their Browns fandom.
“I know what it means to be a Cleveland sports fan,” said Kelce, “and to be a die-hard, at that. I think a lot of the close friends and family are going to be wearing their Chiefs gear — but maybe throw an orange shirt with a nice Browns helmet on underneath or something like that. It’s definitely going to be mixed feelings for a lot of people that I know — but at the same time, I’m going in with the mindset of the Kansas City Chiefs: gotta win this game.”
But outside of a locker room celebration following an emotional win against a longtime division rival — a victory that put the Browns in the playoffs for the first time in 18 years — Hunt was much more circumspect about playing against his former teammates, expressing similarly conflicted feelings.
“I got a lot of people on that team that look out for me and care for me as a person — and I care for them, too,” Hunt told Cleveland reporters, via WRBI.com. “I probably wont do too much talking to those guys — but it will be one (or a few) I call to chop it up and ask how they doing and stuff. Other than that? Sorry, but we enemies this week, fellas.”
“I wish we spoke more often, man — that’s my brother for life,” said Kelce of his former teammate. “To see what he’s gone through — and to see him grow from everything? I’m somebody [who] had a few red flags coming out of college. It wasn’t always a whole lot of fun for me. I had to kind of breakthrough some things that were tied to my name.”
But despite feeling some kinship with Hunt because of the struggles he has faced during his own career, Kelce said he couldn’t really imagine what it had been like for his close friend after Kansas City released Hunt two years ago.
“Obviously it was probably an uphill battle that he had to deal with mentally — as well as face the reality of things: that everybody was kind of looking at him in a negative light.
“He’s a guy [who] walks in the building as a teammate. As a friend that I’ve learned to know, man, he’s never had that negative light on him, because of his personality and who he’s been in the building. So to have to deal with that — hats off to him for battling through that and then finding his way back onto a football field here in the NFL.”
Kelce said that the key to overcoming those kinds of challenges is how you respond to them.
“You have to challenge yourself as a man — as a human,” he said. “You have to grow from it — to understand how people are viewing you — and you have to move on knowing that. I think Kareem’s done an unbelievable job of just going out there, playing football and keeping his head on straight. So I’m happy as hell for him.”