The Tragic Truth About The Kelce Family

The Kelce family's story seemed anything but tragic when brothers Travis and Jason became the big stars of Super Bowl LVII by giving football fans a gripping gridiron showdown. Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce and his younger brother, Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, both came into the game with Super Bowl rings. So, the question on many viewers' minds was this: Which brother would be the first to boast a pair of rings?

Jason was the first sibling to win a Super Bowl championship when the Eagles defeated the New England Patriots in 2018. Two years later, Travis' team took down the 49ers. Of his baby bro's new bling, Jason told Sports Illustrated, "Winning it yourself is a very self-gratifying thing — like, I've worked my entire life to do this — and that has its emotions in its own way, but seeing someone you love and care about accomplish their dreams is potentially more gratifying."

These days, you might think that the Kelces' lives are so charmed that their biggest disappointment was when Travis missed out on meeting Taylor Swift at one of her Eras concerts. "I was a little butthurt I didn't get to hand her one of the bracelets I made for her," he complained on the "New Heights" podcast — of course, Travis and Taylor have now connected, though we're not sure if Travis has given Taylor his bracelet. 

However, for the Kelce family, it hasn't been all brotherly love, raucous celebrations of Super Bowl glory, and letting loose with fellow Swifties. Even after finding success in the NFL, they've had to overcome trials and misfortune.

Ed Kelce's dashed military dreams

Ed Kelce is a Cleveland, Ohio native who attended St. Joseph High School. Like his sons, he played football, and the ramifications of his short time on the field shaped his entire future. While playing, he suffered an injury to his left knee that required surgery to have the cartilage removed. 

On his sons' "New Heights" podcast, Kelce explained that prior generations of the men in his family had served in the military, which was a legacy he wanted to carry on after he graduated from high school. But when he tried to join the Marines, he was disappointed to learn that he was medically disqualified from enlisting due to his past knee injury. He also got turned away by a different branch of the U.S. military. "I got a little pissed off actually at the recruiter's office for the Army," he recalled, saying he felt it was unfair because he was willing to serve his country while so many others were dodging the draft. "I had some grizzled old sergeant just chew me out about, 'What am I going to tell the mother of the guy that dies trying to carry your big a** out of there 'cause you can't walk?'" 

The sergeant sent Kelce on to the Coast Guard, where he was allowed to enlist. Unfortunately, he was unable to complete basic training because he began experiencing symptoms of Crohn's disease. He eventually wound up working at a steel foundry lab.

Donna Kelce was 12 when her mother died

Donna Kelce spent her younger years living in downtown Cleveland. Unfortunately, her mother got sick with an undisclosed illness, and her family moved to the suburbs on the recommendation of a doctor. "The doctor said that maybe putting her into a different environment might help her a little bit, but she passed," Donna said on the "New Heights" podcast. When her mother died, Donna was just 12 years old.

Donna's father, Donald Roy "Don" Blalock, Sr., later remarried, and she lucked out in the stepmother department when Mary Blalock joined the family. Donna said that she wouldn't have gone to college without Mary intervening on her behalf because of her father's outdated views. "He was very much chauvinistic, so he thought I should go to secretary school or something like that," Donna shared. "He basically said, 'She's not smart enough to go school.'" But Mary knew how to play Don like a fiddle; she argued that college would be the perfect place for Donna to find a husband. Sadly, Mary died six months before her two grandsons faced off in the 2023 Super Bowl. "I wish she was with us, but she's not," Donna said.

It seems that Travis Kelce and Jason Kelce get some of their athleticism from their mom, who told them that though her father was also against her participating in sports, that didn't stop Donna from sneaking off to compete in track & field events in high school.

Donna and Ed Kelce's divorce was hard on the family

When the topic of Donna Kelce and Ed Kelce's divorce was brought up on "New Heights," Jason Kelce still sounded like the wounded little boy who couldn't understand why his parents were no longer together. In reference to Ed, Jason asked his mom, "Why do you hate him?" Donna assured her son that she and her ex-husband still get along just fine. "It's just sometimes people, they move apart," she said. The couple had been married for over two decades when they officially called it quits.

The divorce was further discussed in Amazon Prime Video's "Kelce" documentary. In it, Ed admits that he would have preferred to end the marriage sooner, but he and Donna stayed together for their sons' sake. Per the New York Post, Donna called that time period "tough," but on Travis and Jason's podcast, she explained how she and Ed made the situation work by spending time with each son separately. With so many games and practices to attend, it actually helped that they weren't functioning as a complete family unit.

According to Travis, he first realized something was amiss with his parents' marriage when he was in middle school. "I would go and have sleepovers at other houses and the other parents are staying in the same room, and my parents didn't stay in the same room," he recalled in "Kelce." But it wasn't until he and Jason were in college that Ed and Donna divorced.

Ed and Donna Kelce had a hard time conceiving

During her wide-ranging "New Heights" interview with her sons, Donna Kelce spoke about her struggle to conceive after getting married. "Five years later, we were trying to have kids. It wasn't working for whatever reason," she said. Because of this struggle, Donna was unprepared when her doctor told her that she was finally expecting. "I went, 'Whoa,'" she recalled.

Jason Kelce got his mother to admit that she was hoping to have a daughter when she got pregnant for the second time. When she made this confession, she tried to lessen the blow for Travis Kelce by telling her younger son, "But I got one! He's a fashionista." She and Ed would also end up with three granddaughters, courtesy of Jason and his wife, Kylie Kelce.

Though they were happy to finally be able to have children, one major downside of having two rambunctious boys is that they were a destructive drain on the family's finances. Ed Kelce reminisced about each of his sons breaking a window, saying that Jason did it by playing lacrosse in the house. As for Travis, he'd decided that it would be fun to hit golf balls with a bat. He then lied to Ed and said he was trying to toss a football over the house, which is something he'd seen his dad do before. Then there was the food. "The refrigerator was always packed, but it didn't last more than a day or so," Donna told AP. "When they left for college, I got a raise."

Jason Kelce lost someone important to him

According to Donna Kelce, her father, Donald Roy "Don" Blalock Sr., had plenty of faults. "Grandpa was a narcissist," she told her sons on "New Heights." But Blalock played a crucial role in Jason Kelce's football career by giving him some guidance at a time when he needed it.

Jason didn't get to see his grandpa often, but during one of his rare visits, Blalock gave Jason a card that had a Calvin Coolidge quote about the power of persistence printed on it. Jason was in high school at the time and uncertain about what he wanted to do with his future, but that quote gave him the confidence to pursue a college football career as a walk-on. Of the realization he reached, Jason told The Washington Post, "A lot of times, the people who end up making it are the people who just stick with it." 

When Jason got his Super Bowl ring in 2018, Blalock was unable to attend the game in person but did get to watch his grandson play. "He hung in there and he saw Jason win the Super Bowl. And he was with it enough to know exactly what happened and everything," Donna told The Athletic. Blalock died six months later, and Jason helped his family scatter his ashes. "He was not the best grandfather. He wasn't the best dad," Jason told The Washington Post. "But he was a great grandfather at the perfect moment."

Travis Kelce's special gift from his brother got stolen

While attending the University of Cincinnati, Travis Kelce found himself without a ride when he crashed his car. Luckily for him, his older brother was in the NFL by then and was about to receive a brand-new vehicle from a Philadelphia car dealership he had partnered with. Being the generous guy that he is, Jason Kelce decided to give his baby bro the truck he already had in his possession, and it was no hunk of junk. "He had just bought a brand new F-150," Travis recalled on "New Heights."

Travis was thrilled with the gift. "I wasn't traveling because I had this kind of hooptie that was just getting me to campus and back," he said of the ride that he totaled. One of the first places he decided to visit with his new set of wheels was a Cleveland strip club called The Boom Boom Room; "[When I] came back out of the strip club, that car was gone," he recalled. The F-150 had been in his possession for less than half a day when it got stolen. 

Travis admitted to making the mistake of leaving the truck unlocked, but he also tried to place some of the blame on his brother. "He didn't tell me there was a spare key in the glove compartment," he said. The truck was actually recovered eventually, but Jason said that his brother didn't take good care of his thoughtful gift afterward. "It didn't last long," he shared.

Travis and Jason had a difficult time in school

While Travis Kelce and Jason Kelce might be savants on the field, they didn't exactly excel in the classroom. Their troubles began before they even started kindergarten; on "New Heights," they revealed that they both got ousted from their preschool classes. Jason's offense was stabbing another student in the forehead with a spork. As for Travis, he threw a violent tantrum after his preschool teacher told him he had to share a checkerboard with other students. "[I] threw the chair I was sitting in at her," he recalled.

There was one occasion in middle school where the Kelces were both suspended on the same day for getting into fights with other students, Travis confessed on "New Heights." But it was Jason who got suspended numerous times for brawling. Speaking to The Athletic, he recalled how he didn't like the way his older teammates were treating him when he started playing baseball, which caused him to lash out. "I was always kind of like the brunt of the joke," he said. His anger issues got so bad that he later spoke to a therapist about them.

Donna Kelce believes that Travis didn't have to deal with bullying like his brother did because Jason fought so much in school. "They were all afraid of Jason so they left Travis alone," she said. Travis' bigger issue was his grades; they were so poor that he didn't get to play football during his sophomore year in high school.

Travis Kelce got kicked off his college team

Proving that he idolized his older brother, Travis Kelce followed Jason Kelce to the University of Cincinnati. However, the Kelces only got to play together for one season in 2009. At the time, Travis was a reserve tight end for the Bearcats and Jason was a left guard who started in every game. Jason had also established himself as a respected team leader.

The following season, which was Jason's last, Travis got suspended for using marijuana. Jason was furious. A former teammate of the brothers, Derek Wolfe, recounted to The Washington Post how Jason bashed a hole in the wall outside of a room Travis was hiding in and screamed at him. After losing his spot on the team, a disheartened Travis moved in with his brother and got a job at a call center where he surveyed people about Obamacare. "I had never sat down and tried to earn a living like that. That's not to hit on anybody's 9-to-5; that's just not for me," Travis told ESPN.

Being the caring, protective big brother that he is, Jason begged the Bearcats' coach for Travis to be given another chance to prove himself worthy of a spot on the team. Travis got it as a junior, by which time Jason was playing his first season with the Philadelphia Eagles. "I'm forever in debt for what he was doing," Travis told The Washington Post. "I wouldn't be here without my brother."

The Kelce brothers weren't as communicative after college

The Kelce brothers had a close relationship growing up, and were so competitive that their dad once had to fake a back injury to get them to stop fighting. Ed Kelce and Donna Kelce told ESPN that the tussle started because Travis had bested his older brother during a basketball game. "I think that's when both of them finally realized they were equals," said Donna. "No one picked a fight with the other one after that." Instead, Travis Kelce and Jason Kelce forged an unbreakable brotherly bond that remained intact when they attended the University of Cincinnati together. But Jason became busy with his NFL career after graduating, and the brothers found themselves on rival teams when Travis was drafted by the Chiefs.

After getting beat by his brother at the 2023 Super Bowl, Jason told the media, "I talked to my brother more this year than I've talked to him since college, probably." The siblings enjoyed reconnecting on a deeper level so much that they teamed up to create their insanely popular "New Heights" podcast. "I feel like it's made my brother and I closer, talking every single week," Jason told NBC Sports Philadelphia. "Normally in the course of a season, you go months without talking to each other at times." As for Travis, he feels like his relationship with Jason is now more like it was before their careers took off, and he said that their gab sessions are "like therapy" for him. 

Football has taken a toll on Jason Kelce's health

As Jason Kelce's seasons in the NFL have reached the double digits, the wear and tear on his body was making the idea of retiring seem more and more appealing. In the "Kelce" documentary, his wife, Kylie Kelce, shares her hope that he won't live to regret extending his football career for too long, which could make retirement less enjoyable for him and his family. "I would like him to retire when he is still able to get down on the floor and play with our kids comfortably," she said in the doc, as recounted by People. After the Eagles' 2018 season, the idea of hanging up his cleats was especially tempting for Jason because of the sad state his body was in. "I played through a Grade 2 MCL sprain, a broken foot ... I had a torn elbow," he told the media, per Philly Voice. "At one point, I had a brace on the entire left side of my body."

When Jason kept a log of his aches, pains, and injuries for The Athletic during the 2019 season, there were many examples, including ripped-off fingernails, numerous cuts and bruises, back and hip soreness, shoulder swelling, and nagging knee discomfort that would possibly require surgery in the future. Jason has already undergone surgery for a sports hernia and an elbow injury. "I am fearful about what the impacts of playing football are going to mean long-term," he admits in "Kelce" (via People).

Travis Kelce has a history of serious injuries

While Travis Kelce is almost two years younger than Jason Kelce, he might be winning the competition to see which brother can suffer the most serious injuries. To become one of the top tight ends in the NFL, he's risked life and limb, with some of his worst damage coming from blows to the head. He had to be pulled from games in 2017 and 2018 after suffering concussions. "He came in at halftime, and he couldn't quite remember [anything],” Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid said of the former instance, per ESPN. "I've been very fortunate that when I have been diagnosed with a concussion or a really aggressive head and neck area injury that the doctor I put trust in made the best decision for me not to go back out there," Travis told Fox News.

Travis underwent surgery on his knee in 2013 and on his shoulder in 2017. He suffered another knee injury in September 2023 when he hyperextended it during practice. According to "Fox NFL Sunday," there were fears that he had fractured his tibial plateau and would have to miss the entire season. "Instead, he just had a really deep bone bruise. They had to pull out 45 cc of blood," said reporter Jay Glazer. Still, Travis was unable to play during the season opener — the first time he had to miss a game due to an injury since his 2013 knee surgery benched him.

Being on different NFL teams is heartbreaking at times

The "Kelce Bowl" caused emotions to run high in Jason Kelce and Travis Kelce's family. While Ed Kelce and Donna Kelce were excited about their sons' historic battle for sibling supremacy, it did put the parents in an awkward position. Donna insisted that she wasn't rooting for one son to win the 2023 Super Bowl over the other, but we get the sense that some feelings were left a bit bruised when the Kelce brothers tried to find out if their parents were playing favorites. "Mom probably likes Travis more," Jason told Yahoo! Sports. "She keeps trying to hedge her bet and say she likes me now because I have kids. ... But the baby always gets the love from mom."

The unique situation called for Donna and Ed to come up with game plans for how they would celebrate with one son and console the other. "Somebody's gonna feel pretty crummy, and I want to be with him initially," Ed told his sons on "New Heights." While Travis ultimately walked away with bragging rights, he expressed frustration that the circumstances hadn't been different; it stung a bit that he and Jason didn't get to play as teammates. "I screwed up a few years of my life not being able to play on the field with you, and I always hated Philadelphia for not giving me that opportunity knowing that I had f***ed it up so many times," he said on "New Heights."