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Jason Kelce’s heartfelt gesture to Eagles trainer battling cancer

Jason Kelce’s longtime Philadelphia Eagles trainer has revealed how the NFL star paid tribute to their friendship before announcing his retirement.

On Monday 4 March, the 36-year-old football player held a press conference to announce he was retiring from the NFL after 13 seasons. Many fans speculated that Kelce’s career had come to an end following the Eagles’ losing playoff game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last January.

While many of Kelce’s family and friends had witnessed his last game in the NFL, one person who was unable to attend the playoff game was Kelce’s friend and Eagles team trainer, Joe O’Pella - who was undergoing cancer treatment at the time. Now, the trainer has revealed that Kelce asked him to tape up his ankles before his retirement press conference one final time.

In a post shared to Instagram on 5 March, O’Pella shared the heartwarming story and congratulated Kelce on a successful 13 seasons in the NFL. “I remember back in Jason’s second year, when he tore his knee, I went to the head trainer and told him that I needed to do his rehab because he needed to be treated like an athlete, not a conventional offensive lineman. What would occur over the next 12+ years would certainly impact my life in a way I never imagine,” he began his lengthy post.

O’Pella, who is reportedly entering his 16th season as part of the Eagles’ athletic training staff, shared that it’s “nearly indescribable” how much Kelce has meant to him. Alongside his emotional caption, the trainer shared several snaps of the pair taken over the years.

“I taped this guy’s ankles and thumbs everyday for 13 seasons, and when he played his last game in Tampa, again I couldn’t be there due to cancer,” O’Pella explained. “And when he told me he would be retiring and I expressed my regret of not being the last person to ever tape him, and he offered to have me tape him for his retirement press conference. That’s who he is.”

He even detailed how Kelce offered O’Pella and his family his beach house in New Jersey when he was undergoing radiation and chemotherapy. According to O’Pella, the father of three “offered to pay for meal services” and often called him “just to check on [him]” when he was too sick to work due to his cancer treatment.

“That’s who he is,” O’Pella said. “And I hope these stories can add to an already unbelievable legacy.”

The athletic trainer also extended his congratulations to Kelce’s wife, Kylie Kelce, and their three children on supporting the football star throughout an incredible career. “To Kylie’s husband; Wyatt, Elliotte, and Bennett’s dad; the Eagles’ center; Philadelphia’s icon, and my brother: Jason, congratulations on retirement and here’s to the future. I love ya,” O’Pella concluded his post.

The Eagles centre announced his retirement during an emotional press conference on Monday. “Not a good start,” he joked through tears. In his speech, Kelce detailed his visceral memories of playing football as a kid, as well as the hardships he went through to make it as a professional athlete.

In clips shared from the press conference on X, formerly Twitter, the older Kelce took time to thank everyone who has helped him along the way - including his parents, Donna and Ed Kelce; his brother Travis; and his wife Kylie, who were all holding back tears in the audience.

At one point during his retirement announcement, Kelce took the opportunity to give a shout-out to his younger brother Travis. “It was really my brother and I our whole lives. We did almost everything together - competed, fought, laughed, cried and learned from each other,” he continued. “We invented games, imagined ourselves as star players of that time. We envisioned making winning plays day after day. We won countless Super Bowls in our minds before ever leaving the house. And when we weren’t playing, we were at the other one’s games.”

The now-retired NFL star also couldn’t go without mentioning his wife and mother to his three children. Looking back on his career, he gave credit to Kylie for being by his side through it all, as he remembered the moment the pair met and kickstarted their love story.

“I won’t forget the Eagles’ Christmas party in 2014 and heading out afterwards with a bunch of my teammates to Buffalo Billiards, where my life would change forever,” Kelce said. “That night, I’d meet my future wife. I still remember the moment she walked through the door.”

He credited his wife for contributing to his best seasons playing football, adding: “I think it’s no coincidence that I have enjoyed my best years of my career with Kylie by my side. Every accolade I have ever received has come with her in my life.”

Kelce also praised his wife for giving him “three beautiful girls and a life that increasingly brings me more fulfillment off the field than it does on”.