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Kelce brothers’ Super Bowl run electrifies Cleveland Heights

The Super Bowl doesn’t need extra storylines to be compelling. The event is watched by roughly a third of the nation and millions more all over the world, but the NFL and Northeast Ohio still aren’t going to turn down a great storyline when it presents itself.

Enter the Kelce brothers.

Travis Kelce, tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs, and his older brother, Jason, center for the Philadelphia Eagles, are perhaps the most visible and beloved siblings in Cleveland Heights.

Both have already won Super Bowls with their respective teams and are near-legends in the cities they play for.

Travis has become a pop culture icon with his style, outspokenness and dominance in football (both actual and fantasy). Jason has become a symbol for bearded dads across the country; a beer-chugging, good humored family man with no filters.

Jason cemented his status with a guest turn on the popular sitcom “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” following the Eagles Super Bowl LII win in 2018. Since that improbable run, his younger brother Travis’ Chiefs have been to five straight AFC championships and two Super Bowls, winning one themselves.

“They both have been there before, but to get both of them there at the same time is just unbelievable,” said Coach Mike Jones. “And we're so excited for them as well as their parents and their families.”

Jones coached both brothers in their time playing football for Cleveland Heights High School, as head coach from 2000 to 2007. He’s still a health and physical education teacher at Heights and uses his experience coaching the Kelces with his students today.

“We let the kids know that, you know, you never know when your opportunity is going to be there for you,” said Jones. He noted that, at the time, nobody guessed the Kelces would have the drive, combined with their athleticism, to reach the pinnacle of professional football.

“We didn't know that Jason or Travis had an upside,” said Jones. “Jason was just a hard worker. Any opportunity that that was presented to him, he took full advantage of it. And Travis, he did the same. You know, Travis took advantage of the opportunity, moving positions from quarterback to tight end. And he made the best of it. And I think it's paid off very well for him.”

That might be the understatement of the century. As the Heights Tigers quarterback, Kelce was an athletic unicorn who also starred in nearly every sport the school had to offer. But it wasn't until he moved to tight end at the University of Cincinnati that the younger Kelce found untapped potential. He’s now a first-ballot hall of famer and arguably the greatest to ever play the position in the NFL.

Still close with Cleveland

One of the people who understands Travis’ journey is his close friend Aric Jones. The two competed for positions and starting jobs from childhood through high school.

“Me and Travis go back to– I was four years old the first time I started playing Mighty Mites hockey within the Cleveland Heights Recreation System, and that's when I actually met Travis. And so we've known each other since I was four, he was six. He's a grade higher than me,” said Jones, who graduated a year after Kelce at Heights in 2009.

“He was QB one, I was QB two,” said Jones. “I was the starting safety on defense. He was starting quarterback. He wore number one. I wore number two. We were both all-league at the same time. We did everything together, you know what I mean?”

Jones is one of Travis’ core group of close friends who have stayed together and helped keep the Kelces’ love of Cleveland Heights alive and front-facing at all times. All of them wear matching Cleveland Heights logo pendants and are not at all shy about evangelizing for their hometown.

The Kelce brothers themselves have a popular podcast called “New Heights,” a pun that pays homage to their hometown. And more explicitly, on prime time televised football games, when all their teammates introduce themselves with their name and college affiliation, a long-standing professional sports tradition, the Kelces both introduce themselves with their name, and then Cleveland Heights. It may seem an odd show of support, but Aric Jones understands it completely.

“Obviously, none of us are shy about about repping it (Cleveland Heights) wherever it is that we are,” said Jones. “That's the purpose of the necklaces. And people always ask us about this. There's five of us that actually have these,” Jones said, touching a Cleveland Heights pendant around his neck. He and his four best friends, including Travis, all wear them.

Jones will be at the Super Bowl on Sunday to cheer on his friend. It’s the third time he’s gone to see Travis play in the Super Bowl.

The first time he went to the game with a large group of Travis’s friends from Heights, they took up a whole row to watch their friend win in his first trip to the title game.

The second was in 2021, when attendance was restricted due to COVID-19. Aric attended the game with the Kelce family and only 20,000 other attendees, spaced by the cardboard cutouts of fans that became a staple of empty stadiums during the pandemic.

A win for the city either way

With their love of Cleveland Heights on display, the Kelce family is going to go home with a Super Bowl ring either way, but the city of Cleveland Heights stands to win just as much.

In years past, Heights boosters handed out free lightbulbs in honor of each brother's team: Porches were lit red for the Chiefs or green for the Eagles.

But the city won't have to choose sides this year, Heights Athletic Director Joseph D’Amato explained. He, along with local barber Alex Quintana, organized Light Up the Heights.

“He (Alex) cut the boys' hair growing up, so we were kind of collaborating as to what the heck are we going to do? We can't do red and green because most people only have one porch light or so on and so forth. So we thought, let's light up the heights in yellow, which is one of our school colors.”

Residents can pick up free yellow lightbulbs at local businesses, including Quintana's, Parnell’s Pub, and the Grog Shop among others.

Meanwhile, Heights High is honoring both of its alums.

“Our east pillar is lit up in green and our west pillar lit up in red,” D’Amato said. “And then our clock tower is kind of rotating between green and red.”

“This community, you know, is kind of infectious,” said Coach Jones. “You know, this community is a community that just opens its arms to folks.” That’s what makes the Kelces love it so much, he reckons. But it’s not just the city, Jones said, the Kelce brothers are special too.

“They're both givers,” said Coach Jones. “And that's one of the big things that that we try to teach them here at Cleveland Heights is, don't be takers, you know, be givers.”

Ygal Kaufman is a multiple media journalist with Ideastream Public Media.