It was Week 2, and the Eagles were trailing the Ravens, 17-7. The line of scrimmage was the Baltimore 30-yard-line, and the call was a stretch play to LeSean McCoy to the right side. Reed started 12 yards back as the single high safety. The ball was snapped, McCoy took the handoff, and Kelce used his athleticism to control nose tackle Terrence Cody. Reed, meanwhile, charged towards the ball-carrier.
At right around the 28, he got low and dove at McCoy’s legs. The running back felt some contact, but stumbled forward for a 9-yard gain. Reed failed to hit McCoy squarely, and his dive continued into Kelce’s right knee. After the whistle blew, the Eagles’ center was on his hands and knees in pain. The training staff came out, and he turned over to his back, grabbing his knee.
The result was a torn MCL, a partially-torn ACL and the end of Kelce’s season.
This is the NFL, and such injuries are relatively common. Scan the injury reports on a Monday afternoon during the season, and you’ll see similar notes around the league. But this particular injury gnawed at Reed.
“It was bad technique on my part, and I took out the center’s knee,” Reed told Esquire recently. Our coach [John Harbaugh] talks to Andy Reid all the time, so I told Coach to send my respects for the center and let him know I didn’t mean to hurt him, man. It was just the second game of the year, so he lost his whole season. That one preyed on me, man. I didn’t know him personally, but I wanted to let him know that I had the utmost respect for him.”
Word indeed did get back to Kelce. When reached by Birds 24/7 on Saturday, he said he had read Reed’s comments in the magazine piece.
“I saw it, and pretty cool on his part, I thought,” Kelce said. “He never called me directly, and I don’t think he called Andy, but he did tell Harbaugh. He and Andy know each other really well. So he told Harbaugh to send his condolences and that he wasn’t trying to do it. He really just wanted to send his apologies, so Andy relayed that to me. He was a class act about the whole thing.”
Five months later, Kelce still remembers the details of the play.
“He was a little bit out of position, like you said, bad technique, but that’s all part of the game,” he said. “He’s just trying to make a play. You don’t go to the Pro Bowl or get where he is without giving 100 percent every single time you’re on the field.”
The Eagles’ center has been on the opposite side of this story too. He remembers a game in college against Oklahoma where Cincinnati’s offense ran a sprint-out to the right, but the quarterback reversed field and scrambled back to his left. Kelce cut a Sooners defensive lineman, who ended up suffering an MCL injury.
“When it happened the first time, since I’ve never had a knee injury, I felt bad for him, but it was like, ‘Oh you know, he’ll be fine.’” Kelce said. “But now, seeing what he probably had to go through, going through it myself, looking back on it, I feel way worse now actually.
“It’s just… it is a pain in the ass, the rehab process and everything,” Kelce said. “I’m not saying you can’t come back from it, but just hopping around on one leg for a few months is not fun at all, and it costs you a season. Looking back on it now, I probably feel more remorse than before.”
As for his own rehab, Kelce said he’s recently been cleared to run on the treadmill and other surfaces. He’ll be in Philadelphia all offseason, working on his footwork and balance, while maintaining an upper-body regimen in the weight room. For Kelce, the whole routine is a new experience. From middle school to last year, he can only remember missing a total of three games during his football career.
“I’ve had injuries, but nothing that’s severe enough to put me out of playing time really for an extended period like this,” he said. “This is my first experience of it. It sucks, but eventually it’s going to happen. I mean, probably. That’s just the statistics of the game. When you’re playing it over and over again, eventually you’re going to come down with a shoulder or knee. Something’s going to put you out for awhile.”
Going forward, Reed and Kelce are two players at the opposite ends of their careers. While Reed was intercepting Colin Kaepernick in the Super Bowl Sunday, Kelce was in Pittsburgh for the weekend, watching the game with his brother and some friends. Reed, a future Hall of Famer, will turn 35 in September, but insists he’ll be back for another season.
Meanwhile, at 25, Kelce will continue his rehab and hopes to anchor the Eagles’ offensive line into the new era under Chip Kelly.