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HOLD ONTO THE FOOTBALL, TRAVIS KELCE — TAYLOR SWIFT IS NOW A PROBLEM
With a killer fumble and drop in the fourth quarter, Kelce’s relationship with the pop star should fade away for the Chiefs, who must secure offensive possession to repeat as Super Bowl champions
The minute I saw the byline of J.R. Moehringer, who collaborated with Prince Harry on the memoir “Spare,” is when I shrieked for Travis Kelce. On the best day of a quirky NFL season, the two agreed to a lengthy Wall Street Journal piece in which Kelce displayed $5,500 worth of pants, a henley and a Tag Heuer watch. He also had his own earrings, wearing them throughout their published conversation.
This chat could have waited a while until Kelce’s team, the Kansas City Chiefs, hosted the Philadelphia Eagles in a Super Bowl rematch. Taylor Swift is in Brazil, after all, dealing with fans who have died — one in sweltering heat, the other who was stabbed — at her concerts in Rio de Janeiro. If ever there was a chance to focus on football and goals ahead, including the NFL’s first repeat championship in 19 years, Monday evening was the time.
Once again, we received Travis + Taylor, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G.
“Obviously I’ve never dated anyone with that kind of aura about them,” Kelce said in the story. “I’ve never dealt with it. But at the same time, I’m not running away from any of it. The scrutiny she gets, how much she has a magnifying glass on her, every single day, paparazzi outside her house, outside every restaurant she goes to, after every flight she gets off, and she’s just living, enjoying life. When she acts like that, I better not be the one acting all strange.”
As the game progressed, Kelce acted not only strange but like a man lost without his love. He fumbled away a ball inside the Eagles’ 20-yard line in the fourth quarter, as his team prepared to take a 24-14 lead. Later, after the Chiefs fell behind, Kelce dropped a third-down pass. Which led his quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, to throw a perfect bomb to possibly complete a victory, which Marquez Valdes-Scantling dropped as he graced the end zone. Later, on Kansas City’s final play, another luscious Mahomes pass was dropped again by Justin Watson. The receiving corps notably missed Tyreek Hill, but closer to the point, it missed Travis Kelce, among those who’ve contributed a league-high 26 drops this season and left the Chiefs with a 21-17 defeat.
Leave it to me to state the obvious. The champions need to play football and forget the celebrity junk. Taylor Swift should be placed in the deep background, where the tight end doesn’t end the night biting his nails on the bench.
“Just not playing up to the level I have in the past,” Kelce said. “I’ve got to be better.”
“This is a growing moment for us as a team, overall,” defensive tackle Chris Jones said.
Said Mahomes, who is doing his supreme job when his receivers are not: “All season long, we haven’t played good football in the second half. We’ve got to continue to work. We’ve got to find ways to finish games offensively. We’re just not where I want to be at this point in the season.”
This is where the lovability ends. Travis and Taylor can meet up behind the scenes but do all business away from the team. Kelce caught seven balls for 44 yards and a touchdown, yet he continues to average a career low of less than 10 yards per reception, a more confounding issue when Swift isn’t in the stadium watching him. No longer are the Chiefs invincible among AFC title favorites. They need to fix their once-favored receiver, who actually told Moehringer that he has considered retirement: “That’s the only thing I’ve never really been open about. The pain. The lingering injuries — the 10 surgeries I’ve had where I still feel every single surgery to this day.”
Going into the same game day, Mahomes was magnificent in explaining the romance — and how it has engulfed the team’s global cult in their Midwestern small town. He loves how Swift includes his wife, Brittany, for suite visits and New York dinner dates. “I don’t think it feels any different,” he said. “People see the whole Taylor Swift and Travis and they make it a huge deal because it is a huge deal, think it becomes a bigger deal to the fan bases than it does to the guys that are actually in the building. I’m lucky enough to meet Taylor and see how good of a person she is, I think you understand why it’s not become a distraction or anything like that because everybody cares about being the best they can be every day.”
Hell, before now, Mahomes was looking forward to the offseason. “Maybe I’m traveling to Europe to go to a concert or something,” he said. That is to assume they’re still dating, which comes after her six years with Britsh actor Joe Alwyn and a brief hookup this year with rock singer Matty Healy. In his public dialogue, which is one more opportunity than Swift has offered, Kelce mentioned how his “core group” handles the mystery of it all. “That was the biggest thing to me: Make sure I don’t say anything that would push Taylor away,” he said. “Everybody around me telling me: ‘Don’t f— this up!’ And me sitting here saying: ‘Yeah — got it.’ ”
At the moment, the Chiefs must deal with the Eagles prevailing in the wind and rain, boosting chances of plowing past the San Francisco 49ers during an NFC January. The losers have work to do in the AFC, which is filled with quarterbacks who’ve been wounded while exceeding more than $1 billion in pay. Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow, worth $275 million, will undergo season-ending wrist sugery as the league investigates if he was hiding the injury before he was hurt. Cleveland’s Deshaun Watson, finally playing well after years of offseason drama, is gone with shoulder surgery, making the Browns think about their $230 million. Whether Aaron Rodgers returns from an Achilles tendon tear won’t happen if the New York Jets, switching to Tim Boyle from Zach Wilson, don’t make progress in a lost playoff race.
No Burrow, no Rodgers and no Watson leaves the conference with a turnover-prone mess, Buffalo’s Josh Allen. And Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson, who finally is concentrating on his game after fighting with the Ravens over his contract. Think Jackson isn’t seeing holes in the Chiefs? So many other teams can be forgotten. The Los Angeles Chargers, with Justin Herbert and the defense needing guidance, are about to wave goodbye to coach Brandon Staley, who was last seen putting down his “fan base” while arguing with a reporter after losing his 15th career game by less than a touchdown.
“So you can stop asking that question, OK?” Staley said after losing in Green Bay. “I’m going to be calling the defenses ... so we're clear. So you don't have to ask that again.”
And the Pittsburgh Steelers? Najee Harris began to remind people that coach Mike Tomlin, who won his only Super Bowl almost 15 years ago, can’t straighten out the current offense. “There's just a lot of stuff that just goes around that you guys don't see,” said the running back, all but pointing out that coordinator Matt Canada must go. “I guess I'm trying to say it's just, I'm just at a point where I'm just tired of this s—.”
Seems the Chiefs have their own troubles. “They ain’t giving us the rings back,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said, but the babble can end. Mahomes went so far to mention, in a pregame interview with Peyton and Eli Manning, how he wears the same pair of red Chiefs underwear every game.
“Well, you know, first, my wife Brittany got them for me, so I have to ... wear them, you know?” he said. "But at the same time, I threw ’em on that first season, we had a pretty good season. I only wear them for game day, though, so I can't get — they’re not too worn down. They’re not like these nasty — I clean ’em.
“I wash ’em — I wash ’em every once in a while at least. I mean if we’re on a hot streak, I can’t wash them, you know? I’ve just got to keep it rolling. So, you know, as long as we’re winning football games, I’ll keep the superstition going.”
He can remove the nasties now. Travis + Taylor can remove theirs, too.
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.