LAS VEGAS — Travis Kelce fumed as he neared Andy Reid on the sideline.
The Kansas City Chiefs tight end was evidently furious at his head coach.
Because he wasn’t receiving targets? Because he wasn’t in the game to block for running back Isaiah Pacheco when, seconds earlier, Pacheco fumbled?
Or was it because Kelce is, well, one to wear his emotions on his sleeve … and in this case, also one to wring his coach’s sleeve?
The 250-pound tight end didn't seem to account for his 65-year-old coach's diverted attention. So the collision knocked Reid off balance and rapidly became the viral moment of the Super Bowl.
But after the dust settled and the clock expired from Reid and Kelce's third shared Super Bowl title, a 25-22 overtime win over the San Francisco 49ers, each was discussing the moment lightly.
“I was just telling him how much I love him,” Kelce said the first time he was asked about the push.
“Cheap shot,” Reid said with a grin. “He was really coming in to [say], ‘Just put me in! I’ll score. I’ll score.’ That’s really what it was.
“I love that.”
Kelce’s outburst in that second-quarter moment gave legitimate reason for concern. And yet, in the eyes of Kelce and Reid and teammates, that same spring of emotional overflow helped fuel the Chiefs’ title repeat in more ways than one.
A full day before Kelce was catching a game-high nine passes for a game-high 93 receiving yards, he was buoying Chiefs players and coaches alike with an apparent rallying cry at their team meeting.
“Whatever Travis was saying, I need to bottle that up and sell it, bro,” safety Justin Reid said. “Because that was just ultimate juice, ultimate passion. You felt that throughout the room, man.
“He touched everyone that was in that room that heard his voice.”
Super Bowl is latest reminder that Chiefs go as Kelce goes
At the Westin Lake Las Vegas Resort and Spa on Saturday, Reid asked three players to speak.
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes encouraged his teammates to be the best version of themselves and to give, rather than take, energy. Defensive tackle Chris Jones reminded players the importance of sticking together as a “brotherhood” even when they hit rough patches.
Kelce’s message veered refreshingly from so many well-trodden modern athlete narratives.
The four-time All-Pro did not aim to deepen the chip on the shoulder of his teammates after their worst regular-season record in the Patrick Mahomes era (yes, it is ridiculous that six losses was the worst mark in six years). Rather, Kelce explained what he and Mahomes had displayed loudly when they connected on 11 targets for 116 yards and a touchdown in the AFC championship: The Chiefs know what they’re doing.
They had been here before. They had the coach and the quarterback and the tight end and now even the defense to go all the way.
So rather than ride a woe-is-us, backs-against-the-wall narrative coming off a season when they were the champs to knock off, Kelce preached the opposite.
“Telling us we’re not underdogs, no matter what everybody thinks,” receiver Rashee Rice said of Kelce’s message. “We’ve been through the ups and downs, we had a losing streak once throughout this season and obviously we didn’t go undefeated like other people expected.
“But at the end of the day, it’s about how you finish the season.”
And at the end of Sunday, it was about how Kelce finished rather than started the Super Bowl that powered the Chiefs’ victory.
For the second straight game, Kelce spun a tale of two halves. But unlike his dominant first half in the AFC championship, Kelce waited out Usher’s halftime performance at Allegiant Stadium this week with a whopping one catch for one yard to his name.
Reid coached his team on combination blocks that could thwart double teams and explained why 49ers disguises that seemed prohibitive need not be with the advent of rub routes.
Soon, Mahomes was finding Kelce for nine yards to gain breathing room after a punt pinned the Chiefs at the 2, and then 11 yards down the right sideline the first play of the Chiefs’ third second-half possession. Kelce would catch a shovel pass from Mahomes up the middle late in the quarter, and then a 16-yard gain early in the fourth on which Kelce manipulated safety Tashaun Gispon’s leverage with a step in before bursting out.
Facing third-and-10, down 16-13 with 10:06 in the fourth, Mahomes exploited a 49ers defensive miscommunication to find Kelce up the middle for 13 yards. They connected for nine yards on the first play of the final regulation drive and later a full 22 yards to set up the overtime-triggering field goal when “we knew Fred Warner was going to play outside leverage on me if it was man,” Kelce said, “and good thing my old ass can still run.”
Warner, the 49ers All-Pro, called that leakage “the most disappointing part of the loss.”
“We went into it saying that he wasn’t going to be the reason that they beat us,” Warner said. “And we just were off on a couple of plays there at the end where he’s running wide open over the middle of the field.
Kelce's growth under Andy Reid on full display
Leading up to the Super Bowl, Kelce’s present and future had been on bright-light display.
Would he retire? Would his relationship with Taylor Swift impact his career? Eleven seasons in, with his brother Jason likely retiring from his post as Eagles starting center, how much more does Travis have in the tank?
Then came his shove of Reid. Whether he intended to shove Reid or not, the lack of control seemed to flash back to his past. The Kelce motivating the Chiefs through the 2023 season had matured since a college suspension for violation of substance policies and since an obscene gesture in 2014 earned Kelce a league fine and Reid reprimand for "immature" conduct.
Nine years later, this Super Bowl week kicked off with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell saying “both Travis and Taylor are wonderful young people.” Kelce’s perception has shifted to that of a team leader. His relationship with Swift has brought joy and hope to a large swath of fans even if the inevitable naysayers pipe up.
From Swift's Grammy success last Sunday to Kelce's third Lombardi Trophy a week later, the power couple is producing. For a second straight game, Kelce began his postgame family reunion with a hug for his mother, Donna, before embracing Swift for a prolonged kiss.
“On top of the world right now,” Kelce said. “Very good feeling.”
Kelce credited Reid not only for that good feeling but also for helping a boisterous player grow more sophisticated in communicating all feelings.
Perhaps Reid and Kelce deflected the flare-up jovially in public because they know they’ll work in private to prevent another. Such is coaching in the NFL and parenting, Reid said. His job is not only to call plays but also to manage personalities and lift his players to be their best personal and professional selves.
“Yeah, he was a little emotional today,” Reid said. “So, listen, I mean, I get it. I have five kids, so I get how that goes. The part I love is he loves to play the game and he wants to help his team win. I mean, it’s not a selfish thing – that’s not what it is. And I understand that. And so, as much as he bumps into me, I get after him. And we understand that.”
Reid understands how to coax from Kelce the pregame speech that left his teammates “super fired up,” Jones said.
Reid understands how to recenter Kelce after a first-half outburst to both perform and motivate in the second half and overtime.
Reid’s sixth Super Bowl appearance (including one as a Green Bay Packers assistant) and third win wasn’t only the result of scheme, talent and play-calling. “The greatest coach this game has ever seen,” Kelce said, “is one of the best leaders of men that I’ve ever seen in my life.”
"He's helped me a lot with channeling that emotion, channeling that passion [and] being able to control how emotional I get," Kelce said. "I owe my entire career to him."