The never-ending line wrapped down 40th Street and up 39th Street until it hit Landis Avenue in what appeared to be an E-shaped hug around Ocean Drive in Sea Isle City, New Jersey. Quickly, energetically, the misty ocean air was taken hostage by boisterous Philadelphia Eagles chants, then they started calling for the man of the hour: "We want Kelce. We want Kelce. We want Kelce."
Jason Kelce's third-annual celebrity bartending event took place on Wednesday at the All-Pro center's favorite hangout as he sought to raise awareness and funds for the Eagles Autism Foundation. The fundraiser, which was started on an inspired whim in 2021, had raised $150,000 before the bar even opened its doors to the public and totaled $380,000 (and counting) by the night's end.
This year's edition included a beer-chugging contest, raffle, and auction, as well as a VIP meet-and-greet for those superfans who didn't want to fight the crowds.
"No matter what we're doing, it's about engaging with the community, inspiring them to give, and sharing in a sense of being in this together and changing people's lives," said Ryan Hammond, Executive Director of the Eagles Autism Foundation. "And Jason Kelce is a really good example that you can use your talents and turn them into fundraising dollars, and for him, it's chugging beer!"
Yes, beer was chugged. Kelce was the master of ceremonies and number one contender. He downed a 30-ounce beer in 5.7 seconds to get the day started on SportsRadio 94 WIP. Then his All-Pro brother Travis showed up and they taped an episode of their New Heights podcast. The scene went viral for all the right reasons.
"I would say beer drinking is probably a lot mental," Kelce said. "If you really want to be good at beer drinking, pretty much anybody can be good at beer drinking. You just got to put the time in and have the right drive to do that. Luckily, I was able to do that and play football really well."
Prior to that, the 35-year-old delivered a Zoom greeting early in the morning to Philabundance volunteers at the Constitution Center as they feverishly stacked meats and cheeses on 25,000 Wawa hoagies set to be delivered to first responders and veterans.
"I started my day waking Jason up at 6 AM at his house with my laptop so he could Zoom to start Wawa Hoagie Day," said Hammond. "Everything has been evolving since and now the line is seven blocks long."
Nine hours later, Kelce strolled out to greet the masses assembled at Ocean Drive's popular Sandbar wearing a custom-made "Shore Birds" mesh shirt designed by Maddie Stoutland, the Eagles' offensive line coach Jeff's daughter. He carried a tray of green Jell-o shots and a can of whipped cream, with the Rocky theme music blaring through the house speakers. The frenzied crowd couldn't get enough. They flashed $100 bills at him, all ready to be donated to the cause.
"It's a long day, it's a marathon of a day, but with how much money is raised for the Eagles Autism Foundation, I really just enjoy being here," Kelce said. "It's one of the most fun charity events that I have ever done. Everybody who has been here before loves it. You get to be out and about with good people all looking to have fun, it's a good time."
Trautman Family: 'It's Hard Not to Love Jason Kelce'
If Jason Kelce isn't the greatest Philadelphia athlete of all time, he has a strong case for being the most beloved. No player in recent memory has seemed to understand the city's grit and passion better than the sixth-round pick from the 2011 NFL Draft.
Kelce connects with the fan base in a tangible way, which is why the Trautman family of Glen Mills, Pennsylvania made it their mission to be the first people in line on Wednesday. Kirk, Maria, and Melina arrived in Sea Isle City at 6 AM and took their place in line at 10 AM. The die-hards were determined to crack open the first beer poured at the event.
"I think more than any athlete I've ever seen, he gets Philly," Kirk said. "There are so many people that pass through here that just don't get Philly. He gets it. It's not hard to play for us. As a player, if you work hard, and you give it everything you've got, then you're going to be rewarded."
Melina, appropriately dressed in a No. 62 jersey, recalled Kelce's epic Super Bowl speech when describing when the infatuation happened. She has been going to Eagles games with her dad since the sixth grade and listens to the New Heights podcast religiously.
"He's such a good guy because he's so down to earth," Melina said. "He's so passionate about what he does. He cares about the fans, the people. He's not superficial at all."
Maria added: "Something about him is so genuine. He's a real family man, you can tell by the way he loves his brother and his mother. I mean ... it's kind of hard not to love him."
The third-annual Team 62 Fundraiser at Ocean Drive in Sea Isle City, New Jersey raised more than $375,000 for the Eagles Autism Foundation. Check out the scenes from the party of the summer.
Kelce's Teammates Support Eagles Autism Foundation
It's debatable whether Kelce is better at throwing a 350-pound defensive tackle or a party. The scene inside and outside Ocean Drive rivaled that of a Sunday tailgate at Lincoln Financial Field. One sign floating outside the gates read: "The babies got carded at the door. Will you come out and sign them?" Which was a tongue-in-cheek ode to a hilarious podcast meme.
"I'll sign a baby. Gimme a baby, I'll sign it," Jason joked.
Inside, fans brought actual baby dolls in the hopes of getting them autographed. They also brought jerseys, bucket hats, footballs, and quite a few A Philly Special Christmas albums and lunged them across the bar. Kelce obliged so long as no one asked him to make a cocktail, only beers.
"Don't ask me to make a cocktail," Kelce said. "Unless it's a rum and coke, don't ask me to make a cocktail."
One intrepid fan brought a Batman mask which starting left guard Landon Dickerson was happy to ink up. That interaction may have been absurd to an outsider, but not to Kelce.
"You're such a part of the community, and you're a part of everyone's lives," Kelce said, referring to the fans, "and what's at the forefront of the city that you can't help but really be accommodating."
Dickerson wasn't the only teammate there to support Kelce. Jake Elliott was dishing out refreshing Rita's Water Ice. Dallas Goedert was handing out drinks. Fletcher Cox – half-smoked cigar hanging from his lips – and Trent Cole were posted up at the bar like Hall of Fame bookends. Brandon Graham was also doing his thing, decked out in a green Ocean Drive T-shirt, along with former Eagles star Connor Barwin who remains one of Kelce's closest friends.
"I think the Sea Isle community is very much into any excuse to party and have fun," Kelce said. "It's a good situation. You don't have to talk me into a good time."
Good time, check. Meaningful cause, double check. The real star of the show was Matt Craig from Cape May, New Jersey who arrived at 1:30 PM decked out in a Jason Kelce mummer costume. It marked his second trip to the guest bartending event in Sea Isle City and the fundraiser remained extra special to him since his brother is on the autism spectrum.
"I really like seeing athletes do stuff like this," Craig said. "They have a lot of money and influence, and they are set for life. They don't have to go about doing this kind of stuff, but I think out of the kindness of their heart, they do, and I very much appreciate it. It shows a lot about them that I and many others truly appreciate about them and the Eagles organization."