The line around the block of Eagles fans waiting to enter The Ocean Drive in Sea Isle City, New Jersey, started more than an hour before the doors opened on a gorgeous beach Wednesday afternoon, and all of them had the same thought in mind: Bust out the Eagles green, get ready to party with center Jason Kelce, and support the Eagles Autism Foundation.
It couldn't have gone any better, with a total of $100K raised ahead of the August 21 Eagles Autism Challenge presented by Lincoln Financial Group, the team's signature fundraising event. Eagles fans showed once again why they are the best, donating $50,000 to the cause. Kelce and his wife, Kylie, were so touched by the outpouring of support that they matched it to cap off a wonderful day.
For the fans who were so generous with their enthusiasm for the event and the overarching cause, it was a late afternoon and evening to get in some lusty "E-A-G-L-E-S, EAGLES" cheers and meet Kelce. The Eagles' center spent four hours working, and working hard, starting with a ceremonial carryout of a tray of shots to some heavy-duty action behind the bar pouring drinks, posing for selfies, slapping high-fives, and having a grand old time deepening a remarkable connection with the Eagles fan community.
"It's great, man. I was wondering how it would turn out," Kelce said. "It's Wednesday, middle of the day, who's going to show up? But there's a lot of energy out there and we're raising a lot of money, so it's a lot of fun."
Kelce is an all-time legend with the fans, of course, having won every one of them over with his toughness and his leadership and his All-Pro skills at the center position, and his, um, greatest-speech-in-the-world effort at the Eagles' Parade of Champions in 2018 (February 8, but who can forget that date???) cemented his status. On Wednesday, fans swarmed the OD and threw a summer beach bash, Eagles style, complete with SWOOP and Eagles Cheerleaders.
Are ya ready for some Eagles football ...?
"I don't try to be anything that I'm not and I think fans, especially in Philadelphia, appreciate that," said Kelce, who described his relationship with the fans as "real." "I just try to be as much of myself as I can be, not trying to get a big head or anything like that because I certainly don't have one and really just engage with the fans in a real way as much as possible. I think they reciprocate that."
In a big way, they do.
Kelce is the genuine article who took his shot as a sixth-round draft pick in 2011 and became a four-time Pro Bowl player, a three-time All-Pro, and a Super Bowl Champion. And the orator of The Speech, complete with his Mummer's outfit. Incredible stuff. And what's even more special about Kelce is the way he's always been such a positive ambassador for the organization and the City of Philadelphia. Taking part in Wednesday's event was one of those examples.
"To have Jason Kelce, a veteran, an iconic player, jump in and raise his hand and say 'yes' is so important. An organization wants to follow a leader. They want to emulate what that guy does and to know that he's going to shepherd and cultivate these younger players to understand that this is what you can do to change people's lives, that the Eagles are going to give you that opportunity is incredible. He's the best," said Ryan Hammond, the executive director of the Eagles Autism Foundation, who talked to Kelce as the two were at a Sea Isle arcade playing with their children about having a fundraising event. Less than a week later, the joint was jumpin' with Eagles fans.
"He came from a place of 'yes,'" Hammond said. "He's embraced it and he's having fun. We wanted to have an event where Jason would enjoy the night and we worked with that, connected with the community, and look at this! The people are here to have a great time and support a great cause and celebrate the start of the weekend."
The money raised came from drink tips, raffles, and the cover charge. Hundreds of men and women packed The Ocean Drive. It was a big, big event for Hammond and the Eagles Autism Foundation.
And it was just another way of connecting to his fans for Kelce, who missed the interaction last season. He admitted to being a novice as a bartender – mostly pouring beers and making rum and colas and vodka and sodas, and Kelce said he ran away from a margarita order – but that wasn't what the day was all about.
"Obviously, we're really passionate about EAC, but just being involved in the community (is what is important for players)," Kelce said. "Anything that any player does to give back to the community, I'm in awe of, whether you're starting your own foundation, joining other foundations, giving your time, whatever. This is all part of the job, in my opinion. The Eagles have done a great job historically of that. I was brought up through that culture, so it's part of my job to show the young guys this is what it is to be an Eagle."
Jason Kelce served up drinks at The Ocean Drive in Sea Isle City to raise money for Eagles Autism Foundation.