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Eagles center Jason Kelce officially announces retirement after 13 seasons

Donning a cutoff shirt and trademark beard speckled with white on the cheeks, Philadelphia Eagles All-Pro center Jason Kelce couldn't get through 10 words before tearing up, needing to gather himself as he prepared to give the final speech of his NFL career, in which he officially announced his retirement on Monday.

A Hall of Fame-worthy speech, an emotional Kelce spent roughly 45 minutes thanking everyone who touched his life throughout his football journey, from coaches and even the band teacher growing up to those who nurtured his career at Cincinnati to Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, general manager Howie Roseman and the teammates and coaches he battled with during his professional career.

"So this all brings us here to today, where I announce I am retiring from the NFL after 13 seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles," Kelce said, brushing tears from his eyes. "And today, I must admit, I am officially overrated, vastly overrated. But (expletive), it took a lot of hard work and determination getting here.

"I have been the underdog my entire career and -- I mean this when I say it -- I wish I still was. Few things gave me more joy than proving someone wrong. My mother used to tell people and still says to this day, 'If you want Jason to do something, all you have to do is tell him he can't,' and that was true in more ways than I care to admit. I relish doubters; they fuel the fire within. I suspect that comes from an upbringing where my parents would tell me, 'Jason, you can do, you can be anything you put your mind to it and work hard to achieve it.' So whenever I was faced with doubt in my career, be it from fans, coaches, even from my own teammates, the American dream would burn deep from inside my bones, which leads to my last Jeff Stoutland quote: 'Hungry dogs run fast.' "

A sixth-round draft pick out of Cincinnati in 2011, Kelce played his entire career with the Eagles, earning seven Pro Bowl bids, six first-team All-Pro honors, countless pancake blocks on the move and one Super Bowl ring.

"Thank you, Philadelphia. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for letting me represent this city and allowing me into your homes every Sunday," he said on Monday. "It has truly been a privilege. You have all been so good to me and my family. Growing up in Cleveland, I watched all of my favorite athletes leave the city. Hell, a whole team left the city. It has always been a goal of mine to play my whole career in one city. And I couldn't have dreamt of a better one and a better fit if I tried. I don't know what's next, but I look forward to the next challenges and opportunities that await, and I know that I carry with me the lessons from my time here and that, forever, we shall all share the bond of being Philadelphians. That's all I got."

In a statement, Lurie praised Kelce as the ideal Eagle and representative of Philadelphia.

"It is difficult to put into words how much Jason Kelce has meant to everyone in this organization, to the city of Philadelphia, and to our fans," the owner wrote on Monday. "He gave everything he had to all of us for 13 years. And he did it in a way that was truly authentic. Jason was an incredible football player: A future Hall of Famer who would have been successful anywhere. But has there ever been a more perfect marriage between a player, a city, and a team?

"His grit and determination, from being a walk-on linebacker at Cincinnati to an undersized sixth-round pick in 2011, are unparalleled. His intelligence and versatility, from starting as a rookie center in a lockout season to thriving under multiple coaches and offensive schemes, set him apart from others at his position. The genuine love and care he showed his coaches, teammates, and staff endeared him to all he worked alongside. The passion and intensity that he poured into everything he did both on and off the field made a city fall in love."

Even at 36 years old, Kelce remained one of the best blockers in space, with the ability to get to the second level, pull around the corner, and keep his balance while flattening an oncoming defender. His unique ability to get lower than his opponent drove the "Brotherly Shove" sneak and made it nearly impossible to stop.

Kelce said he's unsure of what's next on his journey. Whether it's television or another medium, one day, that voyage will include a trip to Canton, Ohio, to don a gold jacket.

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