Travis Kelce Is Going for It (2024)


July/August 2023 Issue

It’s been a wild offseason for the Super Bowl champ, from performing with Machine Gun Kelly to hosting SNL. (“He killed it,” says Lorne Michaels.) Even as Kelce prepares to defend the title in Kansas City, is Hollywood far behind?

By Tom Kludt

Photography by Nick Riley Bentham

Styled by Dan May

Travis Kelce Is Going for It (1)

Trench coat and pants by Brioni; shirt by SMR Days; watch by Rolex.Photograph by Nick Riley Bentham; Styled by Dan May.

Travis Kelce had a week off but work to do. Last fall, the Kansas City Chiefs star made his way to New York to pursue a dream he’s had since he was a kid in Ohio, when he stayed up late on weekends with his mom watching the likes of Chris Farley and Will Ferrell. Hosting Saturday Night Live, Kelce’s manager Aaron Eanes tells me, “was the only thing he ever said he wanted to do.”

He first visited his brother, Jason, in Philadelphia, before deciding to make the pilgrimage to 30 Rock two nights before Halloween, when Jack Harlow was guest hosting. “My brother always talks about how it’s a quick drive from Philly to New York,” Kelce recalls. “So I just said, you know what? I’m not doing anything, I’ll just get up and go.”

Kelce had been circling SNL for years. Eanes made inroads with producers in 2021, but after the Chiefs were blown out in the Super Bowl that year against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the tight end’s hosting prospects were put on ice. He had done some scouting of his own and recognized another hurdle: Most of the recent NFL players to serve as hosts played the game’s marquee position. “There’s only been like maybe three or four guys that weren’t quarterbacks that ever got to actually host,” Kelce says. But the ultimate obstacle would be how the Chiefs finished the season; if Kelce were going to host, he was going to have to be a recently crowned champion. “If Aaron Rodgers won the Super Bowl,” Lorne Michaels says, “I would have been happy to have him.”

His late October visit didn’t hurt his cause. He hung with New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge that night and spoke into the wee hours with Michaels at the after-party. “I thought he’d be good,” Michaels recalls. “And I kinda hoped they’d win the Super Bowl.” Weeks after he and the Chiefs won their second title in four years, beating Jason’s Eagles, Kelce became one of the rare athletes to host SNL, an exclusive group that includes Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and Peyton Manning. His performance in March was shockingly good, and not merely “funny for a jock.” Just ask Mr. SNL himself. “I think he killed it,” Michaels told me. “He’s a natural. He was a presence from the moment he walked out.”

The SNL gig was the highlight of Kelce’s offseason ascent to the A-list. Maybe you saw him in April tossing out the first pitch at the Cleveland Guardians home opener with an errant throw that failed to reach the plate. If you were online a few weeks later, you may have seen a clip of him at his music festival, Kelce Jam, chugging a beer and spiking a replica Lombardi Trophy as the speakers blasted “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!),” the Beastie Boys banger that’s become his go-to party anthem. We have all been witnesses to the summer of Kelce.

Trench coat and pants by Brioni; shirt by SMR Days; watch by Rolex.Photograph by Nick Riley Bentham; Styled by Dan May.

When I met up with him in Los Angeles back in April, Kelce was in the midst of a typically jam-packed itinerary. He had just been in Florida filming promotional material for an energy drink with Judge and was gearing up for the opening weekend of Coachella. After that, he was due in Dallas for workouts with Patrick Mahomes and company, and then it was off to Las Vegas to play in Justin Timberlake’s celebrity golf tournament. By month’s end, he was in Kansas City to make a cameo at the NFL Draft and to host his namesake music festival, which featured performances by Machine Gun Kelly and Rick Ross.

Given the headlines he’s made this offseason—“Travis Kelce Douses Clubgoers With 6-Liter Bottle of Champagne…Wild Vegas Party!!!” blared TMZ in February—one might forget that Kelce is still, first and foremost, a football player. With a pair of Super Bowls and a growing collection of individual records, he has a budding claim to be the best ever at his position. “When it’s all said and done, I think you’re going to have very little argument that he’s the greatest tight end to play,” says Shannon Sharpe, a legendary tight end in his own right.

His on-field legacy firmly secured, Kelce, 33, has raised the ceiling for what he could eventually do off it, whether it’s in the broadcast booth or even on the big screen. (He recently signed with talent powerhouse CAA.) Kelce is poised to join the fraternity of athletes who find greener pastures in retirement, but what precisely his next act will be remains to be seen. “I don’t know if what I want to do has really been done yet,” he says.

It’s a brisk spring morning, and Kelce and I are seated under a tasseled umbrella on a restaurant patio in West Hollywood. He’s dressed cozy for the weather, sporting a bright yellow Palm Angels tracksuit with green stripes along the sleeves and pants. There’s a gold Rolex on his left wrist and small diamond-encrusted hoops on each ear. His hair is freshly buzzed with a tight fade on the sides, his beard neatly trimmed.

And he’s crying.

Kelce is given to raw emotion, a fount of “Let’s f*cking go” and pro wrestling bravado. After his most recent Super Bowl triumph, he commandeered the postgame interview on Fox, first emitting a primal scream and then, while jabbing his finger at the camera, calling out anyone who doubted the Chiefs along the way. That night, he embraced his brother Jason at midfield, voice quivering and eyes misty. A month later, while hosting SNL, Kelce got choked up at the end of his opening monologue after mentioning that he grew up watching the show with his mom.

In this case, we were talking about his trajectory to the NFL and the bumps along the way when I shared a quote from Butch Jones, his coach at the University of Cincinnati. “Travis Kelce is why you coach,” Jones had told me. “I think of him as one of my sons. To be able to sit back and see the success he’s having—the Super Bowl, Saturday Night Live—it’s like a proud dad moment.”

EASYGOING “You stick him into any environment and he can figure it out,” says a former teammate.
Sweater by Hermès; pants by Tom Ford; watch by Rolex.
Photograph by Nick Riley Bentham; Styled by Dan May.

Kelce unfurled a white cloth napkin wrapped around unused silverware to dry the accumulating tears. “He caught me at a moment in my life where I was down in the dumps. I didn’t really think much of myself,” he says. He had a turbulent career at Cincinnati, where he arrived as a quarterback, left a tight end, and endured a yearlong suspension for smoking pot in between. “When I got hit with what I was going through,” he said of this seminal moment, “I found out how many people were in my corner.”

After an undefeated regular season in 2009, Cincinnati was invited to play in the Sugar Bowl, and Kelce hit Bourbon Street hard. “I was down in New Orleans, listening to Lil Wayne, and I wanted to smoke what he was smoking,” he recalls. But on New Year’s Eve, the night before the game and after days of cutting loose, he and his teammates were summoned for a drug test by the NCAA. “I’m just sitting there, dead in the water,” he recalled. Under NCAA rules at the time, Kelce was dealt a one-year suspension. “I just wanted to get out of there,” he says. “I was so embarrassed, I didn’t want to look at anybody.”

Kelce wrestled with a suddenly uncertain future in lengthy phone calls with his parents. “I told him it’s a great learning opportunity. Live with it. Grow from it. Learn from it. It is what it is, and you just have to deal with it now,” Ed Kelce, his dad, recalls. “All the while, I’m biting my tongue about how stupid it is that they’re going to suspend a college kid for smoking pot. Give me a f*cking break.”

What Kelce endured could now be categorized as a relic from a more uptight era, before widespread legalization. Under the NFL’s marijuana policy, which was adjusted in 2021, players are only tested during a two-week window at the start of training camp in the summer, which he says has made it a cinch to pass. “If you just stop in the middle of July, you’re fine,” he says. “A lot of guys stop a week before and they still pass because everybody’s working out in the heat and sweating their tail off. Nobody’s really getting hit for it anymore.” (He estimates that anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of players in the NFL use cannabis.)

But 2010 was a different era. Luckily for Kelce, he had not only his coaches and teammates in his corner, but his brother. Jason Kelce arrived at Cincinnati as a walk-on in 2006 and became an all-conference player who was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles, where he has established himself as the best center in the NFL. He was entering his senior year when Travis was suspended, which brought out his brotherly instincts. “[Jason] said, ‘Look, you’re living with me. You’re going to be in my house, I’m going to know everything you’re doing, and that’s all there is to it,” recalls their mom, Donna Kelce.

For Jason, who shared the house with several other members of the football team, the move was about putting his younger brother around the right people. “I’m a big believer that what you end up doing and becoming comes down to who you surround yourself with,” Jason says. “We weren’t choirboys in that house. We drank, we had fun, we enjoyed the college experience. But all of the guys in that house were incredibly committed to the team and to being the best football players they could be.”

“Everyone took ownership of Travis because everyone saw the good that he had,” says Jones, now the head coach at Arkansas State. Jones had another stipulation for Travis to rejoin the team: He had to move from quarterback to tight end. Kelce had modest numbers in his returning season for Cincinnati in 2011 but broke out the following year, emerging as one of the best tight ends in the country in his senior season. Still, the ordeal cast a shadow over Kelce’s entry to the NFL in 2013, with some scouts questioning his character. He had hoped to be the first tight end selected at the draft that year. Instead, he was the fifth, sliding all the way to the third round, where the Chiefs were waiting.

Once again, big brother was called upon to testify. The Chiefs had just hired a new coach, Andy Reid, who had drafted Jason in 2011 when he was head coach of the Eagles. After calling to tell him that he was coming to Kansas City, Reid had Travis hand the phone to Jason. “I don’t remember the exact words that Andy said to me,” Jason recalls, “but it was pretty much along the lines of, ‘Hey, you’re vouching for this guy.’”

Kelce talks about his place on the Chiefs like someone who won the lottery, and no doubt, he has good reason to be grateful. He plays for Reid, an offensive savant and one of the winningest coaches ever, and he seems to have a telepathic connection to Mahomes, a virtuoso quarterback—even his incompletions look like works of art. “I’m so fortunate to get tossed in this organization at this time,” he says. “I’m just reaping the benefits.”

The self-effacement downplays his own contributions to a five-year run in which the Chiefs have won two Super Bowls and eclipsed the Patriots as the NFL’s signature team. There are reams of personal statistics to capture Kelce’s brilliance as a football player. His seven seasons with at least 1,000 receiving yards are the most ever for a tight end, while his 16 career postseason receiving touchdowns trail only Jerry Rice for the most of all time.

Robe and tank top by Tom Ford, shorts by Sleepy Jones, shoes by Hermès.Photograph by Nick Riley Bentham; Styled by Dan May.

Sweater by Tom Ford.Photograph by Nick Riley Bentham; Styled by Dan May.

“Travis is definitely the best player I’ve thrown to,” Mahomes tells me, adding, “With how big he is and the way he is able to run routes and make plays happen, is a really rare thing.” Even more, Mahomes says, “Travis is definitely my closest teammate. I would say our friendship is more like a brotherhood—we’re brothers now and our families get along together. I’m part of his family and he’s part of mine.”

This past Super Bowl did plenty to raise Kelce’s profile. With Travis’s Chiefs squaring off against Jason’s Eagles, it marked the first time a pair of brothers played each other in the big game, and the storyline dominated coverage leading up to kickoff. “We were in everybody’s household,” Kelce says. That includes Donna, who grabbed headlines for wearing a split Chiefs/Eagles jersey (the garment has since been shipped to the Pro Football Hall of Fame). It was the capper to the best season of his life. “I’ll remember the week of that Super Bowl more than anything that happened during the game,” he says.

The accolades and Super Bowl fanfare have propelled Kelce to a more rarefied tier of celebrity, where even someone who has never watched SportsCenter might approach him for a selfie. “I’ll get people yelling at me ‘Hey, SNL was great’ even more than people say ‘Hey, that Super Bowl was awesome,’” he says before adding, understatedly, that “they were both pretty fun.” Midway through our second cup of coffee, a group of young people timidly approaches the table to request a photo with him. “Where are you guys from?” Kelce asks, rising from his seat. His eyes light up when one says they are visiting from New York.

“New York!” he says. “One of my favorites.”

He poses with two young women who thank him in singsong-y unison.

“Oh, you already know,” he replies.

Spend a day with Kelce, and you will hear that phrase anywhere from 30 to 300 times. Contexts of its usage may vary wildly. It could be brought out in solemn moments, like when he took a call at the restaurant from Mahomes’s dad, Pat Sr., whose mom had recently passed away. (“You already know, my condolences for your mother, man.”) Or in the same call, when Kelce and Pat Sr. exchanged some friendly sh*t talk about an upcoming golf outing. (“You already know I’m getting my game right.”)

It’s so mutable, it could mean anything or nothing. The more I heard it, the more I wondered: What do I know, and why is Kelce so certain that I already know it? The enduring online resource Urban Dictionary offers eight definitions for the phrase, but the best one describes it as “an answer to any question.” Put it that way, and it feels less like a verbal crutch and more like a distillation of his universally agreeable vibe: a phrase for all occasions, used by a man eager to ingratiate himself with everyone. He was just in Austin for the CMT Awards the week before we met, while his own concert had a decidedly un-country flavor, like when he joined Machine Gun Kelly for a raucous rendition of—what else?—“Fight for Your Right.”

“You stick him into any environment and he can figure it out,” says Zach Collaros, a quarterback in the Canadian Football League who played with Kelce at Cincinnati. “He’s just a genuine guy who can get along with anybody. He has enough confidence in himself that he can just hang back and talk to people and not feel out of place.”

Being relatable and charismatic can be extremely lucrative for a professional athlete in retirement, especially one so decorated. Although he remains at the top of his game—last season was arguably his best yet—he is closer to the end of his playing career than the beginning.

Kelce told me he intends to see out his current contract with the Chiefs, which runs through 2025. And although he might not know what precisely the future holds, Kelce has been positioning himself for a next act in entertainment since he entered the league. Or, as he puts it, getting his “face out from under the helmet.” An early attempt came in 2016, when he starred in a reality dating show on E! called Catching Kelce. Each week’s episode followed the handsome young bachelor entertaining the advances of 50 women, who were typically identified by their home state (spoiler alert: Kentucky caught Kelce).

Even by the grimly low standards of the genre, the show made for pretty rough viewing. In one of the more charitable reviews, a critic called it “so absurd that it’s pointless for viewers to sigh about how it’s contributing to the downfall of TV and/or humanity.” Kelce is willing to make fun of it now, as he did on SNL. But in keeping with his relentlessly upbeat disposition, he doesn’t express many regrets about the experience. “Who cares if it was a good opportunity or a bad opportunity, or whether it was a good show or a bad show,” he says, adding that the experience makes him “more comfortable if I get another opportunity like that again.” (While there may not be a Catching Kelce sequel in the works, he is currently a bachelor once again after ending a long-term relationship with the model and influencer Kayla Nicole last year.)

Broadcasting would be a logical move, and he could see himself in the booth as a color analyst for NFL games. “I could sit there, talk football, and make it relatable. I could get into the scheme of things. I could make it make sense to the people who are just now getting into it,” he says. “And I could bring the juice.”

He has gotten valuable reps as a commentator on New Heights, the weekly podcast he hosts with his brother. The show, a mix of NFL shoptalk and bro-y banter, was an immediate hit after launching last year—especially fortuitous timing with the brothers on a collision course to meet in the Super Bowl. The public interest surrounding the “Kelce Bowl” shot the podcast to number one overall on Apple in February, and it has consistently ranked near the top of the sports podcast charts since its debut.

Even with all the success, Kelce describes the podcast as a lark. “I don’t know where it’s going, but it’s a lot of fun,” he says. “To be able to just shoot the sh*t with my brother for a couple hours, those were some of the funnest moments of the season for me. It really just brought us even closer together at this point in our lives.”

But Kelce clearly has on-camera aspirations. In 2020, he appeared in one episode of the John C. Reilly comedy Moonbase 8, playing an exaggerated version of himself. He was solid in what was a low-demand role, but his hosting stint on SNL showcased some honest-to-god comedic acting chops. He crushed the monologue and comfortably assumed each character the writers threw at him.

Jacket by Louis Vuitton Men’s, sweater and pants by Loro Piana, sunglasses by Oliver Peoples.Photograph by Nick Riley Bentham; Styled by Dan May.

In the standout sketch of the SNL episode, wearing a pink tuxedo and blond wig, he played a pompous creep dining with his two dolls at an American Girl Café. There’s inherent humor in casting a jock as a weirdo with a doll obsession, but it was his delivery that squeezed every laugh out of the absurdity. Michaels ranked Kelce “near the top” among athletes who have hosted the show.

The collaborative nature of SNL appealed to Kelce, reminding him of the team environment he’s operated in his entire life. And, buoyed by his well-received performance on the show, he wants to explore more opportunities in scripted comedy. “I have more of an understanding of when somebody puts something on the table, how I can make it more fun, how I can make it more me, and how I can really push the direction that the show is going,” he says. “It made me more comfortable in having a role in the team and process.”

Eric Stonestreet, a star of Modern Family and a diehard Chiefs fan, believes Kelce “will have the ability to do much more than just commentate on football.”

“Can he be an actor? One hundred percent,” says Stonestreet, who has gotten to know Kelce through charity work in Kansas City. “Good performance starts with what Travis possesses naturally, which is an open heart.”

In our discussion of future plans, Kelce also mentioned that he’s interested in hosting a game show someday. Suffice it to say, he’s keeping his options open. Whatever his next move, there is broad consensus among those in his orbit that he will, as Stonestreet put it, “end up making more money off the field.”

Kelce’s base salary of $11.25 million this year ranks 54th among all players in the NFL, an example of how a player’s position heavily influences the market. Tight ends are generally a lower priority in team roster construction and are thus paid far less than players at premium positions. A top wide receiver, for instance, can fetch as much as $30 million per year. Ranked second in receiving touchdowns and third in receptions last season, he may have stats that rival an elite receiver, but he isn’t paid like one.

Obviously, no one should weep for Kelce, who’s earned nearly $65 million in his playing career. He isn’t crying poor either, but he admits that his associates bristle over his salary. “My managers and agents love to tell me how underpaid I am,” Kelce says. “Any time I talk about wanting more money, they’re just like, ‘Why don’t you go to the Chiefs and ask them?’” The Chiefs, constrained by the NFL’s salary cap, have parted with other key players who have gone on to make more money elsewhere. Last year, the team traded All-Pro wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who played in Kansas City for six seasons and won a Super Bowl with Kelce in 2020, to the Miami Dolphins, who promptly handed Hill a four-year contract extension worth $120 million.

“When I saw Tyreek go and get 30 [million] a year, in the back of my head, I was like, man, that’s two to three times what I’m making right now,” he says. “I’m like, the free market looks like fun until you go somewhere and you don’t win. I love winning. I love the situation I’m in.”

But it does cross his mind. “You see how much more money you could be making and, yeah, it hits you in the gut a little bit. It makes you think you’re being taken advantage of,” Kelce says. “I don’t know if I really pressed the gas if I would get what I’m quote-unquote worth,” he adds. “But I know I enjoy coming to that building every single day.”

We settle up for our coffees and head to a waiting black SUV parked behind the restaurant, but not before Kelce poses for a few photos with a table of 20-somethings. As we walk away, one of the diners shouts the chorus from “Fight for Your Right.”

The song is played after Chiefs touchdowns at Arrowhead and seemingly everywhere he goes. At the Chiefs’ victory parade in 2020, Kelce, wearing a WWE championship belt around his waist, capped a boozy and meandering speech by shouting the chorus. And in February, he sang it with Jimmy Fallon during an appearance on The Tonight Show. He says he never knew all the lyrics prior to that.

“All I remember is just the screaming, ‘You gotta fight for your right,’” he tells me as we climb into the back seat of the SUV. Kelce struggled as he rehearsed the song, which made his publicist nervous, but ever the gamer, he nailed the duet with Fallon when the lights went on.

“Wherever he is, it’s the best day ever. Wherever he is, it’s the most fun ever. Whatever he’s doing is the coolest thing ever,” says the actor Rob Riggle, a Chiefs fan and golf buddy of Kelce’s. “It’s a mindset. He’s not worried about the future, he’s not regretting the past. He’s so present. You can feel that.”

Sweater by Brunello Cucinelli; pants by Bode; blanket by Hermès; watch by Rolex.Photograph by Nick Riley Bentham; Styled by Dan May.

Sweater by Brunello Cucinelli; pants by Bode; blanket by Hermès; watch by Rolex. Throughout: grooming products by La Prairie.Photograph by Nick Riley Bentham; Styled by Dan May.

Along Sunset Boulevard, we pass a mammoth billboard for Fallon’s game show, That’s My Jam, and Kelce recounts meeting the host for the first time. “I was like, ‘Dude, this is probably going to be the most awkward thing anybody has ever said to you,’” he says, building up a story that ends with him revealing that he told Fallon how much he loved him in the 2004 film Taxi. Fallon has a scene in which he sings “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love),” and Kelce really gets a kick out of it. The movie currently holds a 9 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I’m guessing Fallon has heard worse.

We’re on our way to CoolKicks, a sneaker store and hypebeast mecca. Kelce has been to the store before, but he says he hasn’t been “since they would recognize me.” It’s his type of place. He estimates that he owns between 300 and 400 pairs of shoes, many of which, like the LeBron II Oregon PEs he is wearing today, are rare. And spend-y: This pair of LeBron IIs can sell for as much as $4,500.

His love of fashion stems from his upbringing in Cleveland Heights, a diverse suburb with a vibrant arts scene. Attending his public high school, he tells me, “was like a fashion show every day,” adding, “I knew kids who didn’t even wear the same shirt twice.” Kelce is a proud son of Cleveland, and he reps his hometown in ways that are both charming and corny. Before games, he listens to “Burn On,” Randy Newman’s ode to the Cuyahoga River. The song is played in the opening sequence of the Cleveland sports classic Major League, which also happens to be one of his favorite movies. “It just makes me think about home, and think about the journey,” he says.

Kelce also remains tight with several childhood friends from Cleveland Heights, who are fixtures within Kelce’s jet-setting lifestyle. There’s Kumar Ferguson, who works as his personal chef. Growing up in Cleveland Heights, Ferguson honed a passion for food by cooking for his younger brother. He was working as a truck driver in 2016, a job that allowed him to “taste food from every region,” when Kelce called to make a compelling proposition. “He’s like, ‘Hey man, I want to take my diet seriously, and take it to the next level,’” Ferguson says. “I’m like, sh*t, let’s do it. Three or four days later, I was in Kansas City.” Ferguson has a loft in downtown Kansas City and is at Kelce’s home every day in the regular season, preparing meals, stocking the refrigerator—and just chilling. “We kick it all day,” Ferguson says.

There’s also Aric Jones, who graduated from Heights High a year after Kelce and Ferguson. Jones was finishing his schooling at Tennessee State in 2014 when Kelce extended an invitation to move in with him in Kansas City. “I was just like, ‘Are you sure this is cool? I don’t want to be a burden on you,’” Jones says. “He just sent me a picture of a bedroom and said, ‘Here’s your room. It’s waiting for you.’”

Jones lived with Kelce for two years, partying about as much as you’d expect from two buddies in their early 20s. He currently lives and works in Washington, DC, but flies out most weekends to link up with the old gang. Coachella one weekend, a prize fight in Vegas the next—wherever he goes, Kelce always rolls deep, Entourage-style (albeit with a more diverse crew). “Travis has always been the larger-than-life white kid that’s always hung out with the Black kids,” Jones says.

For Kelce, the candor and familiarity of those friendships has been a grounding force. “I’ve known both of them since I was five, six years old,” he says of Ferguson and Jones. “It’s really easy to be yourself when you’ve got the people you grew up with around all the time.”

Our driver pulls into the parking area behind CoolKicks, and we are let in through the back door by an employee, who ushers us through a labyrinth of chrome-wire shelves stacked with shoeboxes. We emerge to a brightly lit store where there are about a dozen midday shoppers and nearly as many staff waiting to greet Kelce like a conquering hero. “The champ is here!” one says from behind the counter.

Kelce draws squinty, curious stares from a few customers trying to work out his identity. Others recognize him immediately and ready their phones. He browses the store’s illuminated glass case, which contains a rainbow of colorful sneakers.

“You got the Tiffany Air Forces?” asks the store’s owner, Adeel Shams.

“I haven’t grabbed those yet,” Kelce says. “You got those in 14?”

Shams hands him a black suede shoe embellished with a Tiffany blue Nike swoosh, and Kelce holds it up for me to inspect.

“That’s nice,” I tell him.

“You already know,” he says.

We are led to “the vault,” which is just the back room from which we entered, and Shams shows him the Air Jordan 1 A Ma Maniére.

“This is some good material,” Kelce says, squeezing the inside of the high-tops with his enormous right hand. “These are fire. Man, I can feel the leather in these things.”

The shoeboxes slowly stack up around Kelce’s feet before he decides he’s ready to check out. The haul: five pairs for $3,777.75.

Jacket by Polo Ralph Lauren; sweater by Gucci; pants by Loro Piana; sunglasses by SMR Days x Prism London; watch by Rolex.

Photograph by Nick Riley Bentham; Styled by Dan May.

The day grinds on toward late afternoon as our SUV creeps toward Malibu. He’s in California a lot these days, for work and play, but remains partial to New York and Miami, which are both close to his immediate family. Jason is in Philadelphia with his wife and three kids. Ed and Donna, who are divorced, live in Pennsylvania and Florida, respectively.

Kelce isn’t sure where he will land when he retires from football. He owns a home in Kansas City but spends much of his offseason living in rentals all over the country.

“I’ve rented a bunch of the spots on the water here,” he says, pointing to a row of ocean-facing properties. Kelce first came to Malibu in the offseason following his rookie year with the Chiefs, heeding the advice of his uncle. “He’s like, ‘You’d really love Malibu. The women are beautiful out there,’” Kelce recalls.

We inch glacially along the Pacific Coast Highway. Eventually, we find ourselves at another standstill and parallel with a driver who waves a manila folder containing a scrawled message for Kelce: “Would you sign my hat?” I roll down my window to facilitate the autograph, and the driver quickly puts his car in park before grabbing a Carhartt baseball cap from his back seat. He stands among traffic in the middle of the highway as Kelce signs the bill, telling us that he’s doing it for his friend who is a Chiefs fan. “Legendary, dude,” Kelce says. “Tell your boy I say what’s up.”

Our time together is coming to an end. As we make our way to the beach, talk of food comes up and whether there’d be any at the photo shoot. I mention that we only ordered coffee at the restaurant while rapt in conversation, discussing Kelce’s ascendance on the field and the future possibilities off it.

“Yeah, you already know,” he says.


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Travis Kelce Is Going for It (2)

Contributing Editor

Tom Kludt is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, where he writes about media, sports, and politics. He was previously a reporter at CNN and Talking Points Memo. You can follow him on Twitter @tomkludt.

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Hobby: Creative writing, Motor sports, Do it yourself, Skateboarding, Coffee roasting, Calligraphy, Stand-up comedy

Introduction: My name is Laurine Ryan, I am a adorable, fair, graceful, spotless, gorgeous, homely, cooperative person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.