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Super Bowl bound Kelce brothers are a product of Cleveland Heights

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

It's being called the Kelce Bowl. On Sunday, when the Philadelphia Eagles go up against the Kansas City Chiefs, Jason and Travis Kelce will do something that has never been done before in a Super Bowl. They will become the first brothers to ever play against each other in the big game. And even though these brothers now live in different cities, they have never forgotten where they came from. Here's Travis Kelce speaking during his high school hall of fame inauguration in 2018.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRAVIS KELCE: Every single thing that I do is for this city. And I know it sounds cliche, but I promise you, every single thing that I do out there, when you see me dancing in the end zone, that's Cleveland Heights for you, right there.

SUMMERS: Kansas City Star reporter Eric Adler recently visited the heights, as it's called, and he joins me now to talk about the place that forged the Kelce brothers. Hey, Eric. Welcome to the show.

ERIC ADLER: Well, thank you. Thank you for having me on.

SUMMERS: All right. I want to start with the clip that we just heard. Travis Kelce got pretty emotional in that speech, talking about the place where he and his brother grew up. And it seems like it's a place that they both still just really love.

ADLER: Oh, yeah. No, absolutely. I don't think there - there's no doubt about that. Listen. You know, you - there's nature-nurture, right? I mean, everybody in the world knows that part of them was forged by the place that they grew up in. And yet, you'll find these people who distance themselves from the place that they grew up in - I mean, can't wait to get away from them. And there are so many people who will, in some ways, fudge it. You know, you say - no offense, but you'll say you're from New York City when, really, you're from Fort Lee. These two guys have embraced their town, always and forever - I mean, both Jason and Travis. I mean, it's - they have a podcast called "New Heights." When Travis Kelce gets on the air in big games and introduces himself, it's Travis Kelce from Cleveland Heights, Ohio. They have never stepped away from that place, and I think the town knows it.

SUMMERS: And how do people in Cleveland Heights talk about the Kelce brothers? Like, I'm sure they have to be buzzing about them right now.

ADLER: Oh, they embrace it. Are you kidding? This week, they've had major celebrations. I mean, you have to put this in perspective, right? This is Cleveland Browns territory. These people - the Browns are deep, deep, deep in the clay. And yet, all week long, they've been celebrating these two boys, boys that grew up with them. And I think - we can talk about that, but I think it's because of how they just embody this city, how they really personify it. The high school they went to is lit up in both red and green, red on the west side for the Chiefs and green on the east side for Eagles. And I don't think that's just because they're from there. I mean, part of it is that these players are so devoted to the town. They not only don't shy away from it, and they really, really sort of promote the fact that they're there.

SUMMERS: Let's talk about football a little bit. There are some big differences between Jason and Travis Kelce, though they are both past Super Bowl winners and incredibly successful, dynamic players. But, in watching them on the field, they seem to have really different personalities. What did their old coaches and teammates tell you about their styles?

ADLER: They sort of put it in terms of the town itself. What you have there is this, in some sense, a - it's a very, very diverse town. If you talk to one person in Cleveland Heights, you may as well talk to all 44,000, and they'll all use the same term, which is diverse. You know, we're this diverse community. We have - half white, about 40% Black. It is super rich, and it's super poor. There is this sort of conglomeration of folks there that have given both of the Kelce brothers this sense of surefooted confidence in sort of walking in any kind of circle of people. So they - they're both very, very confident in their talents. So you have Jason, you know, just sort of grinding down there, while you'll have Travis is, you know, again, this light-footed kind of lighthearted, flashy player.

SUMMERS: I know you've talked about this city split in half, lit up in green on one side and red on the other. But do you get the sense that this town is going to pick a side ultimately, or is there just going to be a ton of cheering no matter who wins the big game?

ADLER: The Kelce family has both said that, you know, they're going to root for whoever's on offense. And you get the sense that some people have choices. There are a few who will say that they are tipping towards Jason only because he's older. He - they both have Super Bowl rings. It'd be great to - for him to have a second ring because they believe that Travis is going to be there again, and maybe time again. But no, they're just rooting for these sons of the town.

SUMMERS: That's Eric Adler with The Kansas City Star. Eric, thank you.

ADLER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNNA AND LIL BABY SONG, "DRIP TOO HARD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Gus Contreras
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.