The result was Kelce delivering another monster performance to put the defending champion Chiefs back in the Super Bowl.
With pop star girlfriend Taylor Swift, brother Jason and mother Donna among those in attendance, Kelce had 11 catches for 116 yards and had a touchdown reception in Kansas City's 17-10 AFC championship game victory at Baltimore on Sunday.
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who has made a career out of throwing to Kelce, said his longtime teammate was motivated by the chance to show what he could do against the Ravens.
“He’s one of those guys that he loves the challenge,” Mahomes said. “When the lights get brighter, he plays better. That’s the true mark of a champion, and that’s what he is.”
A four-time All-Pro tight end and already a two-time Super Bowl champion, Kelce in the process also broke Jerry Rice’s NFL career record for the most catches in the postseason. He now has 156 in 21 playoff games.
“Shout out to Jerry Rice, baby,” Kelce said immediately after the game. “And believe it. You’ve got to fight for your right to party!”
Party time is on in Kansas City, with the team making a fourth Super Bowl appearance in five years and standing one victory away from a third NFL title in that span. Kelce has been a huge part of this run, with three TDs after two in a divisional round victory at Buffalo last week.
“He’s amazing," right tackle Jawaan Taylor said. "It just shows his grit, his toughness. (He is) an amazing leader, and the way he prepares every week is amazing. He’s a phenomenal player.”
Mahomes' favorite playmaker, Kelce came in with 1,694 yards receiving in the playoffs, trailing only Rice's 2,245 in the league's record book.
Kelce also ranks second to Rice in playoff touchdown catches. Rice had 22, and Kelce picked up his 19th on a 19-yard catch from Mahomes in the first quarter.
“Of course, Travis ran the wrong route and he ended up getting the football," Mahomes said with a chuckle. “When he’s 1 on 1, I give him a chance, and I threw the ball and he made a heck of a catch. He’s a special player, man.”
Kelce, 34, has been one of football's most visible figures this season, from his relationship with Swift, who's at the peak of her fame, to a starring role in several TV commercials that have plastered his face all over game broadcasts and beyond.
Next stop, the Super Bowl after Kelce helped the Chiefs book another spot there.
“I never worried about him being ready to go,” coach Andy Reid said. “He’s always right there and just brings that emotion to the guys — that just secure feeling that we’re going to go get this thing no matter what, and don’t think of anything opposite that. We’re going to get it.”
AP Freelance Writer Dave Ginsburg contributed.
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