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Eagles' athletic trainer fighting cancer taped Jason Kelce's ankles one last time for retirement speech

Joe O’Pella was unable to work Kelce's final NFL game

Philadelphia Eagles' Jason Kelce speaks during an NFL football press conference announcing his retirement in Philadelphia, Monday, March 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Philadelphia Eagles' Jason Kelce speaks during an news conference announcing his retirement in Philadelphia, Monday, March 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

When Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce announced his retirement Tuesday his ankles were taped as if he was preparing for one more game, and there is a very sweet reason why.

Joe O'Pella has been part of the Eagles' athletic training staff since he was an intern in 2008. Now the associate athletic trainer, he's part of the team that takes care of the players on a daily basis.

O'Pella was diagnosed with cancer in 2023 and was unable to attend the Eagles' final game of the season — their wild-card round loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — due to his illness. When Kelce told O'Pella he would be retiring, O'Pella said he was sorry he wasn't able to tape him up a final time.

That's when Kelce offered O'Pella one last tape job — his retirement news conference, as O'Pella explained in a tribute post on Instagram.

"You all know about the on-field accomplishments, and many of the off-the-field ones too, but what this man has meant to me and now my family over the past decade plus is nearly indescribable. From being his Wing Bowl 'cornerman', to hour long rehab sessions followed by nights out on the town, to sleeping on each other’s couches to being at each other’s weddings, to Sea Isle City Polar Bear Plunges to Super Bowl appearances and a ring, we were there doing it together.

"And in what would be his final season, when I was diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo radiation and chemo, he offered his shore house if I needed to get away, and offered to pay for meal services to help my wife and I out, and he called me randomly when I had been home, too sick to come in bc of chemo, just to check on me and chat about random things. That’s who he is as a person.

"I taped this guy’s ankles and thumbs everyday for 13 seasons, and when he played his last game in Tampa, again I couldn’t be there due to cancer. And when he told me he would be retiring and I expressed my regret of not being the last person to ever tape him, and he offered to have me tape him for his retirement press conference. That’s who he is. And I hope these stories can add to an already unbelievable legacy."

Kelce spoke about the ankle tape on the latest edition of the "New Heights" podcast with his brother Travis. While explaining the backstory, he also added an encouraging detail about O'Pella's recovery.

"Thankfully, he's in remission. They don't have any signs of [the cancer]," Kelce said. "They're still going to, I think do an operation to really make sure, but he's looking good."