Sunday’s AFC championship game between the Chiefs and Bengals — their second in as many seasons — will be something of a personal affair for Travis Kelce.
Though he has played well against Cincinnati — 19 catches for 176 yards and two scores in their last three meetings — an untimely fumble in their Week 13 game helped seal Kansas City’s third straight defeat at the hands of Joe Burrow and the Bengals. If Kelce wants to help his team bounce back against Cincinnati, he’ll most likely need to have a good game on Sunday.
Either way, Kansas City’s three-game skid must be particularly painful for Kelce, considering he is an Ohio native who went to school in the state. (The Bengals also passed him over three times in the 2013 NFL Draft, which included taking tight end Tyler Eifert with their first-round pick.)
Whether Kelce can overcome his home-state team on Sunday remains to be seen. But it’s worth knowing about his ties to the city and its university until then.
MORE: How many Kelce brothers are in the NFL? How Travis, Jason Kelce rose from Cincinnati to All-Pro siblings
With that, here’s all you need to know about Kelce’s relationship to Cincinnati — and the Bengals.
Did Travis Kelce grow up a Bengals fan?
No, Kelce did not grow up a Bengals fan. He said as much in November 2016 when asked whether he was a fan of his current team, the Chiefs.
Nahhhh I grew up a browns fan… #ClevelandKid https://t.co/wA2RlxJpxR
— Travis Kelce (@tkelce) November 3, 2016
That makes sense, considering Kelce grew up in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. So Kelce has no particular love for Cincinnati.
That said, Kelce turned down offers from Eastern Michigan, Akron and Ohio to play football at the University of Cincinnati, where his older brother Jason Kelce was already playing.
MORE: Travis Kelce falls one short of NFL playoff record for catches in a game
Travis Kelce college
Kelce was a five-year player for Cincinnati, where he played sparingly alongside older brother Jason for three seasons from 2008 through 2010, the latter’s final season with the Bearcats.
Travis Kelce remained a Bearcat for two more years in 2011 and 2012, seasons in which he accumulated the majority of his college stats: 58 receptions for 872 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Kelce has called Kansas City home since 2013, when the Chiefs picked him in the third round of the NFL Draft. That said, he still has an allegiance to his college team; he has been seen performing “Down the Drive” after touchdowns, based on a popular Bearcats cheer.
Here’s an example of the celebration, performed by Kelce in Cincinnati during the teams’ Week 17 meeting in 2021:
When in the Queen City…@tkelce celebrating with Down the Drive in Cincinnati just feels right.#BearcatsInTheNFL
📺: #KCvsCIN on CBSpic.twitter.com/zdmi3VJtXw
— Cincinnati Football (@GoBearcatsFB) January 2, 2022
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Kelce has also been a public and vocal supporter of the Bearcats’ football team, showing up to the 2021 Cotton Bowl to watch his alma mater take on Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinal. He even brought Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes with him:
Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce at the Cotton Bowl, cheering on the Cincinnati Bearcats pic.twitter.com/cVQo0AtDW0
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) December 31, 2021
Kelce’s support extends beyond the football team. His Eighty-Seven & Running Foundation in November 2022 created an endowment to fund Cincinnati’s sports psychology and counseling department.
Per a release from the school, the endowment will aid “all 450 students at Kelce’s alma mater, expanding the staff and personnel for Director of Sports Psychology Lenecia Nickell in the process.”
Said Kelce of his donation:
“Being able to have that support system in place is part of the reason why I decided to start this endowment and give back to my alma mater and its athletic department. I’m at a place in my career where I’m able to share my experiences and lend resources to provide the university’s student-athletes with the assistance they need to become the best versions of themselves they can be.”
It appears Kelce’s five years as a Bearcat have made him a permanent supporter of the university and its football team. That won’t be enough for him to split his loyalties in Sunday’s AFC championship meeting with the Bengals.