BY, Paul Dehner Jr., email@example.com
SAN FRANCISCO — Denver Broncos defensive lineman Derek Wolfe and Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce are more than just University of Cincinnati products in the NFL. They might be enjoying the two best Januarys of anyone in the league.
Wolfe is preparing to start for the top-ranked defense in football in Super Bowl 50 on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium. He’ll take the field 23 days aftersigning a four-year contract extension worth $36.7 million.
Kelce did his best to top it. He went to his first Pro Bowl — grabbing two touchdowns— and announced a new reality dating series on the E! Network entitled “Catching Kelce.” Oh yeah, and with the Pacific Ocean and a Hawaiian beach in the background, he signed a five-year, $46 million extension with the Chiefs.
You can confidently call them superstars of the NFL. Of course, at one point in time, you could also call them roommates learning how to live with each other.
“He’s an interesting guy once you meet him, you notice that right off the bat,” Kelce said with a laugh. “He means well, one of those things when you live with a guy for so long you find out what you really hate about a guy and love about the guy. To this day, I still love Wolfey, that’s my guy.”
Team Rice tight end Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs (87) catches a touchdown against Team Irvin free safety Malcolm Jenkins of the Philadelphia Eagles (27) during the first quarter of the 2016 Pro Bowl game at Aloha Stadium. (Photo: Kyle Terada, Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)
Even though the two compete against each other twice a year in the AFC West, there’s a commonality and motivation within each other’s success. Two guys who spent a lot of long nights in that Clifton apartment, along with Travis’ brother, Jason, who starts at center for the Philadelphia Eagles, wondering why people didn’t think they were good enough. With each session, the chips on their shoulders grew larger.
“I’m so happy for him,” Wolfe said. “That’s the thing, we all push each other. Forget all that other crap. Let’s just ball and do what we do. Who cares if we don’t get the hype, let’s just do what we do.”
What they did was prove a host of critics wrong.
Neither was heavily recruited coming out of Northern Ohio; Wolfe from East Liverpool and Kelce from Cleveland Heights.
Wolfe struggled to make a significant impact his first few seasons in Cincinnati, and Kelce was more noted for being suspended one year for a violation of team rules than any plays on it.
“It did change perspective for me,” Wolfe said. “It showed me this isn’t going to be forever and you can be done any day. Take advantage of every single play, every snap, every event. I could be miserable out here and not want to do this but who knows if I’ll ever get to do it again.”
Both Kelce and Wolfe overcame injury and were among the most important players on their respective teams this season. Kelce caught 72 passes for 875 yards and five touchdowns. Wolfe recorded 5.5 sacks and tied for the team lead with nine tackles for loss. He added two tackles for loss and two sacks during the Broncos’ postseason run.
“It’s ironic,” Kelce said of their parallel paths. “It’s cool to go through the experience with him as well. You see his success as I’ve had success. It’s cool to be a part of it and both show we can be successful in the league.”
The ups and downs along Wolfe’s wild ride didn’t stop there. He was suspended four games to open the season for violation of the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs, claiming he took a medication he didn’t realize was on the banned substance list. He took responsibility and issued an apology.
From the lowest of lows to start the season to the highest of highs expressing relief in signing his contract during a Super Bowl run would be hard for anyone to imagine.
“It’s been so insane,” he said. “What’s most important is always knowing it’s going to work out. No matter how bad it gets, you always are going to be all right. If you want something bad enough you’ll get it.”
We shall see if Wolfe gets that Super Bowl ring Sunday night, but regardless he knows he can expect a text from his old roommate.
“Even when we go up against each other it’s always fun and games,” Kelce said. “And at the end of the day that’s my brother for life.”