Travis Kelce has plenty on his plate.
The Kansas City tight end catches passes. He blocks. He serves as a leader on a Chiefs team that gets younger by the year. His job description runs deep and wide.
There’s always room for more, however. For Kelce, that means wearing the black hat compared to the white won worn by quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Kelce is the one who sets younger teammates straight. It’s a role he had to play often this year because Kansas City’s group of receivers had plenty of shaky moments.
Mahomes gets to come in with a gentler voice after Kelce goes full force.
“Yeah, I’ll play bad cop,” Kelce said.
It’s reminiscent of a championship club in a different sport: The Los Angeles Lakers. Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher had a similar dynamic during five title-winning seasons in the 2000s.
Bryant drove a hard bargain with his teammates. He would unleash his anger in unabashed fury. Fisher would step in a few minutes later to diffuse the tension in a much calmer manner.
But Kelce said he won’t say anything to his teammates he isn’t also willing to say to himself.
“I give the same energy to myself when I drop a pass or screw up on a route,” Kelce said.
The Chiefs needed that passion this year more than most. Their receivers struggled this season with drops. They also weren’t always on the same page with Mahomes. The quarterback had a light touch on the issue. Kelce was willing to rule with an iron fist.
It’s clear at this point the tactic worked. Kansas City improved as the year went on to reach Super Bowl 58 at Allegiant Stadium on Sunday. Rookie Rashee Rice in particular showed promise as the season continued. He finished second on the team with 79 catches for 938 yards and credited Kelce with helping his development.
“As soon as I get to the sideline, I’m running over to him,” Rice said. “He’s not running over me. I’m running over to him. Obviously, I want to learn from him.”
Kelce is hard on his teammates, but they understand the dynamic. They’re willing to take advice from a player who has the fourth-most receiving yards among tight ends in NFL history.
“I don’t think it’s Trav playing bad cop, we all love it,” Rice said. “It’s Travis Kelce, and he’s one of the greatest tight ends to ever play.”