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In a sparkling suit, Taylor Swift by his side, Travis Kelce goes full ‘Elvis’

LAS VEGAS — In the corner of the Kansas City Chiefs’ locker room late Sunday night — through the haze of cigar smoke and past a group of players dancing in a circle, the Lombardi Trophy held aloft — Travis Kelce was trying to take his pads off.

The process required stages and the help of a team employee. First, they peeled off Kelce’s grass-stained No. 87 jersey. Then they unbuckled the shoulder pads, and finally — with a full-bodied heave — the two pulled off the pads.

Kelce could focus on the rest of the night. A glittering black suit hung in his locker.

A teammate walked by and gave him a hug.

“Mother f—— Super Bowl champions,” Kelce said.

A reporter asked Kelce where he was going next.

“Vegas is going to roll out the red carpet,” he replied. “You might as well call me Elvis.”

The most magical of seasons ended for the Chiefs Sunday with a second consecutive Super Bowl victory, their third in six seasons. They have an all-world quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, who may be the greatest to ever play sports’ most glamorous position. On the CBS telecast, analyst Tony Romo called him “Michael Jordan” after he tossed the game-winning touchdown pass in overtime to beat the San Francisco 49ers, 25-22.

But it’s Kelce, the 34-year-old tight end with a luxuriant beard, who makes the Chiefs the closest thing this century to Jordan’s Bulls. It’s Kelce who makes the Chiefs a cultural phenomenon, who somehow made the NFL feel even bigger thanks to his budding romance with Taylor Swift.

Kelce delivered a solid Super Bowl performance. He had nine catches for 93 yards, including a key reception on the game-tying drive at the end of regulation, and he played a key decoy role on the game-winning pass to Mecole Hardman. After the game, as confetti fell, he led the crowd in one of his favorite songs: “You got to fight for your right to party.”

All of it, though, was a prologue — at least for most Americans — to the championship-sealing kiss between Kelce and Swift on the Allegiant Stadium field, the two stars surrounded by hordes of cameras. “That woman is d— near in tears,” said Nate Burleson on the CBS broadcast. “Travis is emotional. That’s real love. That’s what you can get when you have the support of a woman behind you.”

The scene was the culmination of a season that catapulted Kelce to A-list levels of fame. He appeared in more commercials during NFL games than any other player. He hosted “Saturday Night Live.” His podcast took off. His brother became a meme. Thanks to Swift’s presence, more young girls tuned into NFL games. Her Super Bowl attendance was a matter of interest for the Japanese embassy.

Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce celebrated after the Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl in overtime on Feb. 11. (Video: Julie Yoon/The Washington Post)

As teams across all sports have preached the value of limiting distractions, this title was validation of the Chiefs’ embrace of all the diversions, a cardinal sin in most locker rooms.

“More attention is more fun,” Chiefs linebacker Nick Bolton said. Added Chiefs owner Clark Hunt: “You could never dream of the impact that their relationship would have on the Chiefs. We do have a whole new fan base now of predominantly young women who weren’t watching NFL games before. But now they make Chiefs games appointment viewing.”

It was almost a different sort of night for Kelce. In the game’s first quarter, he was on the bench when running back Isiah Pacheco fumbled. Kelce angrily confronted Andy Reid on the sideline, nearly knocking his 66-year-old coach to the ground.

“I was just telling him how much I love him,” Kelce said after the game. What could have been a key storyline had the Chiefs lost became barely a footnote. A charmed life, indeed.

As for how he and the Chiefs overcame a slow start and a 10-0 deficit, Kelce said simply, “Stop playing like a jabroni, man.”

The night before the game, the Chiefs had gathered for a meeting. Kelce stood and addressed the team. After the win, player after player cited the speech as a key moment in preparation. “Whatever Travis was saying, I need to bottle that up and sell it,” safety Justin Reid said. “That was just ultimate juice, ultimate passion. You felt that throughout the room. He touched everybody that was in that room that heard his voice.”

Kelce would say only that he’d told his teammates they had a winning formula that the 49ers did not.

A year ago, after Kansas City’s victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LVII, Kelce said it had been the greatest year of his life. This season surely must have topped it. “Just when you think things couldn’t get any better,” he said before disappearing into the bowels of the stadium. Videos on social media later circulated of his and Swift’s arrival at the Chiefs’ after-party at a Las Vegas hotel. Kelce wore the glittering black suit that had hung in his locker.

Earlier, a reporter had asked Kelce which Swift song he would listen to first at the party.

“Whatever the DJ plays,” Kelce said.

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