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The queen of the "football moms" talks about the changing nature of NFL fandom, marshmallow snacks, and the quantity of food it takes to fuel two world-class athletes.
Even if you're not a follower of professional football, there's a good chance you're aware of Travis Kelce, a tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs (and apparent paramour of Taylor Swift), and his brother Jason, a center for the Philadelphia Eagles. The two are beloved by an increasingly large swath of the population not just for their prowess on the field, but their personas and pursuits off of it. The 35-year-old Jason appeared in two episodes of the long-running dark comedy It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and showed up in a cameo to support Travis in his SNL hosting debut, where the younger-by-a-year brother referred to his 2016 reality dating show Chasing Kelce as, "kind of like The Bachelor, except instead of roses, I handed out footballs, and instead of watching, people did not." Their affection for each other is obvious on their chart-topping podcast New Heights, where they bring their unique wit, sense of humor, and insights about masculinity to an insider’s view of the league.
And for the past couple of years, another breakout star of the sport has been their mother, Donna Kelce. In 2023, she and her former husband, Ed, were the first parents in history to have sons facing off against one another in a Super Bowl. The Eagles lost by a close margin to the Chiefs and the game, affectionately known around the league as the "Kelce Bowl," felt like it was as much about Donna as it was her offspring. Fans followed along on her pre-game preparations, giving wide approval of her custom outfit for the game that honored both Jason and Travis, with a jersey split down the middle — half Eagles, half Chiefs — two different shoes, and a bag with both her son’s numbers on them.
Donna recently spoke with Food & Wine about the changing nature of NFL fandom, her delight in being a "football mom," and the quantity of food it takes to fuel two world-class athletes.
Nielsen Fast National Figures reports that a recent Sunday game marked a 34% increase in female viewers over 35, a 24% increase in female viewers 18-24, and a 53% increase in female viewers aged 12-17. The increase is being tied directly to the visibility of fans like Donna and Swift, whose presence in the skybox at the games along with her coterie of A-list friends has become something of a cultural fixation. Brands are taking notice, marketing directly to female fans with stadium dining offering more diversity of food options on the lighter side, as well as a wider range of beverage choices. New league partnerships are emerging in an attempt to ensure that this new fan base sticks around.
Donna loves being a part of this change. "It’s been great watching this shift and I love welcoming new fans to the sport — no matter what stage they’re at in their fandom. Recently, I have had fathers who have written to me and said how amazing it is that their daughters are finally watching football with them."
While she doesn't often get to watch games with her own sons, who are usually on the field, Donna notes that their food choices vary wildly. "As a center, you have to eat constantly. If you play a game, you drop 11 to 14 pounds, and they have to make sure they hydrate. Jason especially has to eat a ton. He is very much a meat and potatoes guy," Donna said.
She also shared that Travis likes anything with white chocolate, and reminisced about a very particular childhood pleasure of her sons. "I did make these rolls they loved growing up that were just a once a year treat because they are full of sugar, but they were called marshmallow rolls," Donna said. "You put a marshmallow in the middle of crescent roll dough with cinnamon sugar and when you bake them the marshmallow turns into a sweet coating on the inside. So good, but only an occasional treat."
As for the daily cooking at home while her sons were growing up, Donna explained that it was more about volume than nuance, in short, "A lot of chicken, meat, pasta, a lot of carbs." And it was constant.
"They would sit down and eat an entire chicken each! Gallons of milk. When they left for college it felt like I got a raise. The food bills were outrageous," she said. "And if you ever brought any leftovers home from a restaurant even if you put your name on it and stuck it in the fridge and wrote 'Do not touch this unless you want to lose a hand' on it, it was still not there when you got home."
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But Donna was always more of a passionate baker than a savory cook. "I love to bake. Cookies, cakes, rolls, any comfort stuff is always my go-to. When baking you just feel full of love and people can tell when they eat it," she said. Her own eating preferences run toward seafood and she channeled her inner Bubba Gump for a moment as she savored the thought. "I could eat it 24/7. Shrimp is my go-to, I love anything with shrimp in it. Noodles and shrimp, rice and shrimp, I just love it."
Tailgating food, too, looms large, and Donna misses the spreads they put on when her sons were in college. "It is very difficult to do at the stadiums for the NFL," she explained, reminiscing. "Always the dips, THEY BRING THE DIPS at a good tailgate. Anything with cheese, that’s good for me. If there is cheese involved, I’m in."
Chicken wings over tenders, too, dipped in sauce ("something sweet and a little tangy"), and whatever's the local favorite. "I love a good beef hot dog at the stadium with ketchup and mustard. For some reason, a hot dog at the stadium just tastes so good. If I’m in Kansas City, I like great barbecue. If I’m in Philly, I like to go with the Philadelphia cheesesteaks or a pretzel."
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For Donna, it is an exciting time to be a football fan, old or new. "There’s a lot of things that happen on the field, it can be funny, you can have all the emotions at one time," she said. And she especially appreciates that it gives her an excuse to be with her sons, now that they're adults.
"Being able to see your kids on a weekly or bi-weekly basis in the fall is the best part," she said, "Having scheduled games gives you set times to visit without seeming like you are interfering or overly in their face. It gives them privacy and they know exactly when you are leaving. Also, you are privileged at times to go to amazing places and view venues privately where you might not have had that opportunity on your own."
Even if you're sometimes sharing that skybox view with a whole new set of fans — and all their friends.
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