The first time Alexa Martin saw Taylor Swift in that VIP box at Arrowhead Stadium to cheer on Travis Kelce and the Kansas City Chiefs back in September 2023, it felt like she’d written the romance into existence.
In her 2019 novel Fumbled, Martin predicted Kelce as the NFL’s romantic lead. The male love interest in that book, the second in her series of football-themed romance novels, is TK Moore, an enormously tall, green-eyed offensive player equally known for his easygoing nature, on-field dominance, and sharp fashion sense. Sound familiar? It should, and Martin has the Pinterest mood board she used while writing to prove it.
“People were like, ‘Who is this guy?’ I was just like, just google him in a suit,” Martin told Vanity Fair of her initial instinct that Kelce could be the NFL equivalent of a Disney prince. “That guy’s got style on him. I found pictures of him going to the games. And I was like, oh, yeah, that’s a hero. That is a romance hero. And so I just kind of used him as the inspiration behind my second book, Fumbled.”
See, Martin lived a sports romance before she started writing them: She and her husband, Derrick Martin, were high school sweethearts before getting married at 20 years old. Shortly after, in 2006, he was the sixth-round draft pick for the Baltimore Ravens, the beginning of an eight-season career as an NFL safety that saw him win two Super Bowls back to back (in 2011 with the Green Bay Packers and 2012 with the New York Giants) before retiring. In addition to those two Super Bowl rings, the Martins share their home with their four children and seven novels written by Alexa.
Fumbled isn’t a “pop star meets football star story”—the female protagonist is a single mom who had a high school romance with the now über-famous TK a decade before the events of the book—but the cosmic Venn diagram alignment of Martin’s interests in romance, Swift, Kelce, and her past as an NFL WAG is eerily specific for a large slice of pop culture spectators.
“When [Swift] showed up I was like, ‘Shut up. No way,’” Martin said of that first VIP box appearance. “Everybody’s gonna fall in love with TK now.”
While Kelce’s profile has definitely risen thanks to interest in the couple’s romance, Martin says Kelce’s leading-man qualities have been there all along, and we’re just paying attention to them now. “He makes bracelets, he loves his mom,” she says. “He’s got a great charity where he helps underprivileged kids. I mean, what’s not to like? You’re written by me. You are written by a woman. It is wonderful.”
Earlier this week, Martin spoke with VF about why the world is so enraptured by Swift and Kelce and the real-life details of Swift and Kelce’s relationship that she wishes she’d written.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Vanity Fair: Can you tell me a bit about how Travis Kelce became the inspiration for your character T.K. Moore?
Alexa Martin: When I start writing I don’t necessarily base them on one person particularly but I will kind of source a bunch of pictures so my copyedits aren’t like, “their eyes have switched colors like 10 times.” Sometimes I need a visual aid so I can make a description in my head, especially with, like, a suit, a man’s suit. And I remember going on Pinterest and finding him and being like, oh, okay, and my character’s name is TK. I’m like, wow, this is like, perfect. And he just kind of really easily fell into that role.
And Taylor Swift is obviously a compelling character in our real-life narrative.
What I love about her so much is how open she is about everything and how she uses her life unapologetically [in her art]. She’ll talk about her life and her relationships and how she lives things. Listen, she feeds her fans. It’s really hard not to get sucked into that world. No matter what age you are, you can connect with it and how we’ve just watched her turn into an adult and watched her kind of struggle which has been so great about her and Travis.
And them together…
I call it competency porn: They’re both at the top of their professions. They have, seemingly the whole world in front of them, and these two people with everybody to choose from, they have chosen each other. They’re blocking out all of the noise and showing up for each other. And what I love about Travis with her is he acknowledges her in a way that I feel like so many other relationships of her past haven’t. He recognizes her and her accomplishments in a way that’s not like—he’s not just a fan, but just with respect. He’s showing up at her concert and being like, “Yeah, I love this song. This is a great bar and I’m proud of her.” And her at his games, just being a fan. They’re both just able to support one another without the jealousy that can sometimes, I think, take place within those dynamics.
Were you shocked to see her show up at that first game?
One thousand percent. When she showed up I was like, shut up. No way. Everybody’s gonna fall in love with TK now. I think with sports romances, people are like, “I don’t like football, so I don’t care.” And the sports part of the books plays such a small aspect. I’m not writing full chapters about running down the field, it’s just the backdrop. And I think once people saw this, and it was the backdrop, it was just these two people here for each other, that was just like, instantly, this is a romance novel.
Seeing her there with her red lipstick that never smudges. Seeing her there and with Patrick Mahomes’ wife [Brittany Mahomes] and the other ones, everybody’s saying like, you know, it’s 1989, she’s with all of her girls and out and about. But more than that, it feels like it’s opened her up to being like, “I’m just gonna live my life the way I want to live my life. I don’t care if they show me on your TV.” I think that’s what a really great relationship can do. For the heroines that I write, it’s, “yeah, this relationship is great, but it’s not the most important thing to me,” and that’s how it feels with her, which makes it feel even more romantic.
She’s just a girl supporting her guy, and he’s just the guy supporting this girl, and they just happen to have these huge stages with everybody watching.
Does your husband give you feedback on your novels? What’s the dynamic around a former NFL player reading a steamy romance about fictional NFL players, written by his wife?
He’s listened to a few of them on Audible. I was kind of like, please don’t read these. I sent them to all of my WAG friends. So they’ve read it. I’ll ask him questions sometimes. People think I’m fact-checking the sport, but that’s so small. It’s usually just like, what was your schedule? If I can’t remember like, what days could you go out? Little things like that, what was it like in the locker room and how do you feel after you lost, it’s more of that kind of stuff that I’m trying to get into with him. I know he’s read some of them. My friends have read them. And then, you know, there’s some of my friends I’m like, yes, your ex-husband is definitely the villain in this one.
What would you say to Travis Kelce if you met him, having written love scenes with him as the inspiration?
Oh my gosh. “Read my book. Here’s my book.” I don’t know. He’s so charismatic, but I also love his brother [Jason Kelce]. So like, “invite me to Thanksgiving also so I can get to know your family.” Again, I used him for inspiration. I’m sure he’s a fun, great guy, but I don’t know that much about him. I will say after this Travis and Taylor stuff started, I did try to watch the one season of his reality show [Catching Kelce]. That was a tough watch. Maybe I’d just shove my book in his hand, I guess? But probably not either, because like, “please, please read it. Please don’t read it. I swear I’m not a stalker and a creep. I’m not weird!” Yeah, I don’t know what I would say. “Thank you for wearing great suits?” “Protect your head. Your head and my girl’s heart.”
What do you think it is about him that’s helped propel his profile beyond football?
The thing about football romance is it is so mainstream, and there is a celebrity that seems to come with it once you’re those one or two players on the team, right? There are those few and they start to get the insurance commercials and there is a celebrity that comes with it. He’s just so charismatic and seeing him with his brother. The average NFL career is, what, three years? I don’t even know how long he’s been playing, but much longer than that. He also has these things where he could have been traded for a lot more money, but he’s just like, No, I want to be here. I want to win. So you know where he’s at. It’s not just making money. It’s the full experience of being on a winning team, of being with a quarterback that he’s connected with, being in a city that he’s learned to love and become a really big part of the community with. Then you see him on this podcast with his brother, all the silly things. He’s completely untouchable, but also seems like the guy next door that you could just sit down with, right? It just makes him so appealing. He is everything that you want these people to be, so the crossover to celebrity seems really easy. I don’t know if he could act, but you want to see him on your TV. He’s model handsome. He is super talented. He seems so kind. He is just this whole package of what you want.
OK, so the question of the year: Do you think Taylor Swift is going to the Super Bowl?
There’s no way she’s not going. There’s no way. Seeing them on the field after this last game was maybe the best thing I’ve seen on television. It was so good. You just get wrapped up in it. There’s no way that she was in that environment, seeing them go to the Super Bowl and if she can make it—which I think everybody has done the math and everybody’s like there’s time, she can make it—yeah, there’s no way she’s not, if she wanted to go. She went to a game in Buffalo, New York in the middle of winter, she is going to the Super Bowl.
And taking the field after if they win?
Yeah, going on the field after. I’m very lucky to have the experience of doing it. It was one of the coolest, most surreal things, like all these pictures of my kids playing in the confetti, and holding the newspaper, right? The merch is already there. It is so much fun. I mean, they seem to be pretty in love, so she’s not going to skip out on that. She doesn’t care what other people are thinking, she’s going to be down there supporting them and if they win, holding up the trophy.
And we’re all invested in her being invested, too.
I feel like the world is such like a dumpster fire sometimes that we’re all like, let’s hyper-focus on these small little pockets of joy, right? Pour all of our energy into it and it’s okay to be clinging on to it. Every week, I’m just like, is she there? Again, not to be like a creep, I want the relationship to go however they need it to go but I’m like, please don’t break up ever.
Please keep this going. For all our sakes.
I want them to get engaged. I mean, did you see the bracelet? That is what has made it so glamorous. It started with a little beaded friendship bracelet that he made her and then he got a custom-made gold and diamond friendship bracelet with their initials. I mean, just come on. It’s too much. It’s a movie.
Do you think he’s really that smooth? Does he come up with this stuff himself?
I think he is! I mean, again, the suits. You could see it in how he presents himself as like, he’s just like, so like smooth and charming that I think he knows how to do it. I think she’s had a lot [of attention] but she [must feel like], oh, but this feels different. Everybody loves me, but like being the center of his world probably feels even more shiny.
It’s been so fun to watch and I hope they get engaged and we get a nice Kansas City wedding.
The prop bets are flying, and one of them is whether they would get engaged this weekend if the Chiefs win. What do you think?
I think it’s purely a Super Bowl moment. What I liked is that he’s like, I’m not gonna talk about her. I still think they respect some of the [personal] moments enough, right? They wouldn’t let that be a thing. Maybe she’ll show up at her concerts over the summer and have a giant rock on her finger.
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