For every negative in Jon Dorenbos' life, he's found a positive. At 12, he lost his mother at the hands of his father. His unlikely life story is now the subject of a forthcoming movie and memoir.
After being traded from the Eagles to the New Orleans Saints in 2017 — after an astounding 162 consecutive games over 11 seasons — he was diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm that required immediate surgery and early retirement. By that time, however, he had already begun a second career, in magic, launched by a star turn on America's Got Talent.
He had the rotten luck to leave the Eagles and the NFL the season before the Birds won it all. But Jeffrey Lurie invited him to the big game and the locker-room celebration, and set him up for a Super Bowl ring, too.
Dorenbos now does magic and motivational speaking. His card tricks, positive stories, and motivational tips will all be part of "An Evening with Jon Dorenbos" at SugarHouse Casino on Thursday and Friday. He spoke with us about long-snapping, magic, and his whirlwind of emotions after the Super Bowl win. This is an edited transcript.
What is the art of the long snapper that no one truly appreciates unless they're in the game?
Wow. I believe it is the mental ability to have a sense of yourself that doesn't care. You have one shot at the job, and it is pass or fail. The moment you fail, you get to sit on the bench and think about that exclusively. If a receiver drops a ball, no problem. Thirty seconds later, he catches one and all is forgotten. Not the snapper.
Is that what appeals to you about magic? That's also one shot.
That's true, though magic came to me at another time in my life. As a child, it was a necessary escape – a place of solitude where I could just be a kid. When I got to high school and football and found out I could hit someone else and it was legal (laughs), that became the place where I could get my aggression out. Then I'd go home and practice magic – be tranquil and calm. Both sides of my life got squared away in those two spaces.
What sort of stamina – mental and physical – is required to play 162 games straight?
I've played sick and I've played injured. I didn't do it for a record. A guy named Jeff was paying me to snap the ball, and the second I'm not snapping is when someone else is. And if that person does it for cheaper and does just as good a job, why am I there? I didn't want to open a door for someone else to get my job. Also, I have great pride in reassuring my teammates that I am there to do that job. You can't win unless everyone on the team is on the team. They knew I could execute, no matter how I felt.
What reaction did you have when the Eagles won the big game? Laugh? Cry? Scream?
All of it. Those guys are all great friends, and I was super-excited for Mr. Lurie, who gives us all the resources to win. Yeah, it was bittersweet, as I figured the only way I would win a Super Bowl ring was to play. I don't have any desire to coach. When they called to say that they were going all the way and that I was coming with them, it was a great feeling. But my true Super Bowl was just staying alive. It's like Brian Dawkins once told me, 'Play every game as if you are a fan.' If a fan had an opportunity to run onto that field, they'd do it.
You're a competitive guy. Did you do "America's Got Talent" to compete, or just show off who you could be beyond football?
My buddy Chris Judd (former husband of J-Lo) told me that if I didn't do the show I was an idiot. So I did it. Had no expectations. I was in training camp at the time and figured I'd get one or two episodes under my belt to help my motivational-speaking career. It just continued to progress. I thought I would have to opt out. Sure enough, the Eagles organization told me that I had to keep going. I flew back and forth and only missed one team meeting.
Are you the Penn and Teller type magician who reveals what's behind each trick, or do you stay silent?
I'm a hybrid. In my stage act, I tell you my life story: what happened and how it affected me. I'm not up there with dancing girls and light shows. I want to tell people about me and connect us all – relate to each other – and use magic to back it up. And then it all becomes real.
Is there something you want to do next that you haven't done ever?
I'd like to do a show for ages 10 and up — a family show. Now that the circus has closed, there's a need for great family entertainment.