August 01, 2016
Jon Dorenbos has mastered the art of the impossible. Playing the least conspicuous position on the Eagles – long snapper – Dorenbos has become a national sensation, both because of his remarkable skills as a magician and the extraordinary story behind them.
The longest tenured Eagle at 11 seasons, Dorenbos is a semifinalist on "America’s Got Talent," having earned the votes last week of the entire nation on a TV show watched by 11 million people. Only now are viewers discovering what I have been lucky enough to know for years – that there has never been an athlete like him.
For the past four years, Dorenbos has served as the commissioner of Wing Bowl, an annual event invented and developed on my WIP radio show, for better or worse. It is a spectacle that few sports figures would embrace, a festival honoring gluttony, boozing and lust.
For Jon, it is a perfect fit because he is, above all, a showman. He lives for smiles, and not necessarily in front of an audience of millions. He will happily perform for the Secret Service here last week for the Democratic National Convention, or even just one bedazzled child.
More than once, I have asked Dorenbos if his work with magic has had any bearing on his success as a long snapper; and make no mistake, he is the best long snapper in Eagles history. (Can you recall a single bad snap on field goals or punts in the past decade? No, you can’t.)
Both talents demand discipline – the ability to repeat the same action, time and again, without faltering. Dorenbos has developed a mind capable of an extreme level of concentration, inspired by an incident in his childhood that would have destroyed a lesser spirit.
When he was 12, his father killed his mother, pushing her down a flight of stairs during an argument. While spending his teen years with an aunt, Dorenbos turned to magic as an outlet for his despair, and he has made it into a second career.
Or maybe a first career. If he wins America’s Got Talent, he gets $1 million in cash and a headline show in Las Vegas. The truth is, he has already performed in Vegas and – even though he’s at the bottom of the NFL pay scale – his salary ($985,000) almost matches the top prize on the show.
It’s really not about fame or money with Jon Dorenbos, anyway. He is living every day to the fullest. For example, just before his first Wing Bowl, Dorenbos asked us if he could add a little showmanship to his role as commissioner. Since we have never paid him a nickel for his appearances, who were we to say no?
He orchestrated an entrance that delighted the 20,000 fans at the Wells Fargo Center, emerging from an entrance in the middle of the arena in an all-white tuxedo and holding a sign that said “THE COMMISH.” In ensuing years, he has arrived doing magic tricks, producing doves and making fire.
Since the tragedy, he has embraced life the way few of us do, turning every moment into something special, especially for the people around him.
“I’ve accepted everything that has happened in my life,” he says. “No hard feelings. No anger … I don’t look back. If I can help somebody, I’m there.”
People who know Jon Dorenbos best are rooting as hard for him on America’s Got Talent as they do at Eagles games, but he doesn’t have to be voted the best to be a winner in life. He mastered that trick a long time ago.
No one has ever accused me of being a pie-eyed optimist, but I find myself in the unusual position this summer of being far more positive about the 2016 Eagles than most of the fans and pretty much all of the so-called experts.
Is there anyone out there who believes the Birds could contend for a playoff spot and maybe even win the weak NFC East? As someone who talks to fans and so-called experts every day on WIP, I can say, with some level of authority, that there say very few who see the potential of this team.
So, let me offer some simple logic about why the Eagles can, and should, improve on their 7-9 record of a season ago:
• Chip Kelly is gone, and so is a system that drained the roster of its energy, created serious morale issues in the clubhouse and telegraphed strategy to opponents.
• Sam Bradford was an efficient, effective quarterback in the second half of last season, despite the above-mentioned system. Why can’t he resume that level of play in 2016, if not exceed it?
• The defense has a much better coach (Jim Schwartz), a deeper secondary and – barring injury – a budding superstar at middle linebacker in Jordan Hicks, who missed half of his rookie 2015 season with a pectoral injury
• The division still stinks. In case you haven’t noticed, the Giants have a rookie head coach, too. Does anybody really believe Kirk Cousins will repeat his breakout 2015 season in Washington? The Cowboys figure to lead the league in only one category – failed drug tests.
How can the Eagles, with free agents fortifying many of the weak spots of last season and an improved outlook with Kelly gone, not be better than a seven-win team? Yes, rookie coach Doug Pederson is a wild card, Bradford is an injury waiting to happen, and there are no big-play weapons on offense.
But still, there is hope. I’m willing to wager that the Birds will win at least nine games if Bradford and Hicks manage to avoid the kind of season-ending injuries that have haunted them in recent years.
That’s right. The Eagles will be contending for a playoff spot, and the division championship, in 2016. You read it here first.
You know what? Maybe I am a pie-eyed optimist after all.
Phillies fans hoping for a return to intelligence in the front office after the seven-year reign of error by Ruben Amaro Jr. definitely did not get their wish during the first trade-deadline experience of novice GM Matt Klentak. It isn’t just that Klentak did nothing; it’s how he managed to make no moves in such an active trade market.
Even before this first big test, Klentak was speaking warily about revamping his roster – in other words, doing his job – when he declared last week that the status quo was fine. And then he proved it by failing to deal Jeremy Hellickson, even though the journeyman starter will be a free agent in two months.
It didn’t help matters when Hellickson – pitching long after he should have been traded – hurt his right hand Saturday night in Atlanta. Though no one is admitting it, the pitcher’s already limited market became even more so because he could not throw his signature curveball.
Klentak’s apologists have been making the argument that the GM can always rescue a high draft pick by making Hellickson a qualifying offer after the season, an absurd notion that would have the Phils paying him over $16 million in 2017. That simply will not happen.
Worse was the futile flirtation with Texas over Vince Velasquez, precisely the kind of young, talented starter the Phillies need to top the rotation in seasons ahead. Velasquez represents the only trade Klentak has made in his nine months here, and he was in “deep discussions” to trade him? Really?
First impressions are not always a predictor of future behavior, but Klentak (and his boss, president Andy MacPhail) are dazzling no one so far with their timid attempt to rebuild the roster. How much longer will they allow Hellickson to block promising young kids like Jake Thompson and Nick Williams from moving up to the big leagues?
The organization has been beaming with pride over the Reading Phillies (AA) having the best record in all baseball (72-36), but the real story is that some of those young stars should have already moved up to Lehigh (AAA). They haven’t simply because Klentak’s inertia has created a logjam.
Is it too soon to pine for Ruben Amaro? He was a historically bad GM, but at least he wasn’t afraid to do his job.
And finally …
• The assault allegations involving Nelson Agholor and Nigel Bradham provided an early test for rookie Eagles coach Doug Pederson, who reacted tentatively before making the strong public statements that were required. The good news is, he handled these issues a lot better than Chip Kelly did in his first test with Riley Cooper.
• Nick Foles was released last week by Los Angeles, at his own request. He is at least temporarily out of football, three years after his 27-touchdown-pass, two-interception season with the Eagles. How could he go from the Pro Bowl to the unemployment line so fast? A better question is how such a lousy quarterback could have had such an incredible season.
• Three North Dakota TV stations have been in Philadelphia to follow the training-camp exploits of their hometown hero, Eagles rookie Carson Wentz. Meanwhile, right down the street from the NovaCare Center was the Democratic National Convention, which they ignored. Hey, these North Dakotans know a big story when they see one, don’t they?
• The coaching staff at Penn State has been complaining about rivals using the Jerry Sandusky scandal in a negative-recruiting campaign against the school. There’s a lesson here, fellas. When you enable the sexual abuse of children for over three decades, people are not likely to treat your program with any respect. Imagine that.
• There is no better story in sports right now than the implosion of Jonathan Papelbon as the Washington closer. The ex-Phillies blew back-to-back saves last week, forcing the Nationals to acquire Mark Melancon to replace him. Remember that crotch gesture Papelbon gave to fans here a couple of years ago? Right back at ya, Jonathan. Ha, ha.