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June 20, 2019

Jon Dorenbos on how magic saved his life before and after football

The former Eagles long snapper opens up about family tragedy and health issues

Entertainment Magic
1101_Jon_Dorenbos_Magic_SugarHouse Matt Bishop/Sugar House Casino

Jon Dorenbos is still one of the most popular Eagles in town.

"Invincible" is taken as a title for a film about an ex-Eagle but it would work as a moniker for Jon Dorenbos' future flick. 

The Birds former longtime long snapper has a movie and book deal in the works inspired by his life, which has featured shocking highs and lows. Dorenbos, 38, who will perform his magic act Friday at the Borgata, talks about how he survived his father murdering his mother, what it takes to be a successful NFL lineman and magician and who he would have liked to have made disappear on the gridiron.

Q: How did you discover magic?

A: My dad murdered my mom when I was 12. My sister and I went to foster care for a year-and-a-half. I eventually ended up with my aunt.  She helped save me and so did magic. I saw a magic show and it was awesome. I was hooked from the time I was 13. Magic was something that helped me get through a horrible period in my life.

Q: Magic obviously helped you but how shocking was it to lose both your mom and dad?

A: it was beyond shocking. I did lose both of them. My mother died and my father went to jail. It was incomprehensible. My parents were my heroes. After it happened it was complete denial for a year. I would wake up and hear pans in the kitchen and I would go down thinking I was coming out of a nightmare. Then I would run back upstairs and just cry. It was devastating. I lost the imaginary concept of trust. But magic helped me get through it. I loved it.

Q: During a long ago Phillies broadcast, Richie Ashburn was asked what it was like to grow up in the same Nebraska area as Johnny Carson, who was a magician. Ashburn called Carson a sissy.

A: I don't think being magician is being a sissy. It's a creative art form.

Q: How were you able to hone your skills as a magician and a football player as a kid?

A: There was a lot of time when I was a kid. It all has to do with how you allocate your time as a kid. A lot of kids are great at video games. They excel at the games because they put the time in. I preferred shuffling cards and throwing coins around when I was a kid. I eventually worked football into my schedule. It was about making the time to do the best I could at both.

Q: How did you get into football?

A: A friend of mine during freshman year of high school tried to get me to play football. When he told me about it, I said that it sounded miserable. Then he explained that I could hit guys and not get into trouble. That sounded good. So I got my aggression out during the day and I read about magic and worked on it at night. It was the perfect creative balance.

Q: How did you balance playing with the Eagles and flying out to perform on "America's Got Talent?"

A: I was running back and forth between Philadelphia and Los Angeles. I remember playing the home opener (in 2016) against the Browns in Philly. When the clock hit zero, I didn't take time to say hello to my friends on the Browns. I showered and had an escort to the airport and flew out to LA. I was lucky my friend had a plane. I never missed a practice or a meeting. I couldn't have done what I did if I was the quarterback but I played the perfect position. It was amazing since I was simultaneously working on the two passions of my life.

Q: When you lined up against opposing players, who did you want to make disappear?

A: All of them.

Q: How crazy is that you had a long career in something as specialized as a long snapper in the NFL?

A: It's crazy since I was never the biggest or most athletic. It was timing. If I was coming up today, I wouldn't even get a look. But I made it then because what you have to do in the NFL is work as hard as possible. It requires dedication.

Q: What Eagles were you most impressed with?

A: I was on a team with some great Eagles. There was Jeremiah Trotter, Donovan  (McNabb), Brian Westbrook and Jeff Garcia, just to name a few. The reality is that if you play in the NFL, everyone is really good. But the guy that stands out to me is DeSean (Jackson). He was as fast as anyone. When he said, 'get me the ball, I'm going to end the game,' you made sure you got him the ball. He's special.

Q: What was your goal playing football?

A: To be the oldest player on the team. I wanted to be the last man standing. I played until I was 36, which isn't bad.

Q: You were almost given the gig as host of "America's Got Talent" but that would have required you to quit football, correct?

A: It would have required me to stop playing football. I was going to end my football career for the job. I was thinking about the next 10 or 20 years of my life and I knew I was at the end of my football career. I didn't get the "America's Got Talent" gig. Tyra Banks got the job. It's a good thing because I continued playing football and I learned that I had a heart issue and that I immediately needed heart surgery. If I got the TV job, I probably would have died. That takes me back to the book, which will be out in November. I've been through a lot. But I've always dealt with adversity and come back from it. There really is no other choice in life.

An Evening With Jon Dorenbos: Magic, Comedy and Inspiration is slated for Friday. The 7 p.m. show is sold out. Tickets for the 10 p.m. show are $65 and $75. Also, tickets are available for Borgata shows November 16. For more information, 609-317-1000,