He was a two-time NFL Pro Bowler as a long snapper for the Philadelphia Eagles, but his greatest magic trick is survival, and he’s spreading his message of optimism with others.
This Saturday, Jon Dorenbos performs his inspiring magic show at MGM National Harbor.
“My show is my life story,” Dorenbos told WTOP. “It’s motivating; it’s inspiring; you’re going to see mind-blowing magic; you’re going to laugh and reflect.”
Magic “helped me get out of bad times in my life,” Dorenbos said. “Watching your dad go to prison, watching your mom go to heaven … how do you constantly find happiness?”
Born in Humble, Texas, Dorenbos discovered magic to cope with his tragic childhood.
“When I was 12 years old, my father murdered my mother,” Dorenbos said. He and his sister went into intense therapy and temporary foster care, “life changed drastically and a new life began,” Dorenbos said.
“I discovered football, which meant I could get out aggression and anger; then I discovered magic, which was the only time the outside world shut down and I didn’t think about losing my parents.”
He began performing magic publicly at school talent shows. In eighth grade, “I actually did a thing that David Copperfield did on national television, where you fold this little piece of paper, you fold it into a rose, the paper rose floats in front of you and you light the thing on fire and it becomes real. I don’t think people were expecting that, so I got first place and I got a $25 gift card to Safeway, so I was like, ‘Killing it!'”
Meanwhile, he played football in high school and junior college before earning a full scholarship as a long snapper at the University of Texas at El Paso. He was signed as a free agent by the Buffalo Bills and played for them for two years, the Tennessee Titans for two years and 12 years for the Philadelphia Eagles.
“Being a long snapper and being a specialist is 90% mental,” Dorenbos said. “You have one shot to do your job and you’re graded on that. You might play 10 plays a game and you gotta go 10 for 10.” Over the years, he learned from future Hall of Famers, including coach Andy Reid and teammate London Fletcher, whom Dorenbos called “an absolute legend.”
He began competing as a musician on TV’s “America’s Got Talent” in 2016, while he was still playing for the Eagles.
“From 8 a.m to 5 p.m. was training camp in Philadelphia. I then boarded a 6:15 flight [to L.A.]. I would land for ‘AGT’ and do B-roll filming, interview filming, camera blocking or a rehearsal, to get back on a plane by 10:15, to land in Philadelphia at 7:15, to get to my 8 o’clock meeting at training camp until 5 o’clock to fly back to L.A.”
After making the Top 3, he was in hot demand on national television, with appearances on NBC and “Ellen.”
“It’s not always about the trick,” Dorenbos said. “The trick is the tool. I wanted to be a rock star. Here’s the problem: I can’t sing, I can’t dance and I can’t play an instrument, so that wasn’t going to happen. But I found magic, cards, props can be my instrument and words can be my ballad or my jam.”
His stage wardrobe is simple: jeans, short-sleeve hoodie and backwards hat.
“[I’m not] a magician in a top hat and a suit,” Dorenbos said, adding that former teammate LeSean McCoy once told him, “‘Man, you slow as heck. You need to put one of those speed towels in the back of your jeans so when you run around you look faster on stage.'”
In 2017, he was traded to the New Orleans Saints, but was forced to retire after emergency open heart surgery. “That season the Philadelphia Eagles decided to go to the Super Bowl and win it,” Dorenbos said.
Still, the team didn’t forget about him: “The owner hit me up and said, ‘You’ve been a part of this organization for a long time; you helped shape the culture; you helped shape everything about this place. You’re an Eagle for life, and we want to give you a [Super Bowl] ring. … I got to go to the parade and be on the bus.”
Today, he holds the record for the most consecutive games played as an Eagle, while touring with his magic shows, and, despite his beginnings, reflecting on how fortunate he’s been in life.
“You can’t wait for life to be easy to be happy,” Dorenbos said. “If a kid came up to most people in this world and said, ‘I’m going to make it as a magician and a professional athlete,’ most people would be like, ‘Sure, good luck kid.’ Here I am, fortunate to have done both on the highest level. … I left everything on the field and I leave everything on stage. I’m gonna give you everything I’ve got.”