Person To Watch: Philadelphia Eagle Jon Dorenbos Has Got Talent
(It’s just not what you think)
By Terri Akman

It’s not easy to wow Simon Cowell.

But on a recent episode of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” Philadelphia Eagle Jon Dorenbos did just that. Only, the accolades he received weren’t because of any athletic skill. This time, the Eagles long snapper was on stage performing an act that stunned the live audience – a magic act.

Dorenbos performed a card trick that was so riveting, celebrity judge Ne-Yo pressed the show’s golden buzzer, assuring Dorenbos a spot on the next episode of the talent competition.

NUP_173621_5744For Dorenbos, 35, magic is a side-gig. For 14 years, he’s been a professional long snapper – “the guy who snaps the ball to the guy who holds it so the kicker can kick the field goal,” says Dorenbos. He’s spent the last 10 years with the Eagles, but knows that 35-year-old professional football players are few and far between.

“I thought this was the right time to give it a go,” he says of trying out for the show, though he wasn’t completely confident in his material. “Needless to say, I’m glad I picked that trick.”

The trick involved Ne-Yo choosing a card (the five of clubs) from an oversized deck with Dorenbos guessing which card he chose. Using flawless comic timing, Dorenbos first drew an ace of clubs on a pad of paper. As the judges and audience groaned, the magician turned that drawing into one of a complete deck, and then magically a five of clubs appeared to rise from that deck. To “oohs” and “ahhs,” Dorenbos then ripped the page from his sketch pad, showing that the card had been drawn onto the piece of paper all along.

The judges were speechless. “To get that feedback just reinforces that all the work I put into this paid off,” he says.

That work started when he was 12, as an escape from a horrific personal tragedy. While Dorenbos was away from home at baseball camp, his father murdered his mother and was eventually sent to prison for 11 years. Dorenbos found solace in magic, adding his own sense of humor and outgoing personality to his act.

“It was the only thing I did as a kid, when I shuffled a deck of cards or did a trick, that I didn’t think of anything else,” he recalls. “I didn’t think of anything negative ever – it was my escape. Magic is fun and cool, and I hope when I perform, people leave my show, laugh and escape their lives.”

Much of his success comes with his comedic timing. “The important thing is trying to understand beats and comedy as best you can,” he says. “There are certain moments when you pause and take a breath, and certain times when you’re silent. To hit that right and get a laugh, and build the tension back up comes with repetition and experimenting. I love tricks that allow me to interact with the audience.”

America’s Got Talent pits people with varying talents against one another, so Dorenbos is banking on his personality and ability to connect with the judges. “I want to get reactions out of them and make them laugh,” he says. “Singers don’t get that opportunity.”

He doesn’t think about his competition, but just works to do the best job he can for himself. Playing to the judges is fun for Dorenbos, who’s been a fan of Howie Mandel’s for years. “I like his demeanor, attitude in life and positivity,” he says. “It was really cool to meet him. Mel B has had success and a great career, and she’s super honest. Heidi Klum is absolutely stunningly beautiful and is well spoken, but also smart. She’s watching you close.”

“And I’ve always liked Simon [Cowell]. I know he had a reputation on ‘American Idol,’ but if he says something, it’s because he knows what works and doesn’t work. It’s a matter of if you can take the criticism in a positive way or if you let it affect you in a negative way. Anything he says I take to heart to improve my act.”

Dorenbos doesn’t know how far he can go, but he never expected to last 14 years in football either. “I’m one of those guys who enjoys the moment,” he says. “Everything comes to an end. You do what you do because you love it. Make it a great story for your grandkids and keep trying to push yourself to do great things.”

He knows this could be his last year playing football. The Eagles recently signed undrafted free agent long snapper John DePalma to compete for the position. But Dorenbos says he’s taking it all in stride. “Whatever happens has nothing to do with me,” he says. “I’m going to stick to my game.” In my head I’m the snapper on the team, and if the day comes that I’m not, then I’ll worry about that. I’ve thought I was going to get released after every season I’ve played, and that’s been 14 years.”

In the meantime, he continues to perfect his magic. He fondly remembers a time when he was about 20 years old and was doing pick-pocketing entertainment. He took a guy’s Movado watch that had latches and clasps underneath the wrist.

“You had to pull it off the wrist,” he recalls. “It was the first time I had ever gotten one off and the guy didn’t know. I didn’t know what to do, because I couldn’t believe it actually worked. I literally just handed it back to him and said, ‘Hey sir, I’m sorry this just fell off.’ He had no clue.”

Another highlight was performing for Garth Brooks. “That was cool, because I had been a fan for a long, long time,” he says.

When Dorenbos isn’t playing football, he lives in California with his girlfriend Annalise, who he met about a year after divorcing his first wife. “This last year has been the happiest year of my life,” he says. “I’m in a great place and I’m happy.”

The only thing that could top that would be winning America’s Got Talent. “I would love to have that Super Bowl moment with the confetti flying around.”

Click here to watch the card trick that earned Jon Dorenbos the Golden Buzzer.

August 2016
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