Having performed at other casinos — just not any in Atlantic City — Jon Dorenbos, a magician with world-class talent who finished third during the 11th season of “America’s Got Talent,” will finally make his Absecon Island debut this weekend.
Dorenbos is the retired NFL star who spent 11 years as the Philadelphia Eagles’ amazingly accurate long snapper. He also spent a good part of his pro football years — 14 in total — moonlighting in the offseason as a magician.
Dorenbos, whose magic colleagues are impressed with the high degree of skills he possesses, isn’t some rabbit-out-of-a-hat ersatz “magician” for whom magic is a hobby.
He’s the type of illusionist who does everything from big stunts to head-scratching card tricks. He’s good enough that other magic professionals study his act.
Some will figure out how he does some of the most mind-numbing tricks you’ll ever see. But there are a few that defy explanation, and that’s just how he and other magicians like it.
However, were it not for the Eagles trading Dorenbos to the New Orleans Saints in 2017, it’s very possible the two-time All-Pro athlete would have been known simply as a football player who was very good at a very expendable position.
For the first few seconds after learning he’d been traded, Dorenbos was upset. It was a history-making move, Dorenbos says, because no team in the NFL had ever traded to acquire a long snapper.
And he really didn’t want to leave Philly.
But being traded to a team led by future Hall of Fame Quarterback Drew Brees and future Hall of Fame Coach Sean Payton wasn’t exactly a lateral move for Dorenbos.
Had he not been traded, though, he very likely would have joined former Detroit Lions wide receiver Chuck Hughes as a very morbid NFL stat: the only other player to have died on the field during a game. Hughes succumbed to a heart attack in the closing minutes of a 1971 game.
When the Eagles reluctantly traded Dorenbos — both a fan-favorite and a great guy in the locker room and front office — to the Saints, he underwent the standard entrance physical that’s required before any team signs a new player.
Dorenbos, who turns 39 next month, was 6-feet-tall, weighed 250 pounds and to all outward appearances was a healthy, well-toned professional athlete.
But during the physical in late August 2017, doctors discovered a 6-centimeter aneurysm in his descending aorta.
“The doctors told me it was about to pop like a water balloon,” Dorenbos recalls. “And so had that not been discovered if I hadn’t been traded, the chances were over 50 percent that one hit in the sternum and I’d have been dead before I hit the ground.”
Less than 10 days later, he underwent a successful 12-hour round of open-heart surgery. Dorenbos fully recovered, but his playing days were over and he was forced to retire from the NFL.
Fortunately, he didn’t have to worry where his next paycheck would come from.
From the time he took up magic as a teenager after being drawn into it by a friend, Dorenbos began to steadily improve in the art of illusion and legerdemain.
But magic was more than just a way for Dorenbos to entertain, it was a form of psychotherapy. Good or bad, little about Dorenbos’ life and career could be considered normal or natural.
When he was 12-years-old, his father, Alan, murdered his mother, Kathy, following an argument. Jon Dorenbos testified at the trial, and his father went to prison for 13 years before he was released.
Dorenbos says he’s since forgiven his father. He says it helped lift a large and heavy cloud that had been sitting on his shoulder ever since his mother’s killing.
After the murder, Dorenbos and his sister moved from suburban Seattle into a temporary foster home before eventually settling down with relatives in California.
As a high school freshman, and encouraged by a friend, Dorenbos reluctantly tried out for and made the football team.
‘Then (my friend) said, ‘Hey, you can hit that guy and not get in trouble,’” he remembers with a slight chuckle. “And when I heard that I was like, ‘Yeah, okay, let’s give this a try.’”
He played a variety of positions in high school, including linebacker, fullback and defensive end. He also began trying to master the art of long-snapping.
He was good enough to earn a college football scholarship, but after graduation, he wasn’t good enough to be drafted by an NFL team.
In 2003, he signed with the Buffalo Bills as an undrafted free agent, made the team and spent two seasons with the Bills before he was waived after suffering a season-ending knee injury.
He spent a year with the Tennessee Titans before the Eagles picked him up in 2006.
His skills as a longsnapper earned him two trips to the Pro Bowl.
“When it came to snapping, my field goal snap would rotate three and a half times. If I hit the same speed and the same spot, the laces would always be facing out every time,” he says with a sense of pride. “I was honored that a few times in my career, I was voted most accurate long snapper.”
Then came the trade to the Saints in 2017, just a year before the Eagles won their first Super Bowl.
“I thought, ‘Jeez, I was (an Eagle) for 11 years, you trade me and then you go to the Super Bowl?” Dorenbos says with a laugh. “The joke with the (Eagles) team was, ‘Yeah, we had to get rid of you so we could win the Super Bowl,’” he adds.
Although he was technically a member of the Saints, Dorenbos was so beloved by Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and the entire front office that they did something that often happens at the end of a long and successful career.
The Eagles signed Dorenbos to a one-day contract last year so he could officially retire as an Eagle.
Then they did something that stunned everyone: The Eagles gave the now-former Saint who never played a single down for that team an Eagles’ Super Bowl ring.
“Just like nobody’s ever heard of a long snapper being traded before,” he says. “It was really cool and I was super honored. I’ve had a great relationship with (Lurie) and the entire front office. So I’m not going to say ‘no’ (to the ring). I always wanted to go to a Super Bowl.”
Dorenbos, who will perform at 7 and 10 p.m. Friday, June 28, in Borgata’s Music Box, emphasizes the fact that his show is 100 percent family friendly.
“It takes a while to become who you wanna be as a performer,” Dorenbos says thoughtfully. “You see Penn & Teller and (David) Copperfield and you start realizing that the world already has them, so the world doesn’t need another one of them.”
He can’t explain it, but says he’s got “a different vibe about how I wanna be as a performer, and it works.
“I love the inspirational side of it, being that guy that when I’m on stage, my show is great for a 10- or 12-year-old and it’s awesome for a 90-year-old. When I’m on stage, I’m usually talking to my 14-, 15- or 16-year-old self about the things I’ve learned along the way, and what I might have done differently. I sometimes ask myself that if I was 16, would I be proud of the man I am today? So it’s an inspirational show. It’s my life’s journey.”