By Mark Eckel, Player Engagement Insider
Jon Dorenbos is probably the most famous long snapper to ever play in the NFL, and it has little to do with the fact that his snaps on punts and field goals are almost always perfect.
Dorenbos, who just finished his 14th NFL season and 11th with the Philadelphia Eagles, has gained his fame from his other profession, being a magician.
During the 2016 season when he wasn’t snapping for Caleb Sturgis’ field goals or Donnie Jones’ punts, Dorenbos was appearing on NBC’s America’s Got Talent and made it to the finals, where he finished as the second runner-up for his magic.
There’s more to Dorenbos than snaps and tricks, however. He’s worked with several charities including Garth Brooks’ “Teammate for Kids’’ and Brian Moorman’s “PUNT Foundation, which strive to help children with terminal illnesses.
For his efforts, his teammates have nominated Dorenbos for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award. Three finalists will be named Sunday, January 22nd during the NFC Championship Game and the winner will be announced Saturday, February 4th, the night before Super Bowl LI.
“I was blown away,’’ Dorenbos said of receiving the honor. “Ever since I started playing football, the running joke is I thought I was going to get cut every year. Now, 14 years have gone by and I’m a kid who finagled his way into college (Texas-El Paso), never thought I’d be in the NFL. I’m in the NFL, and your name is dropped in with Walter Payton. It’s unbelievable.’’
So is Dorenbos’ story.
A witness to his mother’s murder at the hands of his father when he was 12 years old, Dorenbos took up magic to ease his mind as he bounced among relatives and foster homes.
“The way I came up and the struggles I’ve had in my life, I’ve always believed I would find a way to make money, to take care of myself,’’ Dorenbos said. “For me, in anything I’ve ever done it’s never been based on money. I’ve been adopted. I lived in a foster home. I shared a room with my sister, I slept at friends’ houses. I’ve kept that perspective. So, I’ve taken the pressure out of my life. Some guys can’t do that, they cloud their minds with pressure, because what are they going to do if they don’t have this?
“I know one day it will be over. Whether it’s one year, 15 years, 20 years, I’m proud of every day I’ve been a part of this. It’s been about showing up for work every day and having fun.’’
A favorite among his teammates and Eagles’ fans, Dorenbos’ stint on American’s Got Talent brought in a whole new fan base, including opponents.
“The best thing about the show was the organization supported me and let me do it. And NBC worked with my schedule to let it happen,’’ he said. “It was an ability to show fans in middle America and around the country that there are a lot of athletes who can do things. We’re not just meatheads. Athletes can be very intelligent and very nice and I think it brought light to that area of the game and something I took a lot of pride in. The way I conducted myself and even the tricks we came up with, I wasn’t just representing myself, but every athlete.’’
And everybody watched right down to the end.
“Aaron Rodgers (the Packers’ quarterback) was a huge fan. He pulled me aside during our game. We had just punted, and Aaron is coming on the field as we’re leaving, and he comes over to me. That was probably the No. 1 question I got asked ‘What did Aaron say to you?’
“He said, ‘That was awesome, I had so much fun watching you.’ He said he loved everything I did and the positive message I sent. I thought that was really cool.’’
Dorenbos also hears it from other opponents as he prepares to snap.
“Guys trash talk me all the time,’’ he said, “They say things like, ’You think you’re magic, I’m going to make you disappear.’”
Dorenbos hasn’t gone anywhere for 14 years and during the 2015 season, the Eagles re-signed him to a contract extension through 2019.
“I think people might take this the wrong way, and I hope they don’t. I think I had longevity in this game, because I have balance in my life. I’ve always played the game because I love it,’’ he said.
“I loved what the NFL has given me, the platform it has given me to do other things in life. Now, to be mentioned with Walter Payton for things I’ve done off the field that’s really cool. When it’s all said and done people are going to remember you for how you treated people and the impact you made, more so off the field, so it’s a huge honor.’’