The following is an exclusive excerpt from “Life Is Magic: My Inspiring Journey from Tragedy to Self-Discovery," the new memoir from former Philadelphia Eagles long snapper Jon Dorenbos. His football career ended in 2017 after he was diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm that required open-heart surgery. As a child, Dorenbos turned to magic after a tragic incident in which his father killed his mother and Dorenbos was placed in foster care. His magic performances have led him to the finals of “America’s Got Talent” as well as recurring spots on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” This excerpt highlights Dorenbos’ trip to Minnesota with his wife, Anni, to watch his former teammates play in Super Bowl LII. Dorenbos will be appearing at an Inquirer Live event on March 19; visit inquirerlive.eventbrite.com for tickets and more information.
As a player, I always thought I’d be stressed out if I ever made it to a Super Bowl. But I never thought I’d be stressed at the Super Bowl because I had to be careful that, when in a crowd, I didn’t get jostled or bumped into, lest my newly wired-shut sternum shifted out of line.
That’s why, on the night before the big game, I found myself hanging back, waiting for all the other guests to clear out of the Minnesota art museum where [Eagles owner] Jeff Lurie had just hosted the party of all parties for about 150 of his closest friends and family. “We’re so happy to finally be going to the Super Bowl and representing the city of Philadelphia,” Jeff had said to the crowd before unveiling a surprise. “Before we leave, I’d like to bring out a friend of mine to sing a couple of songs,” and out came Sheryl Crow and her band. Anni and I were sitting, and rocking out, with Dr. Oz and Wall Street guru Jim Cramer — both huge Eagles fans.
Afterward, Anni and I waited while the others filed out. My balance still wasn’t great, and I still walked slowly and carefully; this way, waiting for the place to empty, I could take my time leaving and not run the risk of colliding with anyone in the big crowd. We were the only two left in the room besides Jeff and Tina Lurie.
Jeff came up and gave me a light hug. I’ve never known him to cuss before, but he leaned in. “Hey, we’re going to win this f— thing,” he said. “And when we do, you’re going to get a ring. But not just a ring. You’re going to get a player’s ring, because you deserve it, for everything you did for this organization for so many years. The Super Bowl for you is living. And your ring will be a symbol for the way you’ve lived your life.”
I ain’t often speechless. I just leaned in and hugged my bro. As Jeff and Tina walked away, the tears started falling once again. Anni hugged and kissed me. “You always thought you’d only get a ring from playing, because you never wanted to coach,” she said. “Isn’t it funny how life works its way out? You aren’t playing, and you ... aren’t coaching, but you might get that ring, after all.”
The next afternoon, when the team was about to leave the hotel for the stadium, [former Eagles defensive end Tim] Mooney and I took a selfie with [former Eagles quarterback Nick] Foles and hung out with him for a few minutes, just talking about nothing. Once Foles got on the team bus, Mooney — a lifelong Eagles diehard — looked pale. “Dude,” he said, “should I be worried? Foles was so relaxed, he looked like he was on his way to a yoga class.”
That’s Nick for you, I reassured him. The most Zen field general I’ve ever seen. Sure enough, a few hours later, St. Nick worked his magic against the favored New England Patriots. Everything felt right about the moment. I’d been coming back from my surgery — hell, I’d been coming back in one form or another since I was 12 years old — and now here was my team, which had been the underdog in each of its postseason games, modeling resilience for the world. As Anni and I made our way to the field to take part in the celebration, it just felt so right.
Anni and I took a photo with the trophy, and I hugged all my Eagles brothers-in-arms. At one point, I looked up as confetti rained down on us. So I didn’t get to play, but this is what the confetti feels like.
When Nick was named MVP and interviewed on the podium, hell if he didn’t once again provide a life lesson in how to be a humble leader. How many other MVP interviews have featured the star saying something like, “I never stopped believing in myself” or some such me, me, me-ism? Not Nick.
“I think the big thing that helped me was knowing that I didn’t have to be Superman,” he said. “I have amazing teammates, amazing coaches around me. And all I had to do was just go play as hard as I could, and play for one another, and play for those guys.”
Anni and I headed back to Philly for the parade. Something like 3 million fans turned out for it; [former Eagles safety] Brian Dawkins and I waved to them from the alumni bus in the procession. Months later, the Eagles gave me my ring. That sucker is huge.
A lot of people were touched that I’d been given a ring, but there were also haters who weren’t happy about it. It’s true I didn’t play a down for this team on the field. In fact, I’ve never even heard of a player who gets traded and is then given a Super Bowl ring by his former team.
But I’ve come to see it as symbolic of something bigger, something like what Jeff was getting at that night before the big game. After Mom’s death, I had to learn how to lead with my heart. I had to learn to live my life like the most precious thing in it was my relationships.
I like to think the Eagles gave me that ring because I treated everyone — teammates, coaches, staff, media — like they mattered, like each interaction was an end in itself, and not a means to an end. I don’t need a ring to remind me I was good at football. My ring tells me I treated people the right way.