Jon Dorenbos played in the NFL for 15 years and made two Pro Bowl appearances. He’s also a master magician who was Simon Cowell’s favorite contestant on America’s Got Talent, ultimately coming in third place in the finals in 2017. Jon is also one of Ellen DeGeneres’ favorite guests on the Ellen Show – appearing over 25 times.
His story is riveting as he survived an unbelievably tragic childhood, losing both of his parents, when his father murdered his mother at the age of 12. His life was again changed forever recently, when the Philadelphia Eagles, the year they won the Superbowl, traded him to the New Orleans Saints… In the medical evaluation for the trade, they found a major problem with his heart’s aorta, needing emergency life-saving surgery within 48 hours, forcing him to immediately retire from football.
Triumphing over difficult circumstances and achieving greatness in everything that he has done, You will find Jon to be transformative, if not one of the most inspiring people you have ever met. In this conversation, Chris and Jon tackle themes Jon has mastered, that have made him a very in-demand speaker, including: leadership, mindset, perspective, self-talk, forgiveness, and greatness.
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Jon Dorenbos: NFL All Pro, AGT Finalist Beats Adversity Again And Again. Virtually Speaking Ep. 5
Joining me is Jon Dorenbos. Jon played in the NFL for fifteen years and made two Pro Bowl appearances. He’s also a Master Magician who is one of Simon Cowell’s favorite contestants on America’s Got Talent. He made it to the final show in 2017 coming in third place. Jon is one of Ellen DeGeneres’ favorite guests on the Ellen Show. He’s appeared on that one over 25 times. Jon’s story is riveting as he survived an unbelievably tragic childhood, losing both of his parents when his father murdered his mother when he was twelve years old.
His life was changed forever when the Philadelphia Eagles, the year they won the Super Bowl, traded him to the New Orleans Saints. In the medical evaluation for the trade, they found a problem with his heart that needed emergency life-saving surgery and forced him to retire from football immediately. Triumphing over difficult circumstances and achieving greatness in everything that he’s done, you’ll find Jon to be transformative, if not one of the most inspiring people you’ve ever met. We tackle topics that he’s an expert in that make him an in-demand speaker, topics like leadership, mindset, perspective in self-talk, forgiveness, and greatness. Join me with this incredibly inspiring force that is Jon Dorenbos.
Jon Dorenbos, thank you for joining me on the show. How the heck are you doing?
First of all, this is rock star. Second, I’ve known you for a long time. I got to throw you something here. Coming up with titles is sometimes hard. When you emailed me about this, I thought it was genius, a double meaning on both sides. I want to give you a shout-out on the title of this talk being Virtually Speaking. It’s funny and completely relevant.
Thank you. I enjoy it a lot. It looks like you’re virtually between two palms.
Yes. Here’s the deal, we’re in this new world of virtual. Everything’s virtual. My wife and I realized that we’re happiest when we’re in between the palms. I made this little home studio like a lot of people have done and I realize, “What am I missing? I need to be between the palms. I need to put myself in this happy place.” That’s what we did. This is the first interview in the studio, self-titled Between the Palm Studio.
When you guys vacation, do you make sure you’re always between palm trees?
We got two palm trees in front of our house. Usually, when we go on vacation, we go to islands or somewhere where there are palm trees. Anytime you’re in a hammock between a palm or you’re sitting between palm trees, life’s usually pretty good. We find peace and happiness there.The ability to talk ourselves out of excuses and dismiss the voice of doubt is such a powerful thing. Click To Tweet
You’ve found a lot of peace and happiness. You’ve visualized many things in your life that you wanted to have happened. You’ve been able to talk well to yourself about the situations you’ve been in and getting through tough times, also visualizing what you wanted to do and goals you wanted to reach. I know you’ve reached every goal. I’ve known you for such a long time and it’s been over a decade. Everything you said you wanted to do, you’ve done. It’s pretty amazing. Starting at the beginning of your life, you had to overcome something traumatic. Your father murdered your mother and you got through that.
My dad was my hero. He was the president of Little League. We played catch every single day. I was twelve years old at the time. I wanted to be like my dad. I was at an age where he would take me and we’d hang out and I felt like I was an adult. He was teaching me how to change the oil. My mom was my favorite person for a whole different reason. I love my mom. She volunteered at the school in a reading program. I didn’t have a reading disability but I did have reading comprehension issues. I was put into a special reading class in school.
She volunteered at the elementary school and started a reading program that made learning visual. What it showed me and what it taught me is that you can be different. You can struggle in certain aspects of your life but you still have a purpose, you still have a place, and you can still contribute and people can still like you. “I could be different, maybe not as good as everyone over here but I can still maybe be good over here and find a place purpose.” That’s a powerful thing to accept differences when you’re young.
When my father killed my mom, I came home and my sister and I lived in a temporary foster home for about eight months to finish up the school year. Eventually, my aunt who is my mom’s sister got custody of my sister and me. In that timeframe, we went through probably the most intense therapy you could possibly imagine. Within it, what happened is I learned how to visualize. My aunt owns her business, has her own condo, going on girls’ trips, no kids at the time, she gets my sister and me and she did it with such open arms. There’s never a discussion on where we would go. She wanted to raise her sister’s kids. I’m thankful for that.
In therapy, we learned a lot. We learned about what does it mean to forgive, what does maybe the perception of it, and what do you want to define it as the ability to have closure and to move on from different aspects of your life and the ability to visualize and talk to yourself and not listen to yourself. Every one of us can relate to this moment when we’re face down in the dirt or we’re in the water and we feel like we’re drowning and we need a second to tread water and catch our breath. We can all relate to that moment. It doesn’t matter what color you are, what race you are, how much money you have, none of that matters. The moment of struggle is real, we can all relate to it.
The decision that we make at that moment, “Do we rise? Do we fall? Do we live in vision? Do we stay in circumstance and make excuses?” To me, that’s what separates us. The ability to talk ourselves out of it and not listen to the voice of doubt, excused and quitting, that’s such a powerful thing. Tell yourself where you want to go and amazingly enough, you’ll surround yourself with the energies and the people that have those same views and you rise and you lift each other up. The next thing you know, you’re having closure with these difficult aspects of your life and you’re allowing yourself to see the open door of positivity and go get the world.
You’ve always had a lot of confidence, though. Before that happened, there must have been something inside you, where you were goal-oriented and you were driven and you had inner confidence. Did that come from the therapy?
It came from the therapy. We did what’s called experiential therapy, which means you dive into it. This is pretty deep, my therapist wanted my sister and me to do the autopsy photos. Everybody thought he was crazy. What happened is the trial took place and the autopsy photos were shown in a way that only the jurors could see. My dad, in Seattle, his trial had a ton of news coverage and there were cameras everywhere. Needless to say, we weren’t able to see the pictures. My therapist went to court and got a private court order for two minors to have a private sitting and viewing of an autopsy photo. My sister and I became the first minors to have a court order for that. Everybody thinks he’s crazy.
We drive to the prosecutor’s office and we sit in this office. I’ll never forget this, I was 12 or 13years old. She walks in and she puts a folder on the desk and she leaves. The therapist looked at my sister and me and he said, “Everybody thinks I’m crazy that I want you guys to see these pictures. Do you know what the reality is? I don’t care. Why should it be anybody else’s decision but yours? This is your life. Here’s what I’m going to do, I’m going to leave. If you want to look, look. If you don’t, don’t. I’ll never ask. I don’t care.”
As he was about to leave the room, he opened the door and he peeked back in. I’ll never forget this. He says, “If for whatever reason you decide to ever want to talk to your dad again, I know that doesn’t sound popular now but I know the way the world works. You might be 20, 30, 40, 50 years old. You might have kids or you might not. If you ever decide that you want to see your dad and you decided to look at those pictures, it’ll be for far more powerful reasons than wanting to know what happened. That kid right there, that is what happened. There’s nobody that can tell you anything else because you’re going to see it for your own eyes. It’s your choice.” He walked out and I looked at the pictures.
From that moment on, I had this appreciation for life. I almost had this guilt of wanting to bring pride back to my last name. Guilt might be the wrong word but I had this internal feeling that I want to do achieve so much more because I’m alive and my mom’s not. There’s so much in this world that I can do to make her proud and make my family proud. I started seeing people help me, my aunt, uncle, the therapist, people in the community, the Seattle Mariners. All these different people were coming and helping my sister and me.
People sometimes laugh when I play Kenny G at the house. I sit by the fire outside and I play Kenny G and they’re like, “Jon, are you listening to Kenny G now?” My sister loved Kenny G. She played the saxophone. She wrote him a letter. I’ll never forget, that dude wrote her back when she was fifteen years old. She still has that letter. To make that difference, I’m forever a Kenny G fan. I love him. When I became a professional athlete and I could do that, to write back, to pull a kid out of the crowd and play catch, or to help Make-A-wish, I thought of that moment and what he did for my sister and it was so cool. How do you say thank you to these people that sacrificed for you? I’ll tell you how. You pass it on and you continue to live a life that they can watch you grow and realize how proud they are of you for doing everything that you did.
At some point, you dove into magic. Around this time as well, is that right?
Yes. This is a guy, Bill Malone. This guy was on TV, it was a show called World’s Greatest Magic. He was a card guy. This guy shuffled cards and he would tell a story and this hit me. I had seen a sixteen-year-old magician named Michael Groves in person. I was thirteen. I saw a magician for the first time, he was a sixteen-year-old kid. He did a trick that blew my mind. Here’s what I learned and I didn’t realize it until I was older but as I would sit down and shuffle cards, I would hear that sound, that riffle, and it would put me at ease. What I didn’t realize at the time is that shuffling cards was the only time I felt like I was a kid. Shuffling cards made me forget everything around me.
As a kid, I spent years working on these tricks and these moves. I wouldn’t do tricks for anybody because it wasn’t about that for me at the time. It was my escape. It was the ability to let my mind go at ease, forget about losing not just my mom but my mom and my dad. All my friends that I left behind, moving in with my aunt, and finding this new life, this was the only thing that made me forget everything. Ironically, when I would shuffle is when my mind freed itself and I started to dream. I started to visualize where I wanted to be in my life and the things I wanted to do. I wanted to have two jobs, I wanted to be a magician and I wanted to play pro sports. It’s the only two jobs I’ve ever had, performing and football.
It’s also, at the highest level. Speaking of shuffling cards, one of the first times we hung out we got on a plane and we went to Bend, Oregon. We hung out with your friend, Drew Bledsoe. We’re in a bar on a weekend night. It was snowing like crazy. There’s almost nobody in the bar. Drew, his brother, and some of his friends and family were there. You mesmerized five people including myself for two hours doing trick after trick. Maybe it was 30 minutes but it felt like an entire show. Every trick blew everybody away. It was unbelievable. You became a master. I know you did well before you even got into the NFL League. You were already doing professional magic in Vegas at a young age. When was it that you were a professional at first?
As professionals, you make money. That’s the defining characteristic of what makes you a pro. As fifteen, an agency started booking me. Back then, it was an agency called Jam Entertainment. They started booking me to do closeup stuff. I was a walk-around magician at corporate events. When I was fifteen, sixteen, I looked a little older. I was like a man-child. I looked like I was 18, 19, 20. That’s where I first got my start, doing walk-around corporate magic at luncheons and dinners.
You might’ve used your magical abilities in the sleight of hand, the amazing ability to use your hands magically to create a video, to get yourself into a UTEP. Tell us that part.It's not about how hard we get hit. It's the ability to stand back up. Click To Tweet
I thought I was a great high school player. I led the league in tackles. I was a stud with no scholarships, nothing. There are a couple of junior colleges around here and some of them were recruiting me but they had 100 guys on the team. There was a school down the road called Golden West Junior College in Huntington Beach, California. They were 0 and 30, which means they hadn’t won a game in the previous three seasons. They lost every game for three years. What does this guy think? “If I can’t play there, I can’t play anywhere. Why don’t I be a big fish in a small pond?”
I go to Golden West. I did well, at least in my mind I did. After my freshman year, no scholarships. My best friend, Paul Tessier, was at UTEP, the University of Texas-El Paso, he hit me up and said, “We need a long snapper.” I had snapped a little bit in high school. What I did is I took my highlights and I made a highlight tape of myself and it was pretty good. I then got Nick Heinle. He was number 48 and I was number 47 at the time. We looked the same on film but he was crushing hits. I took some of his big hits and I spliced it in with my finesse and running and open-field tackles but they need a long snapper and I didn’t have any footage of me snapping. We had Tim Thurman, a 6’6” long snap. I took his snapping, put it on my film, and said it was me. I sent it out. I put some of my high school snapping on there from years prior. Lo and behold, I got a full ride to the University of Texas-El Paso and I was a long snapper there for three years. All I told myself is, “I want to play Division I football. I want to run out.”
I had a choice between baseball and football. Baseball was a little slow. I kid you not, the real reason I wanted to play college football is I wanted to be a rock star but I can’t sing, I can’t dance, and I can’t play an instrument so check that off. I wanted to run out of a tunnel in front of 100,000 people, college football. In the first game, we play Oklahoma. There were 98,602 people in Oklahoma. It was shy of 100,000 but I got to run out of the tunnel. Eventually, I made the pros and we played in Dallas at the new stadium and it held 105,000 people. I’ll never forget that I got to run out of a tunnel in front of 100,000 people like I had always wanted to since I was a freshman in high school. It was 105,000 people booing me. Nonetheless, it was still 105,000 people.
One of the first many checkmarks that you made, checking off your goals in life. Did they ever find out that you spliced yourself and three other people together to make this video to get in? That’s crazy.
Yes. I told them. It was my senior year. There have been stories done in my life here. I had footage of me on there. I had Paul Tessier, who was my best friend and who was already playing there, vouch for me. I had that footage. It was the perfect storm. I needed to package it and say, “Here I am, take me.”
You had how long to learn how to do this before you went in person?
I did have a couple of months to freshen up a little bit so I was able to do that. I transferred out and played my sophomore, junior, and senior years at the University of Texas-El Paso.
You went to the Bills where you met Bledsoe, he was your quarterback. You then went to the Tennessee Titans where you played for Steve McNair, a legend. You then went to Philadelphia Eagles.
I spent most of my career with the Philadelphia Eagles. We need to go back a little bit because there are a lot of people that might not know that I was a long snapper in the NFL for fifteen years. This is the position I would assume. These are McFarlane figures. These are expensive. I had somebody say, “Jon, you got a McFarlane figure?” This is Kevin Mawae and a fan bought this and sanded it down and hand-painted it to be me. Kevin Mawae is an All-Pro center. A fan did this and painted it to be me.
I was a long snapper. It was my job to snap a football and hit that guy right in the leg. When this whole thing happens, I take the ball between my legs, I throw it to him, and then he kicks it. A lot of people are like, “That doesn’t look that hard. It’s not like you get hit.” That’s the guy that I would go against. Usually, the guys that I would go against would be anywhere from a foot to 2, 3 feet taller. What happens is as soon as I move, that guy can try and run me over and I have to try and block him from blocking the kick.
That there is the X-Factor that makes that job hard. That’s a clip where I looked like a stud. This guy is way bigger than me and I crushed him, I pound him, I do my job, it’s all good. Every once in a while, you get put in a situation. There’s a guy lined across from me to the right. Every once in a while, this happens, where you get pummeled and ran over. Thank you, Chris. I appreciate you laughing. I did not find that funny.
I’m a Cowboys fan.
For those that don’t know, the Cowboys are the big rivals of the Eagles where I spent most of my career. This is the point of this clip, sometimes in life, you do everything great. You take on the challenge in front of you and you smash it. Life has its plan and you have your plan and it’s all in sync. Every once in a while, you get hit, you get knocked down. The deck gets shuffled in crazy ways and things are out of order. It’s like what Rocky said, “It’s not about how hard you get hit. It’s about getting up.” It’s about being able to put your life back in order.
I took a deck of cards and I already got out all the spades. This is important. I want everybody to notice this, these cards have been shuffled. These spades are not in order. The reality is sometimes in life, we think that we’re on a path, that we know where we want to go, and that we have a plan. All of a sudden, life happens, our life gets shuffled. Before you know it, we are out of order. The idea here is that sometimes we have to take a deep breath and we have to sit back and learn how to talk to ourselves so that we can make sense of our life.
We can have closure. We can have forgiveness. We can all of a sudden learn to talk to ourselves, not listen to ourselves but talk to ourselves and figure out how to put our lives back in order. It’s not about how hard you get hit. It’s the ability to stand back up, to talk to ourselves, to not let the obstacles in life hold us down and dictate who we are. This is all of you, now we all got to get on the same page. We have a deck of cards and they are out of order. May every one of us take a moment, take a deep breath, look in the mirror, talk to yourself and tell yourself where you want to be, and put yourself back in order. I believe that but it starts between the eyes. It’s not about getting knocked over. It’s not about getting run over because that’s going to happen.
Everybody asks me, “Jon, do you ever have a concussion?” If you play football for 25 years, you’re going to have a concussion. “Jon, do you ever get run over?” If you play football for 25 years, I’ll tell you what’s going to happen, you’re going to get run over. This is life. The longer that we get to live, the more that we’re going to experience, and the more that we can overcome. I love scars. Let’s quote the great Shane Falco in virtually speaking, “Chicks dig scars. Pain heals. Glory lasts forever.” What a great quote from a quarterback in a movie. That’s the reality, pain heals, glory lasts forever.
That scar is one of the chapters of your life. That’s from the trade. You were playing for the Eagles. I’m a Cowboy fan. Thankfully, you guys never won the Super Bowl. You guys beat us in the playoffs and we beat you as well. You had already been on America’s Got Talent at that point, is that correct?
Yes. I finished America’s Got Talent. I was a finalist. I finished in the top three. The following season, I then became the franchise holder for the most consecutive games ever played in the Eagles history, which I thought was cool. At this time, going into training camp, I did not expect to get the news that the Eagles said, “Jon, we want to let you know but we’re looking to trade you.” “I have the most consecutive games played. I’ve been here for eleven years. I never missed a game. I feel like I’m Mr. Eagle. I feel like I’m going to retire here.”Forgiveness is about waking up tomorrow and giving yourself a chance. Click To Tweet
This is a trip, so here we go. I had a plan but Life happens. The GM comes up to me and says, “Jon, we’re going to trade you.” He thought that I was going to be upset. Internally, I was because I felt like I was the best guy for the job for that city at that moment. Here is the moment that separates who we are as people. That was my reality. I had two choices, I can fight it, be angry and bitter and almost forget the eleven years and the good times I had with an organization that meant so much to me or I can accept it for what it is. Be thankful for the opportunities that I had and realize that I need to come to terms with what my reality is. That way, I can find the upside as soon as possible.
What happens is the Eagles trade me to the New Orleans Saints where I was able to play there. When this whole thing happened, it’s funny. I told the GM, “You’re wanting to trade me?” He goes, “Yeah.” “Has there ever, in the history of the NFL, been a long snapper traded for?” In my position, we usually get cut and hired. We don’t get traded. When I came into the NFL, I was a free agent, which means I was not drafted. The draft was over and now there’s a ton of us in the world and the team called me and said, “Do you want to come up here and try out for the team?” I’ll probably not make it. I said, “I would love to.” I didn’t have a lot of value coming out of college. “You’re going to trade me when I’m in my fifteenth season and they’re going to give a draft pick for me.” When I got into the league, I was worth more than I was fifteen years ago.
You made two Pro Bowls, right?
I did make two Pro Bowls, which is cool. Also, I didn’t want to have to bring this up but if you’re going to make me, fine. I was on the 2014 All-Fundamentals team. I was a captain with Peyton Manning. I’ll be honest with you. I had no idea what that even means but I got a phone call from somebody and they sent me this silver helmet and this trophy, First team All-Fundamental. I have no idea what it means but I’ll put that on the wall.
For fundamentally sound.
I had an opportunity to fight it. I even got a phone call from the organization that said, “If you don’t want to go, play here one more year and then retire an Eagle.” I sat back for myself and I said, “Something’s going on. There are some coaches here that want to go younger. Maybe this is the right move. Maybe my life is pushing me in a different direction.” What happens is, I go to New Orleans. I play in a game and the next day the doctors flew in and I did my physical. When you get traded, you have to go through a physical because the new team wants to make sure that you’re healthy and that you’re good to go. You’re an asset and they want to make sure their asset is good to go. When I did that physical, the doc put a stethoscope on my chest and sure enough, he was like, “Something doesn’t sound right. We’re going to go ahead and send you down to the hospital and get some tests done.”
I had what’s called an echocardiogram done. The results came back and it wasn’t what we were expecting at all. What happened is the vein that leaves the heart should be about the size of a dime or a nickel. I had what’s called an ascending aortic aneurysm. The vein that carries the blood out of the heart was blowing up like a water balloon in this one segment, which means if that pops, you’re dead instantly before you even hit the ground. Sure enough, my entire life flashed before me. It’s the story you tell yourself and this is why this is important.
That’s my guy by the name of Drew Brees. At the moment that I found out this news, I got a phone call from the hospital as I was getting ready for practice, “Jon, you’re never playing football ever again. You’re going to be in an emergency open-heart surgery probably in the next 48 hours.” Keep in mind, I just signed a three-year extension for more money than I’d ever seen. I got traded to a team that wears all black, which is slimming for a pudgy guy. There were all these things I’m checking off the list that were positive. To hear that my career was over, it wasn’t the way that I planned on going out. I had worked my whole life for this. That’s not the way I’m going out.
Here comes that moment, the narrative you tell yourself, the story you tell yourself. The words mean something. I sat down on my stool and I remember, in 2006, I was going out to a game and a reporter named Joe Santoliquito stopped me and said, “Jon, is it true that your mom’s best friend is singing Wind Beneath My Wings at her funeral?” I was like, “That’s true.” He goes, “Unbelievable. I read your life. You’ve bounced around but you’re an Eagle now. The song says, ‘I can fly higher than an Eagle,’ because you are the wind beneath my wings. I wish you all the best. We’re pulling for you. Play hard. This city is going to love you. May the wind always be beneath your wings.”
At the moment I found out I was having a heart surgery, I thought of Joe and what he said to me. Drew Brees walks by me and I realized the story and the moment that I tell myself is going to be what differentiates where I’m going and how I’m going to live. I remember going, “I had the wind beneath my wings for all these years.” My mom traded me. From up above, she had a plan. She sent me to the New Orleans Saints. She sent me to have my life saved by a saint. All she’s telling me is, “You got to step out of the wind and catch a breeze.” Drew Brees was my breeze. I truly believe that saved my life.
That was me right after surgery. I’m now part of what’s called The Zipper Club. My surgery was about 11.5 hours. I spent over 30 days, post-surgery, in the hospital. I had hematomas, white blood cell issues, and some other stuff going on, leaky valves replacements. That changed my life. At the time, I was newly married. I had been married for about a month at that time. My wife is by far the coolest person in the world. If I didn’t leave that bed, she didn’t leave that bed. That’s me and my wife right there on a beach in Capo. That’s when we got married about a month prior. I kid you not, I love this woman more than anything. I’m happy that she was able to sit by my side in the hospital and bring me back to life.
There are going to be people who’ll read your story and they’re going say, “Your mom was taken away from you.” The Eagles ended up winning the Super Bowl that year.
We got to back up. I want to give somebody a perspective here. I’m in a sports world. I’m an athlete. I want to win the Super Bowl, that’s what we worked for. The Eagles go to the Super Bowl in 2004, 2005. What happens is the next year they signed Jon Dorenbos. I played in every game for eleven years. I set the record for the most consecutive games I ever played. They get to a point where they’re like, “Let’s trade Jon.” They trade me and then they went back to the Super Bowl. I played every single game between the two Super Bowl appearances of that organization. I was a little bit like, “You’ve got to be flipping kidding me.”
You got them ready enough to win it. The great story here is that the owner of the team who was a good friend of yours and a big fan of yours ended up making sure you got the ring.
It’s one of the coolest things that’s happened to me. It sits on my shelf and I look at it. The Eagles called me and said, “We know this whole thing went down. This is unbelievable. If we go to the Super Bowl, we’re going to invite you.” Sure enough, they go to the game and they invited my wife and me. I sat in the suite. The night before the game, Lurie came to me and said, “We’re going to win this and you’re going to get a player’s ring. It’s important for you to understand that you’re getting a player’s ring because of what you did for this organization for so long and how you helped set the culture.” It takes a little while for the ring to get in. When he presented me the ring, I’ll never forget that the organization and Mr. Lurie said, “When you look at this ring, though you might not have played that you always remember how much work it took, the relationships, and the greatness that you learned from all the great coaches, players and executives that you were able to surround yourself with. Keep working hard because you deserve this.”
People ask me, “Jon, what was your goal when you were a player?” I did an interview early on in my career. “My goal is I want to run out in front of 100,000 people and I wanted to be the oldest guy in the team.” People would be like, “The oldest guy in the team? Why?” If my goal is to win a Super Bowl, what happens if I win a Super Bowl in my rookie year? I’ll then never play again. That’s not right. If I’m the oldest guy in the team, I’m going to give myself the most chances and the most opportunities to have success and that means that the guy that’s writing the check to keep me there, values me. It means I’m showing up every day on time and ready to work.
I tell the youth that if you want to be a champion, it’s easy. “Show up on time, prepared, and ready to work. Show up with passion. Show up with dedication. Show up with commitment. Show up with the ability to process constructive criticism. Maybe set the ego aside every once in a while, and realize that when people are telling you things and criticizing you, sometimes it’s to make you better, sometimes it’s what you need to hear to grow.”
I got a king of clubs. This is a business card. It’s inspired by Danny Ocean from Ocean’s Eleven. It’s my name and my face. I never carry these on me but it’s cool. I got a $1 bill and then I got a box of cards. For me, life has been about finding balance. It’s about the ability to process, have closure, take the constructive criticism, and do all this. Also, maybe find yourself a little balance. Chris, you and I have talked about this over the years. People have asked me what I’ve been doing during the quarantine. I’ve been spending way too much time trying to do this. Find balance in your life. Find peace and closure. Take a second to look at yourself in the mirror and find out, “What are my two palm trees? Where do I want to be?” That’s one way that we can balance ourselves and stack ourselves up, put ourselves back together. That’s what I’ve been working on during this quarantine. Some people might say, “Jon, that’s a big waste of time.” It is.Finding personal balance means having the ability to process closure and take constructive criticism. Click To Tweet
The trade saved your life. If you wouldn’t have been traded to the New Orleans Saints, what would have happened? You would have been playing football and that thing would have burst.
I was told that every time I hit the field, I had a higher chance of dying than I did living. I was one big hit in the chest away from that rupturing. They say that when your aorta ruptures, it’s usually 2 or 3 seconds. You’re dead before you hit the ground and there is no coming back. That would have been a bad day.
Long snappers only play what, 30 seconds, 35 seconds total a game?
Yeah. It’s funny because I’ve had three wrist surgeries, four hernias, knee surgery. Fourteen years in the league, the average play is anywhere between 2 and 6 seconds. Maybe you play ten seconds. Ten plays a game, so you’re looking at maybe a minute. In fourteen years, I played 22 minutes of football. My injury-to-play ratio is way off.
One of the other things that also happened is you were on America’s Got Talent. You were Simon Cowell’s favorite contestant. You came in third place. You made it to the finals. You went back again and did the Champions. You also met your dad.
This is super intense. I’m going to go back to this picture. That’s my wife when she was pregnant and she was about to be due. I specifically remember looking at her saying, “I’ve been thinking about my life and there are three words that I’ve never said out loud. I’ve never said, ‘I forgive you.’” Probably the biggest life lesson that I’ve ever learned in this life is that if we can find motivation within defeat, if we can take all these negative feelings that we have and find a way to internalize them and find motivation, what a powerful thing that is. What happens is I realized that about a few weeks or a month before my daughter was two, it was the time for me to sit down with my dad. I flew to where he lived. I hadn’t seen him in 27 years.
When did he get out of prison?
He went in 1992. At the time, it was second-degree murder. He was sentenced to thirteen years and he served eleven. In the State of Washington, a second-degree murder max penalty was thirteen years. He was released around 2004, 2005. I went to see him in 2019. He was out for quite a while.
Did he reach out to you during that time?
No. That was part of the deal when he went to prison, we all part ways. Everybody agreed. It was probably what was best for everybody. I hit him up and said, “If you want to meet, I don’t want anything from you if you want to sit.” He hit me back and said, “I was waiting for your time to be right. Let’s do it.” I’m on a plane to see my dad. It was the moment that I had in New Orleans when I was sitting on the stool and I found out I was having heart surgery and I thought of my man, Joe Santoliquito saying, “I had the wind beneath my wings.”
I’m on a plane. I’m heading to see my dad. I look out the window and I heard my therapist and it was me sitting at a table for the autopsy photos and he said, “If you look and you want to go see your dad, it’s going to be for a much more powerful reason than wanting to know what happened.” I remembered saying to myself, “I don’t have any questions. I don’t want validation. I’m not looking for answers. I’m going there to forgive him. This is crazy.” All of a sudden, people say, “Jon, that’s crazy. How do you forgive your dad for that?”
It goes back to redefining what that means. Forgiveness, for a lot of people, is bitterness. It’s one-upping. It’s winning and losing. If I forgive you, that means I agree with what you did and I’m okay with what you did. For me, that’s not what it means. For me, forgiveness means, I’m okay with who I am. I’m okay with my past. I’m okay with where I’m going. Do you know what else I’m okay with? I’m okay waking up tomorrow and realizing that you’re no longer in my life nor have you been and nor will you be going forward.
A lot of people, bad things happen to them. It happens to all of us. A lot of us can relate if our friends get divorced. One of them is still bitter for so long. The reality is when you get divorced, that person is no longer in your life. If you live every day with bitterness thinking of that person, you’re wasting your own time. It comes back to closure. Be okay with change. Be okay with saying goodbye to a good or bad time in your life and looking forward to what the next chapter is. When I sat down with my dad for 5.5 hours, I realized that I was sitting there because I wanted to relive that entire part of my life, the emotion, the anger, the resentment. I wanted to sit and look at my dad and say, “Who are you? What did we miss out?” All of this in my own head, “What could have been? What should have been? Where did you go wrong?” At the end, I stood up and I said, “I came here to say I forgive you for being lost. I forgive you for making a mistake.”
As I was flying home, I realized I wanted to relive the worst part of my life to find motivation and more excitement to be the dad to my little girl that I never had and to be there. As an adult, I never got to sit and have lunch with my dad. I’m going to open the dedication because the dedication was probably my favorite thing that I wrote in this book. It says, “For Annalise, who turned my heart right side up, and Amaya, who’s my little girl. You will always be able to have lunch with your daddy.”
That’s your book, Life Is Magic.
It’s the journey of finding forgiveness that I’ve searched for my whole life. When I found forgiveness and I forgave my dad, I got excited to be a dad. I got excited to be everything that I didn’t have. There’s a choice. Look at this choice. I could have become what I came from and I could have replicated what I despised, which we all know that people do that and they don’t even realize that they’re going down that path but they become what they hated. I can lay the hammer down, lay the law down, and change it and be better, be better to my wife, be better to my daughter, be better to myself than what I had experienced and what I came for. That’s the decision that I made, I’m going to be the dad that I never had.
Thank you for sharing that with us.
That’s real talk right there.You become what you visualize yourself to become. Click To Tweet
A lot of people need to learn forgiveness. A lot of people are hurting.
For me, forgiveness has nothing to do with the other person anymore. It isn’t about one-upping. It’s not about winning or losing. It’s not about me saying, “I agree with you.” It’s about me stepping back and saying, “I’m at peace with this and I’m going to live my life. The negativity of this situation is not going to affect me going forward.” I forgave my dad for being lost. I forgave him for making a mistake because both of which I’ve done many of and I can relate to that. Now I wake up and I don’t have this cloud of bitterness. I don’t have hate. I don’t have any of this blocking my brain anymore.
This was powerful, it was an interview of Nelson Mandela. A lot of people are familiar with Nelson Mandela’s story. He went to prison. He said something interesting, he said, “I went to prison and I gathered the inmates and I said, ‘If the guards do not capture our souls and we keep our souls for our self, we are free men.’” What happens? They build this wall and they come together. There’s unity. Nelson Mandela gets out of prison and he said, “I didn’t go to prison until I was released because my mind got bitter at the time lost. I was out of prison as a free man but yet I was bitter that I was living with bitter and anger at time lost. I had to get rid of that to free myself.” The guy said that he didn’t go to prison until he was released because of his mind and bitterness. Think about that. It’s the ability to let go and have peace and clarity in your mind. To me, that’s what forgiveness is.
What is Life Is Magic? I’m sure you’ve got your own definition of the title of your book. What does that mean for you?
One, I’m a magician. It’s similar to virtually speaking, a little play on words. Two is the magic for me in life is the story you tell yourself, it’s the things you want to become, it’s the narrative. My mom, when she was killed, my grandparents and my aunt all flew down at the house and my mom had a jewelry box. Inside of that jewelry box was three chains with little medallions on it. She was going to give it to my sister, brother, and me when we all turned eighteen. That was going to be like, “You’re eighteen. Here’s a gift from me.” None of us had reached that age yet. I got it right away and I wore it. That was me being close to my mom.
I moved down to Southern California and go to Huntington Beach. I jumped in the ocean and when I come out, the necklace is gone. I was mortified. I was crushed. I cried. I went back a couple of days in a row looking for this thing. Finally, I realized, this is the magic right here. This is Life is Magic. I changed the story and I looked up in the sky and I laughed at myself and I said, “Mom, I get it.” That necklace was never for me. Do you know what it was? I was the vehicle that took it from Seattle, down to Southern California to lay it in the ocean where it belongs. I know you wanted to travel the world.
I know that my necklace is probably wrapped around a dolphin. What happened is that dolphin swam and it fell off a minute and hit the whale’s back. The whale took it to Hawaii. A sea turtle took it over to Australia. This thing has been around the world. That necklace has such a better meaning than just wrapped around my neck. Now every time I see the ocean, I know my mom’s been there and that’s now where I talk to her and I believe that she’s there. That right there, that’s Life Is Magic.
You’ve gone around the world as an NFL player and as a magician. On your finals or your Champions competition for the America’s Got Talent episode where you did your magic, you talked about how you’ve been to all of these different cities. You had them all pick a different city that you wanted to go to. Have you been all over the world as a performer at this point?
It’s been good. We’ve been able to go to a lot of cool places. The advantage of being a speaker is you’re able to go to these cool islands, you’re able to go to these retreats, and you’re able to hang out with some cool people. You mentioned America’s Got Talent, so I’m going to do something that is going to wrap up what my life is. When a magician comes out, he has a custom card box with his logo engraved. When he opens it, a small stack of cards gets dumped out. If that doesn’t scream trick deck, I don’t know what does. This is what I truly believe in and I’ll explain why this is perceived as a trick deck. You asked me what Life Is Magic is. Magic taught me how to find myself. It taught me don’t hate, don’t blame, and forgive.
Here we have a stack. These cards are blank and that’s why people think they’re a trick deck. I’m going to take three blanks and set them over each queen like so. Before I believed in the therapy that I was doing, before I experienced life, the more I hated, the more I lost myself bit by bit, piece by piece, and gone. A lot of people blame a lot of things around us. We make excuses. The reality is the more we blame, the more we lose ourselves piece by piece, bit by bit, gone. What a powerful thing forgiveness is. I didn’t know what forgiveness was until I got older and until I experienced life. When I grew up, I held grudges. I know that the more grudges I held, the more I lost myself piece by piece, bit by bit, gone. May every one of us hate a little less, blame a little less, and forgive a little bit more. This world is a powerful place.
Confidence is a big part of it all as well. Where do you get it from?
I’ve always had this desire to live. I’ve never been scared of failure. I’ve been scared of not showing up. I’ve been scared of not giving it my all. To me, if I fail, that’s part of life. I can live without it. If I give it everything I have and I practice and I prepare and it doesn’t work out, that comes back. That’s life. It’s also the narrative. As a snapper, believe it or not, in ’06 and ’07, I felt like I was starting to be pretty good as a snapper. It took me a few years to figure it out. Don’t ask me why but I always pretended I was Matt Damon in a movie. I was acting like the greatest snapper in the world. “If I’m the greatest snapper in the world, what would that guy be like?” I acted who I wanted to become.
Fake it until you make it.
It took the pressure off me. I would run out to snap a game-winning field goal in zero-degree weather with a 40 mile an hour crosswind and hard rain with a 340-pound guy over me and I pretended like we were on a movie set. All these people are in union. “Everybody wants to go home. It’s freezing. Snap the ball and let this guy kick it and let’s all go home. We’re all friends.” That’s the narrative I told myself. Sure enough, it relaxed me. The next thing you know, you become what you visualize yourself to become.
You’ve done an amazing job in your life of visualizing what you wanted to do and what you wanted to be. I know you wanted to be on TV. You were one of the most popular contestants. The number of views you have on your America’s Got Talent videos are insane.
There’s one that’s up to 90 million views. Somebody put together all of the performances in one. It’s 88 million or something. It’s crazy.
Congratulations, Jon, on an amazing career. You’re still in the beginning of your life. You have many decades left. Stay well and healthy. Thank you for inspiring all of us and showing us what it means to be a champion, what it means to be somebody who can forgive, somebody who can visualize and embody what they want to be. I know you have this famous quote that you like from a movie that we both love, A Star is Born. There’s something that you like to remind people of, something about what you say is how you’ll be remembered and what you say is who you’ll be, can you tell us that?
It was a cool quote in that movie. It’s, “In music, there are only twelve notes and how you say it and that’s what differentiates you.” That’s life. We’re all in this thing together. How you say it and how you act and who you want to portray yourself as, that’s how you’re going to be remembered. All of a sudden, you got one moment when the world is listening. What would you say? If you could pick that moment, what would that moment be? Strive for that moment. Strive for the opportunity for the world to say, “I can’t wait to hear what you say because it’s going to make this world a better place.” When that moment comes, say what you mean.
May every one of us realize that we can control what we can control and there are things in this world we can’t control and be okay with it, with change, with forgiveness and with closure. If the moment comes for us to have an opportunity to change the world and we’re not prepared for it and we’re not ready for it, shame on me. May every one of us control what you can control and keep moving forward. In sports, there’s the quarterback, there’s the receiver, there are all these famous people. They’re all up here. They make all the money. The long snapper we’re about right here on the coolness pyramid. We’re about down here. They can’t win without me and I can’t win without them. It doesn’t matter what your role is. It doesn’t matter what your job is. It is important. It is necessary. It is needed. Be the best that you can at it and help this whole thing go round and round. May we all celebrate together as champions like that.
You are a true champion. Thank you so much, Jon. Thanks for joining me. This has been awesome. I appreciate it.
Thank you for having me. You’re a rock star. I want to say thank you all in joining me between the palms.
About Jon Dorenbos
Jon Dorenbos played 14 seasons in the NFL, notably making the Pro Bowl twice as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. In 2016, Jon competed on America’s Got Talent where he showcased his skills as a sleight-of-hand magician, making it to the finals and placing third overall in the competition amongst tens of thousands of competitors. He then put his talent on display as a guest on Ellen, who quickly became one of his biggest fans and advocates. Jon has appeared on Ellen’s show in various capacities as well as on The Today Show. He just retired from the NFL after having successful open heart surgery to repair a defective aortic valve.
Known for his great sense of humor and positive outlook on life, Jon is a successful motivational speaker who uses his skills as a magician and his incredible life story to inspire. He is currently writing a book for Simon & Schuster titled Life Is Magic that will go on sale 3rd Qtr 2019.
Jon is a seasoned motivational and keynote speaker with more than 10 years of experience. His topics are typically tailor-made to his clients’ objectives and include: Life is Magic, The Power of Teamwork, Overcoming Obstacles, and Embracing Change.
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