To close out NECA 2018, magician and former NFL long snapper Jon Dorenbos took the stage at the final general session.
Dorenbos played for 14 seasons in the NFL, spending the majority of his career with the Philadelphia Eagles. In 2017, he was diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm and had to have immediate open-heart surgery, ending his football career. He has emerged as a magician, known for his passion, high energy and positivity. In 2016, he appeared on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” and advanced to the finals, finishing in third place. Dorenbos has been on “Ellen” and NBC’s “Today” show.
Dorenbos exploded onto the stage to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” and tossed a beach ball into the audience. When the music stopped, Dorenbos called on the last person to touch the ball. Dorenbos brought the first audience member onto the stage, and subsequent audience members called out words to describe their experience at the show. The audience provided the words “awesome,” “incredible, “amazing,” and “cool.”
This was the underlining theme of Dorenbos’ presentation. He demonstrated that there was no way he, as a magician, could have influenced these strangers’ choices, but they still provided words of positivity. To complete his trick, Dorenbos revealed a paper hanging high up on the stage with the same words in the same order.
This interaction with the crowd illustrates Dorenbos’ closing NECA 2018 address. It was punctuated with magic tricks as well as his life in narrative form.
Dorenbos had already displayed his signature high energy and optimism, but then he revealed his story has a dark beginning. When he was 12 years old, his father murdered his mother. He explained that it was this event that got him into magic. He spent a year and a half in foster care, and the act of shuffling cards and listening to music brought him peace during that time.
“I sat down, and I was just a kid at a table,” he said. “Just me and my 52 buddies.”
Dorenbos said he got into football in high school, which provided an outlet for his aggression. This was how he brought football and magic together to make sense. Both disciplines gave him unique ways to express himself. In that, he said, he found “the perfect balance.”
Growing up, however, he struggled with his past.
“Before I was 22, I hated too much, I blamed too much, and I didn’t forgive,” he said.
He felt like he was losing himself, illustrating the point with a card trick.
“I didn’t know what forgiveness was until I was 22,” he said. "You have find forgiveness if you want to move on with clarity and an open heart. I discovered what it’s like to forgive myself. A lot of people think forgiveness is about picking sides.”
He realized he had to forgive his father if he was going to move on and be the person his mother wanted him to be.
“Let us use the people of our past, right, good or bad, to help us in the future,” he said.
Dorenbos spoke about obstacles and distractions, actually using a card trick to illustrate his point that there’s no such thing as a perfect shuffle in life where every card is facing and orientated the same way. Using his skill and technique, he shuffled the cards to isolate all of the cards in the same suit and placed them in numerical order.
“We either become people of vision or the people of circumstance,” he said.
Dorenbos then spoke about finding signs in life. He called it a “romantic idea.”
“Every obstacle I had, every distraction, I turned it into my mind as my mom talking to me,” he said. “If we can take those things that we perceive as distractions and turn them into motivations, that would be a powerful thing.”
Looking back, Dorenbos credits his passion for magic with his success.
“A deck of cards saved my life,” he said.
Dorenbos closed his presentation speaking about being traded to the Saints at the end of his career. He was 37, and the Eagles wanted to replace him with a younger player. He said he wasn’t bitter, choosing to see it as a mutual parting.
“If you’re ready to make a move, I want to move on, too,” he said.
In 2017, after 11 years on the Eagles, he was traded to the Saints. Shortly thereafter, he had to have immediate heart surgery to fix his aortic aneurysm. He was forced to retire. However, when the Eagles won the Super Bowl in 2018, he was invited to join the team in the celebration, and he was awarded a ring.
“Life is magic,” he said. “Believe it.”
Dorenbos’ act preceded the speech of President Trump, and while the audience was waiting for the president to speak, Dorenbos returned to entertain the crowd with more card tricks.