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American Red Cross announces magician and former NFL player Jon Dorenbos as 2022 Evening of Stars keynote speaker

Jon Dorenbos smiles and shuffles cards.
Jon Dorenbos smiles and shuffles cards.

The American Red Cross has announced its keynote speaker for the 27th annual Evening of Stars event.

The special guest is Jon Dorenbos. He played 14 seasons in the NFL as a long snapper and performs comedy and magic — including a third place overall finish on "America’s Got Talent" for his magic acts in the show’s 11th season.

Dorenbos’ passion for magic stems from tragedy. When he was 12 years old, he returned home from playing with friends to find his father murdered his mother. Later, Dorenbos saw live magic acts and magicians on the television, picked up the playing cards, and has been hooked on magic since. He said magic helped him cope with his mother’s death.

“For me, learning magic was the only time the world quieted,” Dorenbos said.

He added that focusing in and repeatedly practicing his magic distracted him from the harsh realities of his life.

“If I would sit down and work on a move or trick or try to make this coin disappear ... it was the only time I forgot about the rest of the world, the adult issues, losing my parents, therapy, foster care, and all these different changes in life,” Dorenbos said.

Repetitive practice came in handy for Dorenbos as he pursued football. After playing at the University of Texas at El Paso, Dorenbos went undrafted in the 2003 NFL Draft. Following the draft, he was signed by the Buffalo Bills. After a brief stint with the Bills and Tennessee Titans, he landed in Philadelphia. That’s where he spent the majority of his career, and earned two-time Pro Bowl honors.

Hands are important in the role of an NFL long snapper. Minor mistakes from the snap can lead to major consequences on the field. So naturally, Dorenbos practiced the long snapping routine countless times over to perfect his craft. And he said that’s the same for magic.

“You’re doing the same thing over, and over, and over. And the only thing that’s changing is outside circumstances. Wind, rain, weather — things like that,” Dorenbos said. “In magic, it’s the same thing. You find a move and you try to do it over, and over, and over, and you’re in search of the perfect rep.”

He said that desire for perfection quickly became a passion.

“When I was young, I got obsessed with that. And I loved it, so that when I became a long snapper, doing something repetitively, doing something that’s tedious over, and over, and over, is one of my favorite things in the world.”

Through repetitive practice, whether it’s long snapping or magic, Dorenbos said he learned a life lesson from it.

“Both have taught me discipline and accountability. Both have taught me that no matter how hard something is in life, if you just stick to it and keep after it, it’s going to get easier and easier and you’re going to get better and better,” Dorenbos said.

In 2017 while preparing for his first season with the New Orleans Saints, Dorenbos learned he had an aortic aneurysm. Following the discovery, and the subsequent surgery, his football playing career was over. But he continues to perform magic and tell his story, and said he’s thankful for what the American Red Cross does.

“The American Red Cross is an organization that puts a high priority on helping others, and I am glad to have the opportunity to be a part of it, during Evening of Stars,” Dorenbos said. “I look forward to sharing my story and providing some entertainment through magic, in the process.”

Dorenbos plans on doing comedy, performing magic, telling his story and giving life lessons at the Evening of Stars event. He said he hopes people will leave feeling better about themselves prior to his show.

This isn’t the first time an NFL player or coach has been the headliner for the event.

In 2006, Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning was the keynote speaker. In 2018, it was Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The following year it was former Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy.

The event is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 9, in the Brown Ballroom on the Illinois State University campus.

Tickets go on sale Monday, June 27.

Updated: June 9, 2022 at 1:16 PM CDT
This story has been updated to include comments from Dorenbos.
Jack Podlesnik is a reporter and announcer at WGLT. He joined the station in 2021.
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