PHILADELPHIA, PA (CBS) — He's always found refuge through magic. It's been the great healing elixir. It's helped Jon Dorenbos cope with the passing years, each a little easier to endure than the next. It's helped him better remember those Christmases his mom, Kathy, would make her three children an ornament to hang. Sometimes she would make them out of bread dough, stenciling in a date on the back. She was always there for her children, Randy, Krissy and Jon. It didn't matter the time or place.
It's why each Christmas Jon will take out his favorite fire truck ornament, the one made by his mom and carefully preserved after all these years, look down on it and smile. It's why holidays are sometimes difficult for the 33-year-old Eagles long snapper. The reminders. So many reminders. It would have been nice for Kathy to see the alcove Jon's created for himself with a 12-year NFL career.
But she's watching from somewhere, Jon still likes to think.
It's a story many Eagles' fans already know. Many more will know Dorenbos' resonating narrative once it's shown nationally Tuesday night on HBO's "Real Sports."
On Aug. 2, 1992, Kathy was killed by her husband, Alan, after an argument ensued in the garage of their suburban Seattle home. Jon, then 12, was the only one home. Krissy was in California visiting relatives and Randy was at a basketball camp. Alan hid Kathy's body in a sleeping bag in the trunk of his car, made constant excuses to Jon where she was, and repainted the garage in an attempt to cover up the blood and the crime.
Alan Dorenbos turned himself in the following day and was eventually convicted of second-degree murder. Randy and Jon testified at their father's trial in November 1992. He was sentenced to 13 years, eight months. He served 11 years, released in 2003, but Jon, Krissy and Randy have no contact with their father. The three have managed to deal with their anger and resentment.
Jon has taken it a step further.
"I forgive my father for what he did," says Jon, who was adopted and raised by Susan and Steve Hindman, his aunt and uncle. "Maybe I haven't forgiven him for the act, but I've forgiven him. Maybe he was lost in life at that time. But I've never tried contacting my father, and he's never tried contacting me. I was 12 when it happened, and the trial was in November, around the holiday season, with Thanksgiving and Christmas time. It's hard when you're a kid that age, because everything then was like a dream to me, as if it really didn't happen.
"I remember being at the trial and asking my Aunt Susan each day, 'Where's mom? Where's mom?' I was aware of what happened, but knowing and believing are two different things. As I got older, I started to see things more clearly. I learned about life. I learned about forgiveness."
And Dorenbos, an accomplished magician, has learned to captivate a room with his personality, his amazing sleight-of-hand magic tricks and his bellowing laugh. He's grown beyond long-snapper status and has built a sort of cult following here in the Delaware Valley, because he's always obliging, always approachable and always upbeat.
"Jon's always been an inspiration to me," says Krissy, a neurologist at Creighton University. "He was always the kid who stood up for the kid that the bullies were picking on. That's Jon. He's kind, charismatic and sincere, and that's because Jon is an extrovert. That rubs off on people. Jon was always able to radiate this positive energy."
It's that attitude that has kept Dorenbos in the NFL. The Eagles are his third team. Buffalo signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Texas-El Paso in 2003. He played two seasons for the Bills, nine games with Tennessee in 2005 and one more game with the Titans in 2006. He was picked up by the Eagles in late November 2006 as a replacement for then-Eagles long snapper Mike Bartram, and has been an Eagles' fixture—and fan-favorite—ever since, making the Pro Bowl in 2010. Last year, he re-signed with the Eagles.
Dorenbos continues on, in relative obscurity nationally as a long snapper. But that should change after the "Real Sports" story comes out.
His brother Randy constructed a family scrapbook, sketching the lives and background of Kris, Jon and himself. It was Randy's way of dealing with his mother's tragic death. It's something he'll share with family again during holidays, poring over pictures and memories.
"There is one that my mother actually made me when I was around 4 or 5, where I'm on Santa's lap with the largest thick-framed glasses you'd ever see in your life, crying, like a kid who didn't want to be there," said Randy, an independent contractor who also owns RAD Remodeling, in Southern California and Cleveland, Ohio. "My mother put that picture in a small, round, gold frame. It's the size of a silver dollar, and I still have it after all these years. It makes me laugh and think of mom. She's proud of what Jon's doing and the success he's made of himself. I say that in the present tense, because to me, it's not like she's gone. She's still here watching."
Jon is ubiquitous throughout the Philadelphia area, especially during football season. You can hardly go to a major social function without coming across him. He has a way of mesmerizing kids and adults with his magic act.
But he has a salient, visceral message for everyone.
"Things happen in life that you're going to face and what I learned is not to take things so personally at times, and with tragedy, you do think things like 'Why me, why me, God hates me,'" Jon Dorenbos said. "I've learned to deal with it, and you feel like something bad happens, you think it happens to just you. You learn to process it and accept life for what it is and focus on the more positive things.
"I remember the trial ... [my father] looked at me with this cold, black stare. Through time, I never wanted revenge. But I also learned at a young age that there is no such thing as long odds in this world. Not for me. I don't believe in failure. I was a free agent signed with a Super Bowl contender in 2006 and the Eagles and this community have really taken me in. I've been fortunate enough to have great family and friends around me.
"I've learned that there have been a lot of guys that have been through a lot of things in this league, not just me. It does help you get by knowing you're not alone, you're not the only one bad things happen to—and you can get through it."
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