I think it says something when the uproar, as temporary as it may be, over the latest surprise trade from unofficial Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman concerns a long snapper leaving town.
A long snapper.
I’d wager that a faction of casual NFL fans don’t know that position exists. I’d barter that even more don’t know the name of the guy who plays that position for their favorite team. And if I’m not mistaken, “Madden” rosters once forced you to make a player at another position snap the ball on punts and field goals. There wasn’t even a point in carrying a LS on your team.
Not here. Not in Philadelphia. This was the home of the long snapper, Jon Dorenbos. Until Monday night, when Roseman’s apparent boredom coaxed the New Orleans Saints into coughing up a future seventh-round draft pick for a 37-year-old special teamer, it was home to Dorenbos for more than a decade.
From a football standpoint, Roseman proved Monday, by finding a trade partner for an aging veteran in an oft-forgotten role, that he sure knows how to get deals done. After 14 years on the job in the NFL and coming off an extended injury-induced absence to end the 2016 season, Dorenbos was bound to be approaching his departure. So the fact that he warranted any return in a trade at this point in his career marked a rather obvious late-summer steal by Roseman.
Still, sentimentally, at least, is it not weird to say goodbye like this? Is it not profound that a city can be shaken, even if just for a moment, by the loss of its long snapper — a guy who, if he properly does his job, takes the field just a couple times each week and then fades back into irrelevance, just waiting for you to forget he’s on the team?
There’s the tenure factor. You don’t just suit up for the Eagles for 11 years and not become a face, no matter how significant, of the franchise. By all accounts, by the way, those 11 years couldn’t have been much better for Dorenbos. Two Pro Bowls and 162 consecutive games say so.
Then, even more prominent, there’s the personal factor.
The Eagles were still relatively new to me as an up-and-coming fan in 2006, when Dorenbos joined the team in November to replace an injured Mike Bartrum. And I recall, still in grade school at the time, struggling to comprehend part of the Wikipedia backstory on this new long snapper — the part where, as a kid himself, Dorenbos endured the death of his mother at the hands of his father. It’s a story I wasn’t even old enough to process, to want to process, but it’s one that has been well documented as the fuel behind Dorenbos’ rise to celebrity status as an off-field magician, not to mention his tireless embrace of the community.
Just about a decade later, at the NovaCare Complex, I was by myself in the office of former Eagles public relations director Derek Boyko, left to some small talk after a commute to Philly culminated in the cancellation of a rained-out spring practice I’d come to cover. No one else was around, but Dorenbos was. He strutted by the door to Boyko’s office before he was beckoned in — “Come say hi to Cody” — and, after happily introducing himself, proceeded to balance himself on an exercise ball with the amusement of a child, all the while looking up at Boyko and requesting he help him finalize details for a charity event.
It was then I realized Dorenbos was, in fact, a special character. I could see exactly why, of all people, he was the constant in those behind-the-scenes locker-room videos among Eagles players. He was unflinchingly open and entertaining — the life of whichever room he occupied.
Others can speak to this with even stronger stories. But even from a distance, like after I later relocated to Minnesota and found that my Midwestern in-laws were equally and individually touched by Jon’s “America’s Got Talent” gig, a national platform he used to showcase the power of positivity in emerging from the darkest of places, I could see it. I knew, if I were the one signing this long snapper’s paychecks, I’d always be happy to have him on my team.
Before long, of course, we will usher in the era of Rick Lovato, who spent the offseason invisible on Philadelphia’s roster but is now set to be the Eagles’ first full-time snapper outside of Dorenbos since Bartrum (2000-2006). And, considering Dorenbos stole the spotlight of games, let alone made a memorable appearance, as often as the Eagles have won playoff games this decade, we will probably usher in that era a lot quicker and easier than you’d think. (Unless, of course, Lovato suddenly forgets how to snap the ball.)
You’re probably kidding yourself — or just a wee misguided — if you think this trade throws a wrench into the Eagles’ 2017 season. Even if the locker room is a little different, even if the “Magic Man” is taking his tricks down south and even if your heart wasn’t quite prepared for another unforeseen blow this side of the forced breakup between Jordan Matthews and the Carson Wentz crew, things should be just fine.
And yet, before things prove to be just that (fine), it seems OK to pay homage to a player — even more, a man — who is headed to a new home.
His name is Jon Dorenbos. He will always be an Eagle.
And best of all?
He was a long snapper.