PHILADELPHIA --- Every year, Kathy Dorenbos would make sure each of her three children would have a Christmas ornament to hang. Sometimes she would make them herself 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. Mom was there.
Especially at Christmas time.
That's why Jon Dorenbos (pronounced DORN-bahs) 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 this time of year is always a little difficult for the 26-year-old Philadelphia Eagles long snapper. The reminders. So many reminders. It would have been nice for Kathy to see Jon today, playing in the NFL.
But she's watching from somewhere, Jon likes to think.
On Aug. 2, 1992, Kathy was killed by her husband Alan after an argument in the family garage in a Seattle suburb. Jon, 12 at the time, was the only one else home. Krissy was in California visiting relatives and Randy was at a basketball camp. Randy and Jon testified at their father's trial in November 1992.
Alan Dorenbos turned himself in the following day and was eventually convicted of second-degree murder. He served a little more than 13 years. He has done his time and is out of prison, but Jon, Krissy and Randy have no contact with their father. The three have managed to deal with the anger and resentment toward their father.
Jon has taken it a step further.
"I forgive my father for what he did," says Jon, who was adopted and raised by 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 forgive my father for what he did. Maybe I haven't forgiven him for the act, but I've forgiven him"
Jon Dorenbos, Eagles long snapper
"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 enduring laugh.
"Jon's always been an inspiration to me," says Krissy, 29, a medical researcher in Phoenix. "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. He is with 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 last season and one game this season with the Titans. He was picked up by the Eagles in late November as a replacement for Eagles regular long snapper Mike Bartram, who went on injured reserve with a career-threatening neck injury.
Dorenbos will play Christmas day on national TV against the Cowboys in a game that potentially could decide the NFC East title.
Randy has constructed a creative scrapbook of his family, sketching the lives and background of Kris, Jon and his own life. It was Randy's way of dealing with his mother's tragic death. It's something he'll share with family again during the 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," says Randy, 32, a store manager in Corona, Calif. "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."
On Monday night in Philadelphia, Dorenbos mesmerized kids and adults with his magic act after a TV appearance at a local restaurant.
"I've been approached about doing a movie and a book about my life and what I've been through," Jon says. "I remember the trial ... [my father] looked at me with this cold, black stare. Through time, I never wanted revenge. But I also learned there [is] no such thing as long odds in this world. Not for me. I don't believe in failure. I've been fortunate enough to have great family and friends around me.
"I suppose those are the kind of Christmas presents people want around them every year."
Joseph Santoliquito is managing editor of RING Magazine and a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be contacted at JSantoliquito@yahoo.com.