Associate Sports Editor
Vince Papale is a football player that defines the meaning of “tough”.
For those not familiar with Papale, he is a former professional football player who played for the Philadelphia Eagles. Papale was a wide receiver who also made a major impact on the Eagles special teams during his time in Philadelphia. Papale was also the inspiration for the Disney motion picture “Invincible”; which depicted his journey from a season ticket holding bartender, to a professional football player.
When asked about what inspired him the most to become a player in the NFL, Papale responded, “People telling me I couldn’t do it, and that it couldn’t be done. That it was impossible, and that I could show them that the impossible really is possible. That was my biggest inspiration not only in football but in life.”
Papale grew up in a small town outside of Philadelphia called Glenolden. He went to Interboro High School, where he lettered in football, basketball, and track during his senior year. He tried soccer for one year but lost interest due to the lack of aggressiveness.
“I tried soccer but I didn’t like it. It wasn’t physical enough for me,” he noted.
Papale’s one year of high school football came in his senior year. He wanted to play in years prior, but was always told he couldn’t.
“My sophomore year I didn’t do anything,” he reminisced. “They told me I was too small to play football.”
After high school, Papale attended St. Joseph’s University on a track and field scholarship. After his time at St. Joes, Papale became a substitute teacher along with bartending at Max’s Pub in Prospect Park. As for football, He was playing in a seven-on-seven rough touch league in Delaware County. The games were rough and extremely physical.
“It was wild!” Papale exclaimed. “We had a cop at every game and an ambulance at every game. Somebody got taken out every single game.”
A short time after, he played in the World Football League. The World Football League was a spring league that ran for about a year and a half. Papale explained that the WFL was full of former National Football League players along with up-and-coming players looking to prove themselves and looking for their shot at the NFL.
Papale played two seasons at wide receiver for the Philadelphia Bell, where he stood out as a wide receiver and a member of the special teams. His performance on the Bell earned him an invite by Eagles head coach Dick Vermeil for a tryout with the team.
Earning the tryout was special for Papale because he grew up a die-hard Eagles fan and was a 10-year season ticket holder. He grew up idolizing the players on the field and wishing one day, he would have a shot to play for the team he loved. Papale mentioned players such as Tommy McDonald was his idol growing up. He also stated that Timmy Brown, Harold Carmichael, and Bill Bergey were also players he admired.
“You know those guys were all my idols,” Papale mentioned. “They’re [also] all my best friends now.”
Heading into training camp, one of the first drills Vermeil put him in was the seven-on-seven. A situation Papale was well versed in.
“These guys are trying to take my head off, and I just laughed because I took harder hits when I was out there in the rough touch league.” He laughed as he remembered about the drill.
Despite the familiarity of the seven-on-seven drill, the road to the NFL was not easy for Papale, he put in a lot of hard work and had to overcome certain challenges along the way.
“The biggest challenge was obviously overcoming the stigma that I didn’t have the right resume and the right pedigree… That I didn’t play college football, and I was 30 years old and that it’s never been done before,” Papale explained.
It wasn’t too long before Papale was recognized as a serious potential member of the team. He worked to prove to his teammates that he was the real deal and that he had what it took to play in the NFL.
“They realized after I started competing so hard and wiping guys out down field is when they realized ‘this guy is for real’,” Papale commented on his teammates.
He also said that he practiced every practice “like it was the Super Bowl”. Papale went on to say, “There’s no letting up. You got to give it everything you have every minute of the day.” That was his mentality as he headed into every practice and every game.
Papale’s story went national when he made the team. His story was quickly known throughout the country everywhere he went. His journey to the NFL was around the same time as the first “Rocky” movie hit theatres. He was being referred to as “the real-life Rocky” by people everywhere. This caused some resentment toward Papale from his teammates at first. Adding to the many other list of circumstances he needed to overcome.
As the season progressed, Papale noted that all of that went away once people saw him perform on the field and he added that he became “their guy”.
The most memorable moment as an Eagle for Papale was when he was told he had officially made the team. He said, “When I went out on to the practice field and we were stretching, Coach Vermeil leaned over and shook my hand and said, ‘Congratulations old man, you’re a Philadelphia Eagle. Welcome to the team.”
He remembered jumping into Vermeil’s arms overcome with emotion, and asking if he was joking and Vermeil said, “You earned it pal, you earned it 83.” Papale mentioned the first thing he did after finding out he made the team was making a phone call to his father. He mentioned making the team and hearing the cheers coming from the other end of the phone line at Westinghouse was one of the greatest moments of his life.
The 2006 movie “Invincible,” stars Mark Wahlberg as Papale and his journey to the NFL. Papale appreciated how the message of the movie was inspiring and his journey was documented in film, which was exactly what he wanted it to do.
Papale mentioned they left out a few aspects of his life such as his time as a high school football coach and a teacher at Interboro High School. The story in the movie starts when Papale was a bartender. The movie also depicts Papale as a resident of Philadelphia, when in fact he lived just outside of the city.
He also mentioned that they left out the story behind his love interest, Janet. The movie left out that she was a world-class gymnast on the United States gymnastics team and a head coach at the University of Pennsylvania. Papale mentioned that they were both okay with what the creators did with the movie and they really enjoyed it.
“I think it’s a good message for everybody that was told like I was… that I didn’t have what it took.” Papale went on to reiterate, “That’s what I’m really proud of.”
He still has connections to the Eagles today. He mentioned that he has a very good relationship with Eagles head coach Doug Pederson. He remains a die-hard fan of the team and is close to members of the coaching staff.
Papale’s story continues to inspire others to overcome whatever obstacles or adversities stand in their way.
Papale and long-time friend Dennis Franks recently launched a book titled “The Last Laugh – From Vision to Victory”.
He also makes various different public speaking appearances all over the world for organizations such as the FBI, Navy Seals, school events, and many more. “I speak mainly about motivation, leadership, and realizing your potential,” Papale stated.
Vince Papale’s mindset and attitude toward football and life is why so many people were inspired by him and “Invincible”. He remains active in motivational speaking with hopes to inspire many more people along the way.