Invincible – Philadelphia Eagles’ Vince Papale
Vince Papale (Mark Wahlberg) is a Philadelphia born-and-raised guy who, like the city itself in the mid 1970’s, is struggling. The multitude of union strikes and factory closings have left Papale with little to no employment prospects. He is restricted to teaching high school two days a week and bartends at his friend Max’s bar to make ends meet. Similarly, the Philadelphia Eagles of the mid 1970’s were also struggling. Prior to the 1976 season, the Eagles made a change in head coach and hired Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinneer) to take over the helm and promises to make whatever changes are necessary in order to turn the Eagles back into a winning organization.
While bartending, Papale watches the local news and learns that the Philadelphia Eagles will be holding open tryouts. Papale’s friend Pete encourages Vince to attend the tryouts for a shot to become an Eagle. He listens, but shrugs it off as an impossibility and walks home. Vince arrives home to find his wife, Shannon, has left him because of his inability to make enough money to support her. She leaves a note that says “Vince, you will never go anywhere. You will never make any money. You will never make a name for yourself.” The following night while working at the bar, he meets Janet, Max’s cousin that recently moved to Philadelphia from New York. After work, Papale has a conversation with his friend Tommy, who is struggling with hard times facing unemployment himself, about the tryouts. Tommy make one final attempt to encourage Vince to take advantage of this opportunity.
The next day, Papale is waiting along with lines of middle aged, out of shape guys in front of the stadium for the open tryouts. Coach Vermeil watches all the guys go through the drills, desperate to find someone with talent to become a Philadelphia Eagle. He seems to lose interest and is convinced there is no one on the field able to help his team until he spots Vince. Initially, it’s Papale’s speed that catches the eye of Coach Vermeil and as he progresses through the different drills, impresses Vermeil enough to earn an invitation the Philadelphia Eagle’s training camp.
During training camp, things are still hard for Vince. He is undersized and under skilled compared to the “real” football players, but Vince shows an undeniable heart and persists through everything that happens during training camp. He uses the note left by his estranged wife as motivation. The other players don’t respect him because of his lack of football experience and they don’t take too kindly to Vince hustling on every play in every drill, making them look bad on the first few days of training camp. Everything seems to be more of a struggle for Vince than the other players around him. He starts spending a lot more time with Janet throughout this experience. Every day after practice, Vince sits in front of his locker holding his playbook while waiting for Coach Vermeil to call him in and tell him that he’s been cut.
Throughout training camp, Coach Vermeil is conflicted on what to do with Vince. On one hand, he loves Vince’s attitude, competitiveness, and work ethic. On the other hand, Vince’s lack of experience and his age hurts him greatly, as Vermeil can’t afford to risk a roster spot on someone who can’t contribute to the team immediately. Vermeil sits down with his coaches to discuss the final spot between Vince and another player, where all his coaches recommend going with someone with a true football background.
On the last day of training camp, Vince is called to the office to speak with Vermeil and the conversation ensues.
Coach Vermeil—“How are you holding up, Vince?”
Vince—“Couple of bumps and bruises. How are you holding up?”
Coach Vermeil—“Couple of bumps and bruises”
At this point Vince is assured that he is going to be cut and passes his playbook across the desk in Vermeil’s direction and thanks Vermeil for the opportunity. Vermeil pushes that playbook back across to Vince, and states:
Coach Vermeil—“Why don’t you hold on to that for a few more months. Welcome to the Philadelphia Eagles.”
The first person Vince shares the news with is Tommy. He calls Tommy to the stadium with the excuse of a broken-down car but when Tommy opens the hood and can’t find nothing wrong. At that time, Vince delivers the surprising news that he is a Philadelphia Eagle. Vince and Tommy go to Max’s bar to celebrate his achievement and are met with a hero’s welcome as he and Tommy walk in.
When the season begins, Vince is relegated to playing special teams for the Eagles. In the season opener against the Dallas Cowboys, Vince runs down the field to pursue the kickoff returner but freezes when it comes time to make the tackle. As he comes off the field, Coach Vermeil reminds Vince that he stuck his neck out for him and possibly made a mistake. Before the home opener against the New York Giants, Vince reads Shannon’s note for the last time then tears it up. Once again, he runs down field on the opening kickoff and this time, tackles the kick returner. Overall, Vince plays a pretty decent game and makes a few other plays. With one minute left in the game, the Eagles face a 4th down on their own 5 yard line and are forced to punt with the game tied 14-14. While lined up as the gunner, Vince notices the knuckles of the Giants’ defensive lineman are white. During training camp, his roommate had taught him that when knuckles are white, the person’s weight is leaning forward because they are planning to rush the line (as opposed to backing up to block or cover). Vince alertly an audible to change the Eagles’ blocking scheme and Vince is able to sprint free past the Giants’ defense. He tackles the punt returner just as the ball is caught and forces a fumble. Vince springs up to his feet, picks up the loose football, and runs 40-some yards into the end zone for the winning touchdown.
Contributing Author: Bob Shifko
Invincible – Real Life, Reel Differences
- It is true that Vince never played college football, however, Vince was a great athlete which was never depicted in the movie. He was a great track and field athlete who was good enough to garner a scholarship to St. Joseph’s University. Furthermore, Vince was only 5’7″ and 160 lbs when he graduated from high school and not recruited for football. By the time he graduated from college, Vince had grown to 6’2″ and 185 lbs, but because St. Josephs didn’t have a football team, he was not able to play.
- He did play one year of semi-pro football in 1974 as well as one year of pro football for the Philadelphia Bell of the World Football League, where he excelled as a wide receiver and special teams player until the league folded in October of 1975.
- In reality, Vince’s friends did not have to convince him to attend open tryouts. He wanted to. Furthermore, he didn’t just show up as depicted in the film. He and a few other Philadelphia Bell players were invited to the open tryouts
- Vince was not the down on his luck, penniless guy as depicted in the film. He was a beloved teacher and coach for six years and was planning on returning to this career path if the Eagles dream had not become a reality.
- The nasty note left by Vince’s first wife was real and did serve as motivation for Vince thereafter. However, it occurred in 1971, five years before the open tryouts opportunity with the Philadelphia Eagles
- The “bar league”, 7-on-7 football games did occur in real life and in fact, helped Vince tremendously during tryouts where the Eagles ran 7-on-7 drills.
- In the movie, Vince and Janet met while working at Max’s bar one night. In reality, the two didn’t meet until Vince had finished playing football. They were married in 1993.
Where Are They Now?
Vince Papale played for the Philadelphia Eagles for three seasons from 1976-1978. During this time, he recorded two fumble recoveries and one fifteen yard reception. A shoulder injury ended his career in 1979. After his career ended, he worked as a TV and radio broadcaster for 8 years before become
Currently, Papale is the Regional Director of Marketing and Senior Account Executive for Higher-Education Marketing at Sallie Mae. He is also a motivational speaker and holds the title of national spokesperson for colorectal cancer.
He resides in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, with his wife Janet and two children, Gabriella and Vinny, and remains a diehard Philadelphia Eagles football fan. He is also currently listed as the Secretary/Treasurer of the Philadelphia Chapter of the NFL Alumni Association. His website is vincepapale.com, he has a community page on Facebook that is regularly updated, a LinkedIn account, and his Twitter handle is @83Invincible.
The inspiration for Invincible came from an ESPN segment produced in 2002 as part of the 25th anniversary tribute to the Rocky, another movie about a Philadelphia native-turned-hero.
Dick Vermeil coached the Philadelphia Eagles from 1976 through the 1982 season. He led the Eagles to the Super Bowl in 1980, a game they lost to the Oakland Raiders 27-10. After he left the Eagles, Vermeil worked as a sports commentator for CBS and ABC for the next 15 years. In 1997, Vermeil was hired as the head coach for the St. Louis Rams. After two subpar seasons, he led St. Louis to a 13-3 record in 1999 and beat the Tennessee Titans 23-16 in Super Bowl XXXIV. Vermeil was chosen as Coach of the Year. After the Super Bowl victory, Vermeil resigned as coach of the Rams.
In 2001, Vermeil came out of retirement again to be the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. For the next five season, the Chiefs were inconsistent with good offenses and mediocre defenses, however, they scratched out two playoff appearances in the five seasons under Vermeil. Dick Vermeil resigned from the Kansas City Chiefs at the end of the 2005 season. Overall, Vermeil has a 120-109 win-loss record and took his teams to six playoffs, winning one NFC Championship (in 1980 with the Philadelphia Eagles) and one Super Bowl (in 1999 with the St Louis Rams).
His new passion is wine, as he is now partnered with OnTheEdge Winery (which appears to have been re-branded as Vermeil Wines).