Fact or Fiction: Vince Papale and Invincible
We rented and watched an entertaining movie this weekend, Invincible; a football flick based on the story of former Philadelphia Eagle, Vince Papale. It's an inspirational, feel good movie portraying how an inexperienced 30-year old athlete overcame significant odds to make the 1976 Philly NFL franchise.
I'm always curious after watching a "based on a true story" movie, how much truth there really was on the screen? You know Hollywood execs love to insert love stories and embellishments to make the film more emotionally involved. Here's the truth about Vince Papale's motivating past versus Disney's movie version (the same studio that produced a similar "feel good" sports movie entitled The Rookie):
1. Bigger in Person - Papale is played by 5'8" 170 lbs. Mark Wahlberg who obviously bulked up for the movie, but still looks tiny when standing next to the NFL-sized guys on the field. In reality, Papale wasn't such a tiny David up against the NFL Goliaths; he was 6'2" and 185 lbs.
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2. Suburb not City Boy ; Papale grew up in Glenolden, a blue collar Philadelphia suburb located about 12 miles away from his urban movie neighborhood of South Philly.
3. First Wife Friction ; Papale's first wife really did leave him and leave a note that exclaimed, "You will never amount to anything." However, the split up actually occurred in 1971, 5 years prior to the events portrayed in the movie.
4. Desperate but not Downtrodden ; Papale was not laid off from his teaching job. In 1974, he quit to tryout for a professional football team, the Philadelphia Bell, in the newly formed World Football League. Also, he did not work as a bartender until after a 2 year stint with the Philadelphia Bell.
5. Football Pro ; the movie paints Papale as a guy whose only football experience prior to trying out for the Eagles was in sandlot bar leagues and in high school. In reality, Papale also played two years of professional football for the World League Philadelphia Bell as a WR prior to trying out for the Eagles.
6. Invited to Tryout ; Papale didn't just show up to the open tryouts after learning about it from a television broadcast as the movie implies. He and a few other Philadelphia Bell players received an invitation to the tryout from Eagles head coach Dick Vermeil after the World Football League folded in 1976. And, he needed no encouragement from his buddies. He always desperately wanted to play for the Eagles.
7. Fast Man ; Papale really was quick. He did run a 4.5/40-yard dash in the tryout.
8. Making the Cut ; Coach Dick Vermeil did not give Papale the good news in the Veteran's Stadium parking lot next to Vince's broken down car. He called Papale into his office and told him he could come to training camp (as you would expect).
9. On the Field ; Papale played for three seasons and was forced to retire due to a shoulder injury in 1979. He caught one pass in 1977 as a wide receiver, but spent the rest of his professional career on special teams. It is true that he forced a fumble during a punt in his first home game, BUT he did not score a touchdown. NFL rules at that time actually forbid a muffed punt from being advanced. That scene was a huge Hollywood embellishment. In truth, after recovering the ball, the Eagles offensive team scored a touchdown on the ensuing series.
10. Love story ; Of course, a big studio movie needs a love story to make it complete, so Papale is shown to meet his current wife, Janet, during his Eagles quest. Actually, Papale didn't meet Janet until 1991, fifteen years after he played his first season for the Eagles.