Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, Delaware County
Invincible is the film depiction of Vince Papale, the substitute teacher who walked on to the Eagles.
Born in Glenolden, Pennsylvania, Vince Papale went from a small time bartender to a professional football player after trying out for the Philadelphia Eagles in 1976. An avid athlete since he was young, Papale graduated from Saint Joseph’s University, where he lettered in track. Shortly after, while bar tending in his neighboring town of Prospect Park, he was given the chance of a lifetime when he was invited to play for the then struggling Philadelphia Eagles. He had a successful but short lived career and now is seen as a local hero and motivational figure. He currently lives in New Jersey with his family.
Vincent Francis Papale was born February 9, 1946, in Glenolden, Pennsylvania. He is a former professional American Football player, a member of the National Football Conference, and a former play for the Philadelphia Eagles.
As a child, Papale was always playing sports. He always had a love for football, but it was in track that he excelled the most at as a young athlete. Papale attended Interboro High School, which is where he was a standout athlete in football, track and field, and basketball. He won All Delaware County honors in football as a wide receiver and also as a pole-vaulter in track. After high school, Papale attended Saint Joseph’s University on a track scholarship. He had a successful college career in track, competing at several high level competitions and garnering high marks. As a junior, he won the United States Track and Field Federation College Development Pole Vault at Madison Square Garden. He also competed well at the Middle American Championships. Papale graduated in 1968 with a Master’s degree in marketing and management science.
Papale’s life took a major turn after college. While working at Max’s in Prospect Park and substitute teaching at Interboro High School, he successfully tried out for the Philadelphia Bell in 1974 to 1975. The Philadelphia Bell belonged to the American Football League, which was the smaller farm club of the Eagles. He caught nine passes for 121 yards and a touchdown in 1976. His performance earned him a meeting with Dick Vermeil, the newly-hired coach of the Eagles. After trying out, Papale became the oldest rookie in the NFL, without the benefit of college football experience. He immediately became a local hero and fan favorite. The city needed something to believe in, and Papale was a fresh new face that gave the city hope for a better future. He went on to play wide receiver and special teams for the Eagles from 1976 to 1978. He played in 41 of 44 regular season games. He recovered two fumbles and returned a kick 15 yards for a touchdown early in his career. His shining moment came in a game against the New York Giants. Up until this game, Papale had seen little action and had struggled on the field. However, on a kickoff, Papale made a tackle and forced a fumble. He picked up the ball and ran it into the end zone for a touchdown. The Eagles won the game. Papale continued to play valiantly over the next few seasons. A shoulder injury unfortunately ended his career in 1978.
Papale was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2001, but fought off the disease and has since become a spokesman encouraging people to have regular checkups. He won the Vince Lombardi Award for Courage for overcoming his colon cancer. In 2006, the movie Invincible was made, inspired by Papale’s underdog career with the Eagles. The movie detailed Papale’s emotional story, from being let go from his job as a substitute teacher to his unlikely role as a Philadelphia Eagles football player. Back home in Glenolden, the movie was met with high praise and positive reviews. Ebert and Roper gave the film two thumbs up. The movie remains an inspiration to many. Papale continues to be an inspiration today, and Eagles fans recently voted him as “Most Outstanding Special Teams Player” during the Eagles 75th anniversary celebration.
Papale is currently a motivational speaker. He is also the regional director of marketing and senior account executive for Sallie Mae. Sallie Mae is one of the nation’s leading providers of student loans and administrator of college savings plans. The company provides private and federal student loans to thousands of undergraduate and graduate students every year.
He is married to Janet Cantwell, a former member of the United States Olympic Gymnastics team. Papale and Cantwell are the only married couple who have each been inducted in the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame. Cantwell and Papale have two children, Gabriella and Vincent, and they currently live in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
Invincible. Dir. Ericson Core. Walt Disney Pictures, 2006.