The movie Invincible opened up to great reviews and was a box office hit this fall. Besides the movie, there is a book that goes along with it also titled Invincible, but the book is the true story that inspired the major motion picture. Vince Papale shares his real story that has become of one of America’s most inspirational stories and reflects back on his time as the oldest NFL rookie with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Listen to the Vince Papale CYInterview:
(Backup Player: Including IE)
Chris Yandek: First off how are you?
Vince Papale: “Very good Chris. Thanks.”
CY: We all know about the Invincible movie, but you have a book that discusses your real life journey from a fan to a NFL captain. Does it still hit you how unordinary your story is?
VP: “Yeah. It’s funny because the only way I can do that is that I have to separate myself and sort of become a third party to it to realize everything that has gone on with the movie and the book and to realize the extraordinary events that have happened in my life. I personally, as I was going through both processes for the book and movie didn’t think it was anything out of the ordinary. It was just something I was given an opportunity to do, but I have gotten so many great positive responses from so many people. I guess it must have done something. We will just go with that. For me and my family, I am just a dad trying to make it every day. It’s sort of been both immortalized with the book and the movie.”
CY: What can people learn from your real life story?
VP: “They can learn anything is attainable if you believe in yourself, have a good team around you, prepare yourself to overcome any obstacles or adversities that are thrown at you. You have to have a plan, you have to have strength, and you have to have belief. I think I had all three of them. I am not extraordinary in that, I have overcome tremendous odds or obstacles more than anybody else has out there. It’s just that mine were unique that Disney decided to make a movie and a book about that.”
CY: Is it being the oldest NFL rookie ever at 30 years old the only thing you want to be the oldest of in life?
VP: “What I want to be is that I want to be a good father. I want to be known as a guy who made a difference. I want to be a good husband. There is a lot of things other than those onlys. It just happened. Again, when I was trying out for team at the age of 30, I didn’t realize at that time that I was embarking on something that was legendary. I was embarking on something they would say that dreams are made of. Opportunity was given to me at that moment like people have opportunities to move up in the ladder of the business world. People have the opportunities to make a difference as far as cancer research and those kinds of things. Again, I don’t think of it as being anything real special.”
CY: You talk in the book about how the Philadelphia Eagles were really the one thing that held it altogether or you could always look forward to. What was it about the team that helped you carry on?
VP: “Well, I think there were a couple of guys there. First off, the city of Philadelphia was known as a losing town, that was the one thing. One guy in particular on the Eagles roster by the name of Tommy McDonald, I was a little guy, I was the runt in the neighborhood, not very secure, very introverted, real shy, and sort of the guy always in the corner of the wall flower. There was this one gregarious guy, his name was Tommy McDonald, a little guy who played on that team, a wide receiver that was their first round draft pick back in the late 1950s. He was like 5’8, 5’9 and he was tough as nails. I look at him and said this is what I want to be like.
Never thinking that I’d grow up to be six inches taller than this guy and he’d become my close friend. The Eagles and the spirit they had back then, there never say die, our spirit that they had. One person in particular, Tommy McDonald who just sort of enabled me to get through a lot of stuff that was going on in the house.”
CY: What was your biggest challenge when entering Philadelphia Eagles camp in 1976 before you were signed to the team and made the final cut?
VP: “Well, a couple of things. First, I had to overcome internally because I had never been there before. I had to get beyond the fact of all the excitement of being in the training camp for the team that I love. Then getting beyond that, I was treated with tremendous hostility and indifference by many of the players on the team that I really admired and I wanted to be friends with. Thirdly, the biggest challenge was that, I was nobody, no reputation, no pedigree in football whatsoever. I had to make sure I did something every day that was going to distinguish myself from everybody else on that team.”
CY: Your relationship with former Philadelphia Eagles head coach Dick Vermeil didn’t seem like the ordinary coach player relationship. Was it because there was no sure thing that you’d make the team every year and he admired your efforts?
VP: “Well, it was that. It was one of many things. He was surely my advocate within training camp Chris. Secondly, the thing about Dick Vermeil was, he was a former school teacher like me. His father was a hard working man like my Dad, and we sort of had a similar ethnic background, has a little bit of Italian like I do, and also being a coach. We had those four things in common. He didn’t look at me like I was a freak. He realized that I was sincere. He admired my enthusiasm and I just respected him so much. A lot was because of the way he was organized. Believe it or not, he structured his practices the way I structured my practices as a track coach and also as a football coach. He was extremely organized, tremendously thorough, and it was that ultimate enthusiasm that he had that really turned me on. He just fired me up just by looking in his eyes and listening to him talk. He got me beyond a lot of dark moments. It wasn’t just talking about me, it was his confidence and enthusiasm. I just loved him to death as I do now.”
CY: The Philadelphia Eagles made the Super Bowl in 1980 and even though you weren’t on the team you say the following in the book, “Years later, Vermeil would say that I was one of the main reasons the team made the Super Bowl.” What did you think of what he said and did you believe it?
VP: “Actually, I thought why the heck aren’t I still here? Why did you retire me? Why did you retire me one year before the Super Bowl? Then I realized I know I could have made a difference in that team. I just knew in my heart special teams wise that they needed somebody there to take them over the top in that respect. As I look back and reflect on it, what an honor to have him say that. How many teams get to the Super Bowl and to have a coach turn around and say geez the foundation was laid by a couple of guys like Vince Papale and Dennis Franks. That feeling I had right at the time of the Super Bowl because I felt I could’ve been there is gone and now it’s just a total respect and thanks to coach for feeling that way.”
CY: What was the most rewarding thing for you when you made the Philadelphia Eagles?
VP: “Most rewarding thing I guess was being voted captain of the team. Having made the team of course was the most exciting thing, but having being voted captain of the team by your peers, by those guys those guys that disrespected you, by those guys that treated you with hostility with indifference, that I can make such a turn around in them they would unanimously vote me captain of the team the following year. They wanted me to lead the team in calisthenics, the coin flip, and special teams. That to me was the most satisfying and most gratifying. To me that validated me as a Philadelphia Eagle, me as a professional athlete, that I wasn’t just a cup of coffee. That I was the real deal.”
CY: The Invincible movie was a hit and number one at the box office for two weeks. Was it hard to digest your life story was a box office hit and that was your story on the big screen?
VP: “Yeah. It was pretty weird. Again, I had to separate myself from it and realize it. As I was watching it happen, I was sort of looking at it like it was some sort of kaleidoscope or as a collage of events that not only happened in my life, but I saw acted out on the field maybe 20 or 30 times each take. Seeing them put it together for the first time was pretty freaky. Once again, as I looked at it and was able to separate myself from it and observe it and enjoy it and enjoy the performances of the people and try to enjoy the story, I didn’t think it was all that special. My wife would come up to me and say, ‘My god, I didn’t know how much you went through in training camp.’ And other people saying geez was that true and my God the story was such an inspiration. It was heartwarming, uplifting, and all those things. Again, I realize that this movie was something special.”
CY: What did you think about Mark Wahlberg playing you in the movie and how do you think he did?
VP: “At first I had no idea who Mark Wahlberg was. I called my buddy Rocco and said hey Rocco Mark Wahlberg is playing me. He started laughing, oh my God, Dirk Diggler from Boggie Nights. My kids are kids. I have Disney movies in the house not Boggie Nights. We started laughing. Then we met him up in New York, and he was just so sincere and so enthusiastic about playing the role. The thing that struck me the most is when he came up to me and says, ‘I am a little nervous because I have never played the role of a guy who is still living.’ Because he played in the Perfect Storm and the guy passed away in the storm. There was just a great exchange between he and my wife. It was hilarious. I just saw how real and how true he was. We’ve just become the closest of friends in that respect.
To see him perform on the field and how hard a worker he is, and how he attacked this role, he worked out while he was filming two other movies, he came in as much as he could and worked out with the other guys on the team that were training and rehearsing for all the football roles. Then what I saw him do on the field as an athlete, just total respect for Mark not only as an actor, as an athlete, but also a person. He is very sensitive, very generous, real warm, and just a nice kid.”
CY: Finally, what are you up to today?
VP: “I am working now with Sallie Mae. Sallie Mae is the largest provider of financial aid around the country. I am working with their fund. We have a scholarship that’s called The Hold Fast to Dreams Scholarship. I have been traveling around the country on behalf of Sallie Mae, and their fund, and giving scholarships out to kids at risk mostly first in the family that need help to go to school and employing in them that the most important thing is to get your high school education and from there go on and get your college education. Of course I am on the lecture circuit. Wall Street Journal pegged me as one of the top five guys out there in the country. I have been traveling all over the country since the movie came out lecturing, telling the story, talking about the dream, and what you need to do in order for it come to true.”
You can purchase a copy and find more information about the Invincible book at the link below
You can keep up with what Vince Papale is up to today at his official website www.vincepapale.com.
Photo Credit: Ed Mahan