A dream comes true on the sports field in an inspirational drama inspired by the true story of Vince Papale, a bartender and part-time teacher who became a star in the National Football League. Alan Silverman spoke with star Mark Wahlberg and the real Vince Papale for this look at Invincible.
It is the early 1970's and life hands one setback after another to Vince Papale. The South Philadelphia native loses his teaching job. His wife leaves him. It seems he is only happy when he and his friends since childhood are playing their rough-and-tumble version of American football on an improvised field in their blue-collar neighborhood.
Like so many, Vince dreamed of playing professional ball; but he never had the chance to play at college and as he got older, that dream faded. Then, in 1976, his beloved (but bedraggled) hometown team, the Philadelphia Eagles, brought in a new coach - Dick Vermeil - who announced what was supposed to be a publicity stunt.
Egged on by his friends, Vince does try out and his raw talent, energy and determination so impress the coach, he actually makes it to training camp and then onto the team at age 30, the oldest rookie in NFL history.
Now, three decades later, Vince Papale says he remembers those events "like they were yesterday." He acknowledges the film takes some liberties with the story, but believes it captures the essence of his achievement:
"Everybody has been told they were a loser. Everybody has been told they were an underdog," he says. "Everybody has been told they can't do something. Yet everybody has achieved something great in their life (and) they have the potential to get to that next level. Hopefully through "Invincible" they will see a guy that had the potential, is given that opportunity, makes the best of it, works hard, stays straight ...and you can get there."
Mark Wahlberg plays Vince at 30 and the real Papale says he 'got it:"
"When I saw Mark on the practice field the first time I was totally amazed," Papale says. "I knew he was athletic from watching him perform in some of his movies, especially "The Italian Job;" but I didn't realize he had the grace and athleticism needed to pull off being a wide receiver: his footwork, his hands and, aside from that, his intensity and attitude on the field.
Wahlberg, who has gone from a working-class Boston neighborhood to 1980's pop music glory as 'Marky Mark' to become a leading actor and Hollywood star, says he identified with a lot of the Vince Papale story:
"There weren't too many people around me telling me I could become the next President or anything - you know, 'be all you can be' - especially when I started acting; but it was one of those things where you had to put your blinders on and not listen to all the negativity and try to make it happen," he says. " If I gave it my full effort and I didn't succeed, well at least I'd be happy with that, because I know that I gave it my all. It's part of life, part of what makes you a man; so I could certainly relate to that. I didn't use it as fuel when people told me I couldn't do it. I just knew that, okay, if I wanted something I had to go out and make it for myself ... and the only way I could succeed was through hard work. But I don't think I could have accomplished what Vince did."
Wahlberg says Papale also inspired his teammates to try as hard as he did.
"He went out there for the Eagles. He didn't go out there for himself. He went out there to get on the field and said 'I'll give it my all' and he didn't expect to be invited to (training) camp, never mind make the team; but every time he was out there, he fought as hard as he wanted the regular Eagles to fight when he was (a fan) in the stands. That started to rub off on the other players.
Today Vince Papale travels the country as an inspirational speaker, telling audiences of his football achievements and also his victory over colon cancer. He says the film is about sports, but the message is 'go for your dreams.'
"There are a lot of Vince Papales out there ... not just in football, but in life," he notes. " All they are looking for is an opportunity ... a chance to prove themselves ... that chance to show what their potential is. The thing is, are they going to get the shot? I was the luckiest guy in the world in 1976 because, thanks to Dick Vermeil, I got the shot."
Greg Kinnear plays coach Dick Vermeil. Elizabeth Banks co-stars as a co-worker who encourages Vince to keep trying. She is a composite character, but inspired by Janet Papale, wife of the former football great. "Invincible" was filmed on location in the South Philadelphia neighborhood where the true story took place 30 years ago.