I grew up in Philadelphia
and was a young boy and a huge Eagles fan during 1976, the time that this
movie portrays. I lived through and remember the story of Vince Papale,
an undrafted bartender in his 30s who was given a chance to play for the
home team by new coach Dick Vermeil. I have to admit, this is a
very loose interpretation of what really happened.
It's a extremely enjoyable
movie though, so I can't complain too much. Movie biographies are
known for taking liberties, so if this movie is more like Rocky
(which, ironically, also took place in South Philly in 1976) than it is like
the real history of Vince Papale and the moment in history when the Eagles
started to change from perennial losers into one of the most consistently
winning programs in the NFL, then that's just the way that Hollywood goes.
was made by the same producers as The Rookie and
Miracle – in other words they have made a specialty of films about
unlikely sports figures who finally get the chance live their dreams, long
after they have given up on them.
They downplay the fact
that Papale, while a nice guy and a great story, was just a journeyman.
He lasted on the team for less than three seasons and never made any kind of
real impact or the starting lineup. He also was not on the Eagles'
Super Bowl team in 1980 (he was cut before the 1979 season), a point never
explicitly confirmed or denied by the filmmakers, it seems they'd just as
soon you assume he was.
Conversely, the movie
overplays the fact that he was just a bartender with no football background
other than a weekly local pick-up game. He had actually been a star
college athlete at St. Joseph's (he was in track – St. Joe's had no
football team) and had just come off of playing two seasons for the
Philadelphia Bell of the short-lived-but-heavily-hyped NFL rival league the
World Football League in 1974 and 1975. Papale's stats with the Bell
were actually substantially better than the ones he had with the Eagles.
It isn't a coincidence that
the big life-changing football moment which forms the climax of the movie
was just in the second game of a season which the Eagles ended up with a
4-10 record. It is also interesting that it was on a fumble he
recovered and returned for a touchdown was done as a special teams player.
Even though he was a wide receiver, Papale had no receptions during the
entire season (in fact, he only had one in his three year career with the
The movie exaggerates how
much of a media circus it was; making it seem like Papale was a player who
was fascinating to the media and even more popular locally than team stars
Roman Gabriel, Harold Carmichael, Charlie Young and Bill Bergey. Not
so. (Well, perhaps in the South Philly neighborhood that this movie
nearly completely takes place in, because he was a local kid, but not in the
city in general.) Also, I have no memory of the rest of the team
hating and torturing Papale – granted it may have happened, but it seems
like a plot device, somehow.
They play former team owner
Leonard Tose as a snarling bad guy – while he could certainly be an
asshole, it is generally agreed that he was mostly a
charming-but-seriously-flawed man who did want to get a winner.
Also, the adorable
Brooklyn-born barkeep (played charmingly by The 40-Year-Old Virgin's
Elizabeth Banks) who became Papale's love interest – they never met until
long after Papale's football career was over.
However, like I said this
is not the Vince Papale story; this is the Disney-ization of his story.
As such, Invincible is a terrific film. Mark Wahlberg does his
best work since Boogie Nights playing Papale and Greg Kinnear
continues one of the most underappreciated careers in Hollywood with a
stunning turn as head coach Dick Vermeil. The movie truly is rousing
and it makes you believe that this genuinely nice guy did become a huge star just
through skill and hard work.
Just don't go to Invincible
looking to hear the real story.
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Posted: September 8, 2006.