Vincent “Vince” Papale is a former professional American football player who played as the wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles of the National Football League (NFL) for three seasons and for the Philadelphia Bell of the World Football League (WFL) for two seasons. Papale grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood in south Philadelphia. As a youth, he was a talented athlete, playing both football and basketball as well as participating in various track and field events. He even attended college on a track scholarship. He was working as a teacher at a local school when he successfully tried out for the Bell. In 1976, his performance with the WFL team caught the attention of former head coach Dick Vermeil. Papale was part of Eagles’ main roster from 1976 to 1978 before retiring due to an injury. He then became a radio and TV broadcaster and later started working as a commercial mortgage banker. After recovering from colorectal cancer in the early 2000s, Papale accepted the responsibility of being a spokesperson against the disease. At present, he serves as the regional director of marketing and senior account executive for higher-education marketing at Sallie Mae. The 2006 sports-drama film ‘Invincible’ was inspired by his story.
Childhood & Early Life
Vince Papale was born on February 9, 1946, in Chester, Pennsylvania to Francis J. Papale and Almira Sage Papale. He has a sister named Janice.
He studied at the Interboro High School in Prospect Park, where he excelled in various sports, including football, basketball, and track and field. For his one-year tenure in varsity football, he was awarded the All-Delaware County Honorable Mention honours.
As a track and field athlete, he participated in pole vault, triple jump, and long jump competitions. Representing his school, he became the winner of the District I (Philadelphia suburban area) large-schools championship in the pole vault. Later, he came fourth in the state meet. His best performance in the pole vault was 12 ft 9 in, which secured his position as one of the “Top 10” all-time PA high school vaulters.
Papale got the chance to study at the Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia after he acquired a track and field scholarship. In his junior year, he performed a vault of 14 ft 6 in at a United States Track & Field Federation (USTFF) college development pole vault competition, claiming the first prize.
While he never got a podium finish at IC4A or Penn Relays, he registered a score in the Middle Atlantic Conference championships (University Division). In 1968, he graduated with an MS degree in marketing/management science.
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Career & Later Life
After finishing college, Vince Papale started playing for the semi-professional Seaboard Football League team Aston Green Knights. He also worked as a middle school business teacher from 1968 to 1974 at Interboro High School and served as the coach for a junior varsity football team.
In the spring of 1974, Papale left teaching to try out for the Philadelphia Bell. He was accepted into their main roster and would go on to play the next two seasons with the team. That season, he registered a record of catching nine passes for 121 yards, averaging 13.4 yards per catch. In 1975, he managed to catch only one pass, but a forty-nine-yard touchdown was scored with it. He was named a “special teams” standout in his both seasons with the Bell.
Following the end of his tenure with Bell, Papale worked in a bar. He also played the “rough touch” football in the bar leagues. During this period, Philadelphia Eagles’ general manager Jim Murray invited him to a private workout conducted by Dick Vermeil.
Papale debuted for the Eagles at the age of 30, effectively becoming the oldest rookie in the history of NFL without previous experience at the university level. As a wide receiver and special teams, he played 14 matches each in 1976 and 1977, and 13 in 1978. In his career with the team, he registered two fumble recoveries and one 15-yard reception.
In 1978, his career came to a sudden end due to a shoulder injury. He then worked as a radio and television broadcaster for eight years before opting for a career as a commercial mortgage banker. Besides currently being the regional director of marketing and senior account executive for higher-education marketing at Sallie Mae, he is the Secretary/Treasurer of the Philadelphia Chapter of the NFL Alumni Association.
Awards & Achievements
Vince Papale’s teammates at Philadelphia Eagles picked him as the Special Teams Captain and as the “Man of the Year” in 1978. The latter was due to his significant charity works.
Both Vince and his wife Janet have been inducted into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame.
Vince Papale has been married three times. He wed his first wife, Sharon, some time before the 1970s. They divorced in 1971. His second wife was Sandy Bianchini, whom he married in June 1977. This marriage too ended in a divorce, which was finalized in 1983.
Papale met his current wife, Janet, years after his retirement. An athlete herself, she was a member of the US world gymnastics team. They married in 1993 and have two children together, a son, Vincent Jr., and a daughter, Gabriella. The family resides in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
In 2001, Papale was told that he had colorectal cancer. He fought off the disease, making full recovery. Subsequently, he served as a spokesperson encouraging people to get checked for the disease and made appearances in commercials for Thomas Jefferson University Hospital to encourage people to get regular check-ups.
In Popular Culture
In Ericson Core’s directorial venture ‘Invincible’ (2006), actors Mark Wahlberg and Elizabeth portrayed Vince and Janet respectively. The film was well-received by critics and was a moderate success at the box office.
Following the release of the film, Papale published his own version of the story in a memoir titled ‘Invincible: My Journey from Fan to NFL Team Captain’. In 2011, he and Janet co-authored the book ‘Be Invincible! A Playbook For Reaching Your Full Potential’.
It was Papale’s first wife, Sharon, who wrote the infamous note that read, "You'll never go anywhere, never make a name for yourself and never make any money.” Papale kept the note, using it to motivate himself.
He was given the nickname ‘Rocky’ after the legendary Sylvester Stallone film.