Sunday, October 14, 2018

Spotlight On: Vince Papale

Topps, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1975
One of the fun things about being a sports fan is rooting for the underdog and one of the most famous underdogs was Philadelphia Eagle wide receiver Vince Papale. He was a 30-year-old rookie in 1976 with no college football experience. He made the team under coach Dick Vermeil and earned the nickname "Rocky" paralleling the Sylvester Stallone film character Rocky Balboa, which became a hit the same year.

Though much has been made by the fact he didn't play football in college (St. Joseph's University in the Philadelphia area) he was a superb athlete who attended St. Joseph's on a track scholarship where he had considerable success in the long jump, triple jump, and in pole vaulting.  In high school he lettered in football, basketball, and track and field.  After college Vince taught middle school for 6 years at his High School alma mater while working on his masters degree.  He also found time to be the track head coach, was an assistant high school football coach, AND was trying to qualify for the Olympics in the decathlon. Though he didn't qualify, he was goaded by his buddies into trying semi-pro football. He made the squad of the Aston Knights of the Seaboard League in 1973 and lead the league in touchdown receptions.

The newly formed World Football League put several semi-pro leagues out of business but that didn't stop Papale. Hugh Wyatt, the Player Personnel Director of the Philadelphia Bell, brought Vince in for a free-agent tryout with 1,000 other hopefuls. Only Vince and Dennis Lozzi of Notre Dame (who Vince referred to as "the original Rudy" in a radio interview) were signed from that tryout.

Though the WFL only lasted a year and half, Vince was a serviceable receiver mainly in a backup roll.  After the WFL folded Vince spent time as a substitute teacher and bar tender, while he prepared to go back and resume his teaching position at his alma mater Interboro High School in suburban Philadelphia. At this juncture he was invited to a free agent try out with the Eagles. The talk of his all-out hustle was not just talk and he made cut after cut, eventually co-leading the Eagles in pre-season receptions in 1976.

He played mainly on special teams where he became Special Teams Captain, and became a role model for other players as well as fans.  The inspiring coach Dick Vermeil made the Eagles winners after years of futility and Vince became a life-long friend of Vermeil. A separated shoulder at the end of pre-season in 1979 saw him spend the first half of that season on the injured reserve after which he retired. 
   
The 2006 film Invincible starring Mark Wahlberg depicts the uplifting story of Vince Papale and he continues to motivate and inspire with speaking engagements and personal appearances.RetroCards is proud to offer 5 Eagles cards featuring Vince Papale. The sixth card is a WFL card of him which is yet to be produced - but will be! Get your Invincible cards here!

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Spotlight On: Rocky Bleier

Topps football, baseball cards


Few players have overcome the obstacles that Rocky Bleier did to make it in the NFL. Born in Appleton, Wisconsin, and a member of the 1966 University of Notre Dame Championship team, Rocky was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1968. After his rookie season, he was drafted by the U.S. Army.


He volunteered for duty in South Vietnam and arrived in early 1969. Wounded by a bullet to the thigh and grenade shrapnel in his right leg (causing him to lose a part of his foot), he was told he would never play football again. While rehabbing in Tokyo from shrapnel and bullet wounds, Steelers founder Art Rooney sent him a letter . “Rock- the team’s not doing well. We need you. Art Rooney.” 


After several surgeries, he went back to the Steelers in 1970 to workout. He couldn’t walk without being in pain, and weighed only 180 pounds. He was put on injured reserve for the 1970 season, but returned in 1971 and played on special teams. He spent several seasons trying to get increased playing time, and was waived on two occasions. But Bleier never gave up. By the summer of 1974 he was in shape and earned a starting position. Though Franco Harris was the featured back, Bleier still contributed to Pittsburgh’s powerful running game and gained 1,036 yards in 1976. His inspirational story, work ethic, and role playing were keys to the four Pittsburgh Steeler Super Bowl victories during his time there.


RetroCards has a couple of new cards featuring Rocky: two from 1979 (a Super Bowl XIII Highlight and a Unsung Heroes card, plus some other customs that never existed. Look for those in forthcoming Pittsburgh Steeler Retrocard team sets!