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 a 5-card set honoring Vince Papale to go along with his only card from 1977. Coming soon!
|Vince's only card circa 1977.|