Vincent Francis Papale (born February 9, 1946 in Chester, Pennsylvania) is a former professional American football player. He played three seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles of the National Football League following two seasons with the Philadelphia Bell of the World Football League. Papale was the inspiration for the 2006 movie Invincible.
High school years
Papale attended Interboro High School in Prospect Park and lettered in football, basketball, and track and field. In his only year of varsity football, Papale won All-Delaware County Honorable Mention honors. In track, he was a standout pole vaulter, triple jumper, and long jumper. He began competing in track during his senior year at Interboro. He won the District I (Philadelphia suburban area) large-schools championship in pole vault, then finished fourth in the state meet. Papale's best pole vault that year was 12 ft 9 in, which edged him into the top 10 all-time PA high school vaulters.
Papale attended Philadelphia's Saint Joseph's University on a track scholarship (the university did not have a football team). As a junior, he won a United States Track & Field Federation (USTFF) college development pole vault at Madison Square Garden (February 10) with a vault of 14 ft 6 in. He never placed at IC4A or Penn Relays. Papale did score in the Middle Atlantic Conference championships (University Division, which included La Salle University, Temple University, Lehigh University, Lafayette College, University of Delaware, Bucknell, Gettysburg College, American University, West Chester University).
His college track statistics:
- Sophomore Year (1966)
- Second in Pole Vault (winner 14'-3")
- Second in the triple jump (winner 45'-3")
- Junior Year (1967)
- Senior Year (1968)
- Third in the pole vault (winner Peter Chiniese 15'-1¾")
- First in the long jump (22'-1¼")
- First in the triple jump (46'-6")
He graduated in 1968 with a MS degree in Marketing/Management Science.
Vince Papale's post-collegiate football career began with the Aston Green Knights of the semi-pro Seaboard Football League. At that time, Papale was a teacher at Interboro High School and was coaching the junior varsity football team when he successfully tried out for the Philadelphia Bell of the World Football League as a wide receiver. In his first season with the Bell, Papale caught nine passes for 121 yards, averaging 13.4 yards per catch. In 1975 Papale caught only one pass, but it was for a forty-nine yard touchdown. In both seasons with the team, Papale was a special teams standout.
His performance with that team earned him a meeting in 1976 with head coach Dick Vermeil of the Philadelphia Eagles after general manager Jim Murray got him an invitation to a private workout held by Coach Vermeil.
Papale, at 6-feet 2-inches (1.88 m) and 195 pounds (88.5 kg), eventually made the team, thereby becoming, at age 30, the oldest rookie in the history of the NFL to play without the benefit of college football experience (other than kickers). He went on to play wide receiver and special teams for the Eagles from 1976 through 1978. During that time, he played in 41 of 44 regular season games (regular seasons being 14 games in 1976–1977 and 16 games in 1978) recording two fumble recoveries and one 15-yard reception. He was voted Special Teams Captain by his teammates and "Man of the Year" by the Eagles in 1978 for his many charitable activities. A shoulder injury ended his career in 1979. After retiring from the NFL, he worked as a TV and radio broadcaster for eight years, then became a commercial mortgage banker.
Papale, who earned the nickname "Rocky" (after the Sylvester Stallone character) while playing with the Eagles, is the subject of the Disney movie Invincible, with Mark Wahlberg portraying him. He was also reportedly the inspiration for the 1998 Tony Danza movie, The Garbage Picking Field Goal Kicking Philadelphia Phenomenon. In addition, Papale's legend was cited as a factor in the Eagles' signing of construction-foreman/tight-end Jeff Thomason for 2005's Super Bowl XXXIX.
Diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2001, Papale has recovered from the disease, to become a spokesman encouraging people to get regular check-ups. He has appeared in commercials for Thomas Jefferson University Hospital encouraging others to be tested.
Papale is also known for wrecking the first Red Bull Racing street car developed by Elton Sawyer, Jay Frye, and John Probst.
Currently, Papale is the regional director of marketing and senior account executive for higher-education marketing at Sallie Mae. He resides in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, with his wife Janet and two children, Gabriella and Vinny, and remains a diehard Philadelphia Eagles football fan. He is also currently listed as the Secretary/Treasurer of the Philadelphia Chapter of the NFL Alumni Association.