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Movie Review: Invincible

By R44 — Courtesy of Draft Daddy 

We finally got around to seeing the movie Invincible, which is based on the real life story of former Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Vince Papale, who made the teams’ 45 man roster as a 30 year old rookie special teams ace in 1976, despite the fact he only played one season of high school football and had no college football experience. During the second half of the 1970’s, Papale, a Philadelphia teacher and bartender, penned an amazing real life “Rocky Story” in the City of Brotherly Love and became an instant folk-hero among Eagles fans. The movie starts out with Papale (played by Mark Wahlberg) sitting in the stands at the old Veterans Stadium, in the snow, watching his beloved Eagles get pounded by the Cincinnati Bengals 31-0 in December of 1975. The movie quickly fast forwards to the summer of 1976, where the theme of the movie starts becoming clearer: The downtrodden Eagles sign a new, young coach named Dick Vermeil (played by Greg Kinnear), who is hoping to change the franchise’s “culture of losing” and instill some much needed spirit into the team. Papale, meanwhile, is a struggling bartender, who’s life has all but crumbled around him, but has a dream of playing for the Eagles. Eventually, both men’s paths would cross, as Papale attends a “open tryout” and runs a 4.5 40 and catches every ball thrown his way. The tryout goes so well for Papale, according to the movie, that Vermeil goes all the way to the stadium parking lot to track him down in an attempt to get to know him better. 

Invincible takes the viewer through Papale’s and Vermeil’s trials and tribulations in Eagles camp, as well the personal struggles both men faced off the field — Papale’s quest to find stability in his life and Vermeil’s desire to make good in Philly. Showing great determination and speed, Papale makes the Eagles opening day roster in 1976 and eventually validates coach Vermeil’s confidence in him by scooping up a fumble against the New York Giants and returning it for a touchdown. History tells us that touchdown sealed Vermeil’s first ever NFL coaching victory 20-7.  Overall, it was a good movie. And, in retrospect, the 99 minute movie flew by, so it was enjoyable. We also loved the fact that Disney didn’t mess with football history. In the movie, Papale was shown for what he actually was in the NFL in the fall of 1976 — a terrific special teams player for a struggling team. There was no attempt, for example, to embellish his on field exploits — i.e. having him catch the winning touchdown in a playoff game that never happened. However, while Papale’s on field play was accurately portrayed, it must be pointed out that some off-field facts were left out, or portrayed inaccurately, in order to embellish the story for the Hollywood crowd. For example, a significant premise of the movie revolves around the fact that Papale is just an “average Joe”, who came down from the stands to make the NFL team, despite having “only” one year of football experience in high school. While it’s true Papale only played one season of high school ball and had no college football experience, it’s important to note Papale was an elite track athlete in college, who played semi-pro football for a number of years and even played 2 seasons for the Philadelphia Bell of the old World football League. Although the WFL wasn’t the NFL, the talent was similar to that of the USFL or, perhaps, in more recent terms, similar to the XFL — except with a smattering of big name stars and talented young prospects signed away from the NFL. 

of big name stars and talented young prospects signed away from the NFL. Matter of fact, it’s very likely the Eagles and Dick Vermeil actually personally invited Papale to the tryout, based on his WFL career and track exploits (Papale was an Olympic hopeful in the decathlon). In the movie, the story goes Papale, just a mere bartender with no true athletic credintials, was talked into trying out with hundreds of goofballs, after it was announced the Eagles would be holding open tryouts on the TV News at the bar he was working at.  Also, a major sub plot in the movie revolved around Papale’s first wife abruptly leaving him after he lost his teaching job in 1976 (they actually split in 1971). In the movie, less than a month after his first wife left him, we are introduced to a sexy blonde bartender/rabid New York Giants fan Janet Cantwell (played by Elizabeth Banks), who becomes Papale’s love interest throughout the movie. Although the movie’s epilogue states Papale would eventually marry Cantwell, the reality is she was a real estate agent and was actually Papale’s 3rd wife, who he met almost a decade after retiring from the NFL. In sum, despite some historical inaccuracies, Invincible is a movie we would recommend to anyone who is a sucker for a good rags-to-riches story and sports fans looking for a well made football movie. Also, it’s an enjoyable look back at the NFL, circa 1976, which is nice for those of us that didn’t follow the league at that point. We’d particularly recommend this Disney made movie for kids who like sports, as we are absolutely sure most kids will love the game action scenes — which are extremely well shot.

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