Staff Writer
Plenty of 9-year-old boys go to the movies with their father. Not many 9-year-olds get to watch a movie ABOUT their dad.
The feature film “Invincible” premiered in 2006, back when Vinny Papale was in grade school. It was the life story of Vince Papale — the former South Philadelphia bartender who earned a spot on the Philadelphia Eagles from 1976-78 after impressing then-coach Dick Vermeil at an open tryout. That storyline differs slightly from the real-life events of Vince Papale, as he was invited to a private tryout with the Eagles after a good couple of seasons in semi-professional football with the Philadelphia Bell of the World Football League, at the time a rival league to the NFL. Also, the movie portrays Vince meeting current wife Janet during the tryout period, but in fact he didn’t meet her until after his NFL career had ended. They were married in 1993 and had two children, Gabriella and Vinny. Gabriella now works for the Philadelphia 76ers and Vinny, 22, graduated from the University of Delaware this past December and is ready to take his shot at the NFL.
“I was 9 years old when it came out and it was pretty cool. As far as truth, my mom wasn’t a Giants fan, they hadn’t met yet. Other than that everything else was pretty much true. I guess they just needed a love interest,” Vinny said during a recent pre-draft workout at Athletes Arbor in Northfield, owned by former Kansas City Chiefs player Dave Klemic.
His opportunity

Vinny Papale, son of former Philadelphia Eagles player Vince Papale, graduated from the University of Delaware in December and hopes to hear his named called in the upcoming NFL draft. (Glory Days Magazine photo/Dave O’Sullivan)

While Vince Papale was a track star during his college days at St. Joseph’s, Vinny was all about football at Bishop Eustace before graduating in 2015, although he did also compete in lacrosse and track during his days as a Crusader. A broken collar bone his senior year derailed some of the bigger college aspirations he had, but Vinny signed on with the University of Delaware and had an outstanding career with the Blue Hens. For the past several months he has been training in the hopes of being drafted this year by an NFL team, or hooking on as an undrafted free agent.
“Some of the bigger schools were after me for defense. I was a corner in high school and was getting recruited more as a safety, but Delaware was really the only school that recruited me as a receiver, and that’s what I wanted to play in college. They were the only school that ended up offering me because I broke my collar bone senior year (of high school) and my season was cut short. I was getting a lot of interest from teams but once I broke my collar bone it seemed like all of that stopped. Delaware offered and I took it,” Vinny said. “One of the reasons I chose Delaware is because if you look at their track record, almost every year they have somebody going to the NFL, and in the FCS they are one of the best programs in the country. I knew that path from Delaware would give me a good chance of making the NFL.”
He’s also been invited to a personal workout hosted by the Eagles, his father’s former team.
“I was down in Florida training for about two-and-a-half months to prepare for my pro day, which was a few weeks ago. I had that and got invited to the Eagles’ local pro day, which is April 17, then the draft is April 25-27. Either I’ll find out in that time frame, or if I go as an undrafted free agent, I should find out within 48 to 72 hours (after the draft) if I can sign with someone as an undrafted free agent,” said Vinny, a Cherry Hill native. “I don’t know how many people were invited (to the Eagles workout) but just to have them call my name, from being around the area and being a big fan, it’s obviously something that’s very cool and a little surreal, to be able to go in there where they practice and see everything.”
The transition
Bishop Eustace has a very small football program, typically with less than 40 players, which meant Papale had to play offense, defense and special teams. He developed quite an impressive skill set, but even he said playing college football is a whole different level.
“I think the biggest transition from high school to college is the physicality of the game. In high school you can get by with some things, but once you go to college there’s no room for error. You can get hit really hard and, like they say, the game moves a lot faster. That cutoff in the skill from high school to college, it really is a big jump. Guys are a lot more athletic and can keep up with you a lot more, and are more physical. As a receiver going to college, it was a big jump because they start doing press coverage, which is something you don’t see that much in high school. So that was sort of a shock when someone jams you when they hike the ball. It took some getting used to,” said Papale, who graduated early in December with a degree in finance. “I think the biggest thing I learned in college was about myself, just watching myself constantly. When you think about it, (in college) you’re practicing pretty much year-round. I basically lived there year-round, we had meetings year-round and you’re watching yourself more than the games because there are only 10 or 11 games in a season. So, we were constantly practicing, watching myself, critiquing myself and being able to take things from the meeting room to the field. I know Delaware is in spring ball right now and that was always a big time for me to get better.”
Believing in himself

Papale has been working out for months in preparation for the NFL draft, including a recent stop at Athletes Arbor in Northfield. (Glory Days Magazine photo/Dave O’Sullivan)

Papale is 6-foot-1 and plays at around 205 pounds — not huge as far as NFL wide receiver standards go, but not small, either. He said he feels like he has what it takes to make an NFL roster, and he’s always felt that way.
“In the CAA and FCS there is NFL talent, so, as far as my skill set goes, I’ve always believed I can make it to the next level. I’m not 6-foot-4 or 6-5, but I am a bigger bodied receiver and that’s something that has been said by scouts. I play physically and I think that’s one of the things that has helped me,” he said. “Even at that high school age I always had the mindset of not if I could play in the NFL but when. I always had that mindset. It’s crazy that it’s actually here now, but it’s exciting. I’m focused on Plan A right now, going with that old saying, ‘burn the ships.’ All my focus is on Plan A right now and I hope it works out. If it doesn’t, I’ll worry about that when the time comes.”
Papale’s advice
When it comes to today’s high school players, Papale said the best thing any athlete can do is to keep working hard, believe in yourself and keep your head on straight. You never know who is watching. And, also, consider every school that is willing to take the time to recruit you.
“Everyone really is watching everything you do. Kids have to try not to get caught up in the whole big school recruiting thing. I went to a school like Delaware, which is not a huge school but has a great program, and that really worked out for me. I know kids are out there shooting for those huge schools, and it might not work out, but don’t let that get to your head. You can make it from anywhere. You see guys from all over the country making it, so just keep your head and make a name for yourself wherever you go, whether it’s a big school or small school,” Papale said. “If you do that, you never know. Anything can happen. Even to make it this far and have my name in the mix is crazy. It’s something I always dreamed about as a kid, and now it’s actually here. It’s surreal, hard to explain. Like I said with my advice for kids in high school, I just have to not let anything get to my head, keep working and something will come along.”
It’s similar advice he got from his father, who is an iconic Philadelphia sports personality but always treats people as if he never became famous or had a movie made about him.
“He told me to stay humble. With the movie that came out, I’ve had so many people come up to me and talk about my dad, and how even after the movie he’s never changed one bit. He treats everyone the same,” Vinny said. “As I go down this path and see all the stuff in the headlines — it’s pretty cool, but you just have to stay humble and level-headed. That’s something that he taught me.”
Now’s the time
Vinny said he knows he may only get one shot at the NFL, so he’s doing everything he can to prepare himself and be in position to succeed if he does get the chance.
“This is a different kind of training, with the combine type stuff and trying to train for the 40-yard dash. It’s not as much football right now, but once that’s over I’ll start getting more into football (drills) and keep working on my skills. Obviously, at the next level, the game is going to move faster than it did in college. I’m just trying to get quicker with my footwork because defensive backs (in the NFL) are pretty fast,” he said. “I definitely have the skill to play in the NFL, it’s just a matter of getting the shot.”
“It’s pretty cool seeing all the stuff that’s coming out now since I’m now taking my shot at the next level,” he continued. “It’s cool to see, and what (my dad) did was amazing because he didn’t play college football. He didn’t have that experience under his belt, so to see what he did was pretty amazing. He said there was an opportunity at a tryout, he took a shot and it worked out. He had one opportunity and he made the most of it. I guess you can see how it played out.”
So now, Vinny Papale’s potential NFL dream is playing out, and who knows, maybe someday there will be a need for a sequel to “Invincible” with young Vinny Papale playing for the Philadelphia Eagles. He’s in a position now where he’s daring to dream big, believing he has the talent and ambition to back it up.
Said Vinny, “Sometimes I think about it. That would be surreal.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan:; on Twitter @GDsullysays