Dr. Relly Nadler: This week we have Vince Papale from the Invincible. We are going to talk with him about his book. The aging NFL rookie who inspired the movie Invincible, played by Mark Wahlberg, Vince Papale was the 30-year old high school teacher, to remind you if you haven’t seen the movie, when he joined the National Football League Philadelphia Eagles in 1976. His story is remarkable. He had no NFL experience, had not played pro football, and in 1976 the Eagles rookie coach, Vick Vermeil held open tryouts. Papale tried out and was invited to the training camp and against all odds made the team.
We are going to hear his story about how he spent three seasons with the Eagles as a special team’s player, wide receiver. He later found success as a Follow Your Dreams motivational speaker, that he is doing today, based on his NFL experience. His story was retold in the 2006 movie Invincible. It has Elizabeth Banks as his wife and Janet Cantwell and Greg Kinnear as Vince Vermeil. The book, The Invincible: A Playbook for Reaching Your Full Potential, came out in 2011, so that will be the focus that we will have for today. Cathy will say a little bit more about Vince.
Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Thanks Relly, I’m so excited to have Vince Papale. His wife Janet is, what I would call, his spiritual shadow and she will be here in spirit, but we’ll talk a little bit about Janet and her exciting career and how the two of them met, which takes place somewhere in the movie and I’m sure Vince will correct some of the assumptions made in the Disney movie, Invincible.
We are going to talk about leadership and the concepts that you and I both love around emotional and social intelligence relative to how somebody who is a relatively unknown can use their emotional intelligence combined with their physical fitness and become literally and NFL pro football player and a leading team player and star in their athletic field.
We all know that interpersonal relationships are the heart of our ability to perform whether it’s personally or professionally. Both Vince and I and our audience soon, will be introduced to a gentleman by the name of Monsignor Michael Mannion and Father Mike, as he likes to be called, is one of our chaplains for the FBI. He is a wonderful man and he has an extensive network of wonderful people. I was fortunate to meet Vince Papale and his lovely wife Janet, along the way.
In historic perspective here, we have wonderful, wonderful speakers, thought leaders, celebrities, sports professionals that come on the show. Vince, obviously fit the bill. Vince is a Philadelphia / New Jersey / Delaware East Coast icon, to say the least. He’s a national icon now since the movie Invincible came out. It’s interesting to note that Vince went to St. Joseph. He did not play football because St. Joe’s has a very well-known basketball team but do not have a football team. He was a United States track and field winner, he was an amazing pole vaulter, he was actually at Madison Square Garden, vaulted 14’6” and he was very well known in the mid-Atlantic Conference Championships.
He went through a lot of Universities. LaSalle, Temple, Lehi, Lafayette, University of Delaware, Bucknell, Gettysburg, etc. So he has always been an athlete, but if you can imagine and if you watched the movie again Invincible, and I would ask you all to take a look at it after the show today, to get a sense of what Vince is going to talk about in terms of individual leadership and team spirit.
Vince really surprised the world, I believe at the age of 30, his performance just being watched by a couple of people in the pros including Dick Vermeil, who is a historic coach in the NFL, here in Philadelphia, won him an opportunity to perform in front of the general manager at the time, Jim Murray.
So, it’s interesting. You said that Elizabeth Banks played his wife Janet. She did a great job and Kinnear played Vermeil which is really fascinating.
So Vince is just a wonderful human being. He is a gentle giant at 6’2” tall, and I hope you don’t mind me saying that Vince. He is one of the sweetest people on the face of the earth. Three seasons with the Eagles that let him into other careers and other opportunities. He was voted Special Team Captain by his teammates and Man of the Year by the Eagles in 1978 for his many charitable activities which he continues.
He had a shoulder injury which actually ended his career in 1979. After retiring from the NFL he worked as a TV and Radio broadcaster for 8 years and then became a commercial mortgage banker. Lovingly, Vince has also been nicknamed Rocky, after the Sylvester Stallone character. While he was playing with the Eagles, that was kind of his code name. Of course Mark Wahlberg portrayed him in the movie.
So many things I can tell you about Vince, but I’ll let him talk for himself. He is currently the regional director of marketing and senior account executive for higher education at Sallie Mae and he resides with his lovely and beautiful wife Janet and their kids, Gabrielle and Vinny in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. He is a die-hard Phillies / Eagles fan and Vince all I can say is love ya, and welcome to the show.
Vince Papale: Well, I love you back Cathy, and thank you very much. Relly, it’s really cool to be on the show. I have to say one thing though, I got retired by Sallie Mae a couple of years ago, so I’m literally a free agent now. Working for Janet, I guess I’m functionally unemployed.
Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Well actually, we call that a property manager.
Vince Papale: Yah, whatever it is, it’s all good. You’re right, with Janet and the Rocky thing, it’s been quite the experience, especially since Invincible. As you know, we are celebrating the 10th anniversary of the movie this year so a lot of stuff is going on, it’s pretty cool.
Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Vince, we were talking a little bit about your background and I think Relly has a start off question for you, I’m going to turn it over to him.
Dr. Relly Nadler: Vince, one of the things that gives us a lot of inside story, who have been some of the people who have been most influential for you in your life and career?
Vince Papale: Well, Relly, unquestionably my parents. Without a doubt. My mom and dad were and absolute and total inspiration to me. The movie didn’t play too much with my mom because it was a story unto a story, so with my dad, you saw a lot about him. My mom, you talk about somebody who did something out of the box and they should have made a movie about; she was a professional baseball player, believe it or not, back in the 30’s. She traveled up and down the East coast on a team called the St. Rafael Bobbies. They played hardball. These women had uniforms like the Yankee pinstripes and Relly it was really cool. Her father had come over from Whales and first generation, and they settled in suburban Philadelphia. Because of World War II and the great depression, she never graduated from high school. Actually, during the war, she was working at a plant supporting the war effort.
My dad, on the other hand, his father coming in and going the Ellis Island from Naples in the teens of 1900 around 1914, he settled in suburban Philadelphia as well in Dover County, and he was pig farmer; a hog farmer. He had 13-15 acres and they sustained during the Depression and World War II with the farm. My dad also one of nine and my dad also not getting beyond the 8th grade.
They got married right before the war. My dad didn’t go to World War II because he was cleaning out the outhouse and he got lye in his eye. His father wouldn’t let him wash it out, so he was legally blind. These are the things that were going on back then. They raised me and I grew up in a housing project and without a doubt, they were the most influential people in my life because what I was taught from them was the work ethic, that nothing came easy. You are going to have the dream but you know it’s the hustle that you have to pay the price. They were always hustling to just put food on the table and putting a roof over our heads back in the day. My dad was working for Westinghouse, and was on strike all of the time.
Unquestionably, aside from the genes, both my parents were great athletes. I got that. I think the work ethic that they said separated me from a lot of other people.
Then as I got older, Cathy I know you know a little bit of this story and Relly this will be new to you. As I got older and I was going through my formative years and going through puberty my mother was suffering from ringing of the ear. The doctors back then, this was the 50’s, they didn’t know how to treat it and they started giving her anti-depressants and one thing led to another and my mom had a nervous breakdown and they put her on electric shock, and then she had another nervous breakdown and she went on insulin shock. So as I’m going through high school, and my whole identity is as an athlete, and I’m a shy, real insecure, believe it or not, little kid. I was small for my age at that point even for a youngster. I’m dealing with mental illness in my household and my mother was drinking a lot and there was a lot of stuff going on.
So you move then into the next phase as the people in your life who are the most influential, and I don’t know who yours are Relly or Cathy, but mine was my teachers and my coaches. I looked up to them and they became my mentors. In one case this one guy, George Korner, who was my Jr. High School coach and eventually the guy that when I was a senior in high school that got me in the right direction, he became basically a surrogate father to me.
It was that stage, so you are going through that and now I’m graduating from high school and George gets me in the right place and then who’s the next person that is going to come into your life.
Then I had this big goofy dream that everybody kept saying that it can’t be attained, but all I’m looking for is an opportunity and that’s when Coach Vermeil pops in. Then the that’s the movie Invincible, we can talk about that later.
But here I am now, you know, an entirely different person than what I was. Without a doubt as I look back at anything and everything I’ve done in my live, and you could put Coach Korner, you could put Coach Vermeil, you could put my parents; the person, without a doubt, that’s been the most influential in my life is my wife Janet.
We are going to be together for 23 years. She’s giving me not only the confidence. I totally lost my confidence coming out of playing ball. I was getting beaten up emotionally, intellectually, and I had lost all my money and somebody comes back into my life and helps me regain all my confidence and get myself going. It was Janet and now, my gosh, I have two of the most beautiful children in the world. I’m blessed, and life moves forward and here we are.
Now it’s been memorialized with this movie, Invincible. So, that’s the long and short of it, but you know I always say that you have got to take rests in life but the only way you can ever get anywhere is that you have to have a good team behind you. I’m really lucky to have been supported by some great people all around me in each stage of my life.
Dr. Cathy Greenberg: So Vince, this is the 10th anniversary of the movie. Disney came to you and Janet. How did they find you and why did you agree to do the movie?
Vince Papale: It’s pretty cool, Cathy. Before Disney came to me, actually, NFL Films came to me and I live right now in suburban Philadelphia, New Jersey, and NFL Films is right around the corner. This young guy by the name of Pete DeStefano, who was basically like Cub guy working with the films, comes up and he says, he Vinny, you know it’s the 25th anniversary of your Rocky, Cathy alluded that my nickname was Rocky, and everybody used to say I was the real-life Rocky. So he said you know the movie Rocky is coming up and it’s 25th anniversary, and Monday Night Football and ESPN want to have a feature, and it’s going to be the comparison between the real life Rocky and the fictional Rocky.
I was like yah, okay, sure, why not. So we signed off to do that. Back in 2002, because Rocky came out in ’77, they showed this feature on Monday Night Football. Next thing you know, Hollywood comes calling. Oh my gosh, we had five, six, seven producers that were calling and saying that this is the kind of stuff that you make movies about and the story has been out forever.
One guy came up and he had the plan, and his name is Ken Mok. He just executive produced The Joy that just came out right around the Holidays. So Ken Mok, he put a team together and part of the team together involved the guy that did Miracle and Rookie, and a script was written on spec., and the guys that did Miracle and Rookie went into Disney and they said, check out this movie, this new script, it’s Invincible. Disney fell in love with it and Buena Vista Pictures and the whole deal fell in love with it and one thing led to another and before you know it, poof.
The movie was Greenlit in 2004, and they filmed it in ’05, and it came out ten years ago right around Labor Day. That’s how basically it happened. My gosh, it’s sort of funny Cathy, that when we were telling people that we were being contacted by Disney, I sort of got the same stuff I got when I was trying out for the Eagles. Ah, you know it’ll never get there, you can’t…it’ll never happen. It’s old story that nobody cares about, and from what I hear it’s one of the top grossing sports movies ever. I look at it as more than a sports movie, it’s a love story and it’s a great love story. I’m really proud to say I’m part of the Disney team. That’s how the whole thing started and here we are, it’s a dream.
Dr. Relly Nadler: That’s an amazing story. That’s unbelievable. We want to ask you some questions inside the story about the story. How did you deal with all of the folks I imagine for the Eagles, and the also the movie? We all have kind of those critics when you tell people and they say you can’t do it. How do you deal with that? I mean you have numerous incidents from the Eagles, and the movie, and saying is this really going to work. So how do you somehow, not let that stop you and be invincible?
Vince Papale: Well you know, when I give my speeches I have the saying, it’s called the “dream killers” when all of these things pop up. Back before, if somebody had told me that I couldn’t do this or I couldn’t do that I would have listened to them and said, yah, you are probably right. But back in ’76 when I decided I was going to take that shot, everybody was saying; oh you can do it Vince, you are 30 years old, never been done before, never played college football, and what are you, crazy?
I told my coach, my high school coach, George Korner, who was my mentor. I said George, I’m going to give this thing a shot and he says, oh my gosh, you’ve got to give it a run. Here’s this quote that I live by. He gives me this quote and it’s simply, “happy are those who dream dreams and are willing to pay the price to make their dreams come true.” He said Vin, you’ve got to pay the price. The dreams are easy, he said, but there’s a price to be paid for hustle. He said if you are not willing to pay the price, forget about it. I was willing to pay the price and boom, I get the tryout and I make the team, and as they say, the rest is history.
Dr. Relly Nadler: Vince if people want to get a hold of you, what’s the best way?
Vince Papale: It’s simple … www.vincepapale.com
There’s so much more to this story. You can listen to the complete interview above.