Could a career in bartending be an essential first step to NFL stardom? While quite unconventional, it was definitely the path this guy took.

Vincent Francis Papale was the subject of the 2006 movie Invincible. His tale of being the bartender who broke into the NFL is widely known, but there’s still a lot the public doesn’t know about his story. Did he really have no football experience? Was he just a bartender? Or did Hollywood run away with an idea?

Vince Papale’s Early Life

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It is, of course, nearly impossible that a young American man had never played football at all. In fact, Papale had played Varsity ball and had been pretty good at it. He won the “All-Delaware Count Honorable Mention” for his time with the team.

However, he began to lose interest in football as a senior and moved into track and field. He was a very good pole vaulter and he left school ranked as 1 of the 10 all-time best in Pennsylvania High School Vaulters.

What is true is that Vince didn’t play football at college. He couldn’t because St. Joseph’s College (Philadelphia) didn’t have a football team. They took Papale on a full scholarship to indulge his track and field prowess.

His studies certainly didn’t lend themselves to playing ball. He finally left St. Joseph’s in 1968 bearing an MS in Marketing and Management Science.

The Amazing Transformation

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Papale seemed destined to fade into the background. Despite a college degree by 1974, he was working behind the bar at Monkster’s Club in Prospect Park to supplement his meager income as a substitute teacher.

However, he still dreamed of glory and was able to try out for the Philadelphia Bell of the World Football League. Not only was he taken on, but his performance as a wide receiver was nothing short of astonishing. He caught 9 passes for 121 yards – that’s a 13.4 yards-after-catch average.

This brought him to the attention of Dick Vermeil. Dick had just been appointed as the head coach for the Philadelphia Eagles. He arranged a private meeting with Papale to see what was what.

It’s clear that things must have gone well because it was after that meeting that the GM, Jim Murray, invited Papale to join a private workout which was to be led by Vermeil.

Making The Grade


It was not immediate, but Papale did eventually earn his way on to the team. At the age of 30, he became the oldest rookie that the NFL has ever seen.

He continued in the role of wide receiver and played in 41 out of 44 games during the years 1976 to 1978. He would be the Eagles’ “Man of the Year” in 1978, and his colleagues voted him to be the Special Teams Captain.

It wasn’t to last, though. 1979 would end Papale’s career. A shoulder injury left him unable to play ball again. He did have a modest run as a football commentator after leaving the NFL.

Finally, he got to put that Marketing degree to some use and today he is the Regional Director of Marketing and Senior Account Executive for Sallie Mae.

It’s not quite the story that Disney sells in the movie, but it’s no less exceptional for it. Vince Papale achieved something every man dreams of – to enter the NFL when everyone else said it was impossible.