In the sumer of 1976, 30-year old Vince Papale is having a tough run of luck. He's been working as a substitute teacher for two days a week but has just found out that his job has been eliminated because of budget cuts. His wife gives up on him saying he'll never amount to anything and asks for a divorce. He works as a bartender and plays football with his friends. When the the new coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, Dick Vermeil, announces that he will hold open tryouts for the team, Vince reluctantly decides to give a try. Based on a true story.
A Philadelphia Eagles fan who has just lost his wife and his teaching job decides one day to show up for an open tryout for his favorite NFL team, only to see his wildest dreams come true.
Based on the story of Vince Papale, a 30-year-old bartender from South Philadelphia who overcame long odds to play for the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles in 1976.
- Vince Papale (Mark Wahlberg) is a down on his luck 30-year old substitute teacher and bartender. His wife leaves him right when he needs the most support and leaves a devastating note that says, he will never amount to anything, never make a name for himself, and never make any money.
Vince's buddies at the bar are all rabid Philadelphia Eagles fans, so when the new head coach, Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear), announces open tryouts for the team, they encourage Vince to give it a shot. Vince thinks they are just kidding around at first, but even when he realizes they are serious, he can't bring himself to take the idea seriously. He had never played college football.
Vince's father, Frank Papale (Kevin Conway), tells Vince that he'd heard what the guys at the bar were trying to get him to do. His father tells him that he'd better just let that one go, as a man can only take so much failure at one time. That comment, along with the note his wife left him, provided the motivation Vince needed to go tryout.
Vince is probably the most surprised of everyone, as he makes it past the first round of cuts in training camp. The coaches were impressed with his speed and effort. As the team gets deeper into training camp, and the beginning of the six game pre-season, Vince finds himself in uncharted territory. He continues to make it past each successive cut, and it actually looks like he will make the team. He has become an icon of hope for family, friends, and many of the Eagle's fans.
When Vince goes to see his father and tells him he's worried about letting everyone down, when the inevitable cut comes, his father admits that when he told Vince earlier not to get his hopes up, that didn't mean his own hopes for Vince weren't high.
When Coach Vermeil called for Vince to come see him as the last of the cuts were due, Vince was convinced he was being cut. Coach Vermeil had really been struggling with wanting to keep Vince on the team, but realizing the receiver that Vince was competing against was just a little better. Coach Vermeil even consulted with his wife, Carol (Paige Turco), about it. Apparently, it was Vince's intensity and character that won the day with Vermeil, and he welcomed him to the Philadelphia Eagles. He was #83.
Vince develops a new love interest too. She's Janet Cantrell (Elizabeth Banks), the cousin of Max Cantrell (Michael Rispoli), the bar owner. Vince was as worried about messing things up with her, as he was with the Eagles, so he held back on his feelings, at least initially. Janet didn't endear herself to the boys at the bar when she revealed that she's a New York Giants fan.
Coach Vermeil and Vince both are in the restroom throwing up, prior to the first game against the defending NFC champion Dallas Cowboys. It was nerves. There appears to be an unspoken understanding between Vermeil and Vince about their individual situations. They empathize with and support one another. However, that relationship is severely tested in the game against Dallas, when Vince had a bead on the Dallas kick returner, only to freeze and end up getting taken out by a Dallas blocker. Vermeil and the rest of the team were not happy with him about that.
One Eagles player actually hates Vince so much, that he stares at him prior to the start of games just to get his mental state to the appropriate pitch.
One of Vince's friends, and a regular bar customer, Johnny (Dov Davidoff), has been very antagonistic towards Vince during his attempts to make the Eagles. Max tells Vince it's because Johnny is afraid that Vince will leave them when he becomes successful. When Vince stops by to watch the old gang playing a sand lot football game, Johnny sees him and tells him his buddies could sure use some help. Vince tells him he has a game that coming weekend, so he can't play. He sits there a moment and reconsiders, going out in the rain, onto the muddy lot, and playing. As he throws a TD pass to Johnny, he seems much happier out there playing with his buddies than he ever was with the Eagles. Johnny was certainly happier.
Vince settles down and adopts an attitude of "what will be will be," both with the Eagles and with Janet. His success on the field and with Janet improve exponentially.
In a game against Janet's favorite team, the New York Giants, Vince tackles the kick returner inside the 15 yard line. On the next kickoff, he again makes a good play. As the game goes on however, Vince experiences tough times, especially on punt coverage, when the blockers get the best of him.
As the end of the game approaches, and a critical punt for the Eagles is at hand, Vince picks up on a clue that the Giants will not be rushing the punter, so he doesn't stay in to block, but slips past the Giant's player across from him and runs full speed down field. He hits the Giant's kick receiver hard and forces a fumble, scooping up the ball and running for a game-winning touchdown.
He is the hero of the game and now accepted as full-fledged member of the team. He goes on to be elected captain of the team before retiring. He also married Janet and had two children.