The major story is that of Vince Papale, a pro-football "walk-on" for the 1976 Philadelphia Eagles. Initially shunned by his "pro" teammates, Papale was welcomed after a spectacular special teams play. In the regular season home opener against the New York Giants, he tackled a punt receiver, causing a fumble, and then picked up the fumble and ran it 30 plus yards for a touchdown. The overlapping story is that of the hiring of Dick Vermeil as head coach of the Eagles.
Both stories take place mostly over a single year – 1976. This is a Disney film, and as with any Hollywood production, some of the details are fictitious. In a nutshell, Papale played three seasons for the Eagles and retired after the 1978 season due to a shoulder injury. He played wide receiver and on specialty teams. It took Vermeil a couple of seasons to turn the Eagles around from a losing team, but in the third year they made the NFL playoffs. That also was Papale's last year playing ball. Two seasons later, Vermeil's Eagles made it to the Super Bowl, losing to Oakland, 10-27, on Jan. 5, 1981. After retiring a couple of times from coaching, Vermeil took over a losing program at St. Louis and took the Rams to Super Bowl XXXIV, and a win on Jan. 30, 2000.
Here are some interesting facts and true details about how Papale and Vermeil got connected. Papale attended St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia. The school didn't have a football team, but he excelled in track and field. He won or placed in several events during track meets. His highest clearance as a pole-vaulter was 15 feet, 1 ¾ inches. In his senior year, he won events in the long jump and triple jump.
Papale never played college football, but he played both years that the World Football League existed. He was a wide receiver for the Philadelphia Bells in 1974 and 1975. Dick Vermeil saw video of Papale's play for the Bells and invited him to try out for the Eagles. Of course, he had to prove himself and earn the spot on the team. And, that's what is most prominent and accurate about the movie.
Here are a couple of interesting tidbits about Papale. He was nicknamed "Rocky" by his friends – a reference to the fictional boxer in the Sylvester Stalone movie who rose from the rough side of Philadelphia to become world heavyweight boxing champion. Papale is six feet, two inches, and Mark Wahlberg is only five feet, eight inches. But, Wahlberg, himself a tough guy with a tough upbringing and past, gives the part the guts and fire that Coach Vermeil says he was looking for and saw in Papale.
When Papale made the Eagles roster in 1976, he was 30 years old. Outside of kickers, he was the oldest rookie NFL player in history to not have played college football. He played in 41 of the 44 regular season games of the Eagles in 1976-78. He had two fumble recoveries and one interception for 15 yards. His teammates elected him special teams captain. In 1978, the Eagles named him the team's "Man of the Year" for his support of many charities.
Dick Vermeil was named "Coach of the Year" for his coaching at four levels – high school, junior college, college and pro ball. He took over three losing professional teams and turned them around. Beside the Eagles and St. Louis Rams, he revived the Kansas City Chiefs, building that team into a contender from 2001 to 2005.
This is a very good inspiring and entertaining sports drama.