Papale talks playing career, Eagles Super Bowl

Papale Talks Playing Career,

Eagles Super Bowl

By James Jackson

February 17, 2018

The year was 1976. Vince Papale was a part-time bartender as well as a teacher and coach for his high school Alma mater.

Papale decided to go to public tryouts for his beloved Philadelphia Eagles.

“It was different needless to say, certainly because I was trying out for the Philadelphia Eagles,” Papale said to Under Review about his tryout. “It wasn’t like I was trying out for a semi-pro or a world football league or something like that.

“The experience was like a blur. I ran the 40-yard dash, the coach liked what he saw. When he saw the 4.5, a bunch of the other coaches didn’t think that I could run a 4.5. So they made me run another one and I backed it up with a couple 4.5’s and a 4.4 on grass.

“By doing that, I got their attention immediately. They put me in the other drills and those drills were very similar to the ones I did in the touch league I was playing in.”

“I thought that was the end of the tryouts, just like the movie they dismissed us and I ran into coach Vermeil in the elevator and he knew what my name was and he asked me where I went to college and played college football and I didn’t.

“So I lied and I told him I played for Villanova because they had a football team.” Papale said. “He said that was a great workout, I was really impressed and that was the end of that. Then 15 minutes later I got summoned up to the General Manager's office in the executive suites and as I was walking to the GM Jimmy Murray, coach Vermeil was in his office and he just smiled and waved and said great workout Vince and I’ll see you soon. I had no idea what that meant.

“I found out soon enough when I saw the GM and they offered me $21,000 on the spot to sign a contract for them.”

Papale performed well enough during preseason that he earned a spot on the Philadelphia Eagles roster for the 1976 season. Papale found out he had made the team in a stadium that he went too often as a season ticket holder for the Eagles.

“I was out on the field and I still haven’t been told I made the team,” he said. Coach came up to me while we were stretching on the field. The field was set up for baseball because we shared the same field as the Phillies.

“We were in right field and I just remember looking up the where I had my season tickets that were all the way across on the other side which would’ve been right behind home plate in the corner. I was just thinking ‘oh my gosh if the guys could see me now’ I’m out on the field and I have a helmet.

“I still didn’t know I made the team until coach Vermeil came up and said to me ‘congratulations old man you’re a Philadelphia Eagle, welcome to the team’. I went insane, absolutely nuts. I jumped in his arms and we had a big hug. I asked if I could make a call.”

“I got a hold of my dad, I’m on a payphone at work and it was Westinghouse which was three miles from the stadium right on the Delaware River. You could just hear in the background everybody was just cheering and screaming and yelling. That was the beginning of a great love affair with the city of Philadelphia, my Philadelphia Eagles and a 72 hour party.”

Papale remembers his first game very well. Papale and the Eagles were on the road at Texas Stadium, the former home of the Dallas Cowboys.

“It was nerve racking,” he said. “It wasn’t like it was in the movie, other than I couldn’t imagine that it was at Texas Stadium. I had a difficult time breathing because of the nerves and also because of the heat. It was at Texas Stadium and the sun was coming through that open roof and the temperature was 110 degrees and it was that much warmer on the field.

“I remember looking across the field and you could actually see the team coming on the field and you could see the head coach (Tom Landry) walking across which was pretty intimidating. The first play was the kickoff. I was running down the field, I’ve never heard sounds and intensity, I’ve never experienced anything like it in my life.

“I let up just for a second not like a deer in the headlights but I let up just for a second to just gather myself in the NFL and especially in the regular season and things picked up a hundred percent as it did in preseason and I got clocked pretty good. I picked up the pace and I had a pretty decent game for the rest of the season.”

Papale was voted by peers to be the Special Teams Captain. It was a humbling experience for Papale who had to prove himself to his fellow teammates the year prior.

“It was pretty intense, Papale said. “You’re finally accepted. Here I was, everyone telling me it couldn’t be done then next thing you know my peers are telling me I’m the guy they want to lead them into battle. It was quite overwhelming and I took the role very seriously.

“I think I did a pretty good job, I led by example and kept my mouth shut and did what the coach asked me to do and that was perform.”

In 1978, Papale was voted Eagles ‘Man of the Year’ an award voted on by his peers for his multiple charitable activities.

“I was much proud that I was one of the three finalists along with Archie Manning who was a New Orlean Saint at the time and Roger Staubach  who was a Cowboy,” he said. “I was one of the three finalists who went to Chicago. Staubach ended up getting it.

“I did an awful lot of stuff with the Eagles ‘Fly for Leukemia’ which was the in house charity for the birds at the time. It was to honor a young lady whose father played for the Eagles and she had cancer. The Ronald McDonald House, the first Ronald McDonald house was built in Philadelphia and I did an awful lot of stuff with them.

“If anybody asked to do something and I had the time, I went out and did it. I rarely said no and I did whatever I could to use the platform as being an NFL player that everybody looked up to. They all said I couldn’t overcome the odds, I overcame the odds and was a real life Rocky. If I could help them, I tried to.”

Papale was different from all his teammates. Not just by the media attention he had going in the NFL but by how he played and performed while he was in the NFL.

“I worked harder than anybody else, nobody outworked me,” he said. “I outhit all the wide receivers and probably outhit most of the defensive guys. I believed in myself and I really believed I could do it.”

Eagles Super Bowl Victory

Papale attended the Super Bowl in Minneapolis for Super Bowl 52. He witnessed history as his team the Philadelphia Eagles beat the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots to capture their first Super Bowl championship in franchise history. He also attended the ‘Champions Parade’ in Philadelphia to celebrate with his family, the fans and the team. It was a day Papale won’t soon forget.

“For me it was a dream a lifetime for anyone that was an Eagle” Papale said. “I still consider myself an Eagle, the Eagles are still very close to me and my heart. The coach is very close to me and my heart. I wasn’t nervous for that game as nervous as I was for the first game against the Falcons and the game against the Vikings.

“Once they got there I was totally confident despite all the naysayers that they could get it done. The best part of it aside from them winning was having my children there. My daughter Gabriella who works for the Philadelphia 76ers and my son Vinny who plays college football at the University of Delaware and his dream someday is to be an NFL player.

“To see their joy unbridled and pure joy of winning that game and to see the excitement from my wife because she’s good friends as I am with the Peterson family. To see that joy it just brought me to tears and I’m still pinching myself that they won game. I’ve seen it several times on T.V. and they’re still the Super Bowl champs.

“Great lesson in leadership, in teamwork, in trust. You can put all those cliches and wrap them in a ball or on one big poster and look at the Philadelphia Eagles. They are the poster child of all those cliches. People say it’s just a bunch of junk, well it isn’t.

“They all came together and they won the game and they won it as a team. They won it for the city, that was the beautiful thing about the parade, their excitement and joy they had for the city of Philadelphia.”

New Book

Vince’s new book “Last Laugh - From Vision To Victory” can be found online at keyword Last Laugh.


Derik Hamilton/Associated Press