Papale's inspiring tale

Jason Cole
Yahoo! Sports

You're allowed to act a little crazy when you have beaten the odds as many times as Vince Papale.

Such an occurrence took place a little over a year ago when he learned that Disney and the same producers who made "Miracle" and "The Rookie" had bought the rights to his story for the movie "Invincible," which opens on Friday. Papale was standing in his bank parking lot in Cherry Hill, N.J., when he let out what he described as a "primal scream" of joy.

"Fortunately, most of the people around there know me. They know I'm crazy already," said Papale, who at 60 talks at breakneck speed even after more than 100 interviews he has done to promote the movie.

Papale has a lot to say. His tale of making the Philadelphia Eagles in 1976 after going through a tryout camp is wonderfully improbable to recount. Many NFL coaches have thought enough of it that they have held private screenings for their teams.

Even more inspiring is Papale's story of surviving a cancer scare five years ago.

"That's the bigger accomplishment," said Papale, referring to his bout with colon cancer. "I was lucky that they got to it early. They caught it all through a colonoscopy. It was encapsulated in my body, so they were able to get it all. No chemo, no radiation. If I had waited another month, it might have spread throughout my whole body."

Likewise, making it to the NFL was all about timing. At age 30, Papale was teaching by day and tending bar by night in South Philly, where he also grew up. He had attended St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia, where he hit a late growth spurt and went from 5-foot-7, 155 pounds as a senior in high school to 6-2, 195 pounds by the time he was done.

The Eagles also went through growth of their own. They hired coach Dick Vermeil away from UCLA, bringing his high-energy, emotional style from the college ranks to a franchise that was, at best, moribund. Vermeil sensed that the franchise needed a serious attitude makeover and borrowed an old trick he learned from coaching mentor George Allen.

Vermeil held an open tryout, searching for someone with just enough talent and the right desire.

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