Vinny Papale, son of ‘Invincible’ main character, seeks his own pro opportunity in XFL

SPRINGFIELD, Va. — In the 2006 movie "Invincible," Vince Papale is a random bartender in Philadelphia who attends an open tryout with the Philadelphia Eagles and — in classic Hollywood fashion — actually winds up making the team.

The film is based on a true story, but it leaves out an important intermediate step. Before he joined the Eagles, the real Papale had a brief stint in the long-forgotten World Football League.

"It was my cup of coffee to get myself into the NFL," Papale said Saturday, "to get the confidence that I knew that I needed to be able to compete against some of the best football players in the world."

That's why the 73-year-old is so excited about the idea of the XFL — and why he was so proud to watch from the bleachers as his son, Vinny, auditioned for the startup league on Saturday. The younger Papale, who played collegiately at Delaware, was one of 101 XFL hopefuls who participated in a workout at The St. James sports complex — one of eight regional combine events that are being held across the country.

Vinny Papale takes part in the XFL Summer Showcase in Springfield, Virginia, for the Washington-based XFL team. Papale is the son of former Philadelphia Eagles player Vince Papale, whose story was the inspiration for the Disney movie 'Invincible.' (Photo: Matthew Sobocinski, USA TODAY)

XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck estimates that about 200 to 250 of the 800 players at the invite-only workouts will be signed into the draft pool for the league, which will begin play next spring. The bulk of the rosters will consist of last-minute NFL castoffs, he said — players who are cut by NFL rosters after training camp.

For Vinny, who attended rookie mini-camps with the Oakland Raiders and Washington Redskins last month, the XFL is just another chance to play pro football like his dad.

"Every opportunity I get to continue playing is one I’m going to take, and I’m going to run with it," Vinny said. "I’m hearing about all the up-tempo stuff (in the XFL). It’s just going to be a lot of fun to watch, and especially to play. I’d love to play in the league."

A 6-foot-1 wide receiver, Vinny said he was between third and fourth grade when Disney started shooting "Invincible," in which his dad is portrayed by Mark Wahlberg. Some kids went to summer camp, Vinny said. He spent every day on the movie set.

On the field, though, Vinny doesn't advertise the fact that his dad was the subject of a well-known Disney movie. He wants to stand out because of his play, not his name. And Vince, who spent parts of three seasons in the NFL, believes his son is already a far superior player.

"He’s such a better route-runner (than I was)," the elder Papale said. "He’s so much smarter than me on the field. He’s a lot stronger. … He might not be the fastest or glitziest, but he’ll make the catch in the crowd. He won’t back away from anybody."

The XFL's inaugural game is still nearly eight months away, but the league is already facing questions about its long-term viability after another startup spring league, the Alliance of American Football, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy less than a year into existence. But don't count the Papales among those who are concerned.

"I’ve done my research on this league," Vinny said. "I think it’s going to stay for a while. That’s my gut feeling."

Contact Tom Schad at [email protected] or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.

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