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An Invincible Sequel In The Making? Vince Papale’s Son Excels In The UFL

Vinny Papale's quest to follow in his dad's footsteps to the NFL on ESPN platforms continues a Disney storytelling tradition regarding the Papale family's football saga

(L) In 2006, actor Mark Wahlberg, in gear portraying former Philadelphia Eagles WR Vince Papale, stands next to Vinny Papale, 9, during a break in filming “Invincible”; the Papales today (L-R) Vince, Janet, Vinny and Gabby (Photos courtesy Vinny Papale/ESPN)

Vinny Papale occupies a unique space in The Walt Disney Company’s storytelling universe.

The 2006 Walt Disney Film “Invincible,” starring Mark Wahlberg, was inspired by Vince Papale’s incredible journey to make the Philadelphia Eagles’ roster in 1976. (TWDC)

Who else has “appeared” in two Disney sports movies – one centered on his father and another featuring his current “boss”- and nearly 20 years later is adding chapters to his family’s history with the company during ESPN’s United Football League coverage?

Vinny Papale, 27, is a star wide receiver for the Memphis Showboats, who host the UFL’s unbeaten Birmingham Stallions on Saturday (12 p.m. ET, ABC, ESPN+). His three touchdown receptions in five games ties him for the league lead in scoring catches.

In 1976, 30-year-old bartender and part-time schoolteacher Vince Papale became a Philadelphia folk hero when, with minimal football experience, he made the NFL Eagles’ roster. The fleet receiver and special teams standout’s unlikely journey inspired the 2006 Disney movie Invincible (available for streaming on Disney+), which itself was the result of film executives watching an NFL Films profile of Papale that aired before a November 2002 edition of ABC’s Monday Night Football (see sidebar below).

The “real-life Rocky” vibe of Vince Papale’s NFL journey resonates with the film’s star Mark Wahlberg and millions of others – even today.

“People reach out from all over the world to him just saying how much of an impact his story has had on people,” said Vinny Papale, who appears in Invincible when he retrieves an errant pass – thrown by his sister Gabby – in a South Philadelphia street. He’s wearing a makeshift Eagles jersey with PAPALE 83 stenciled on the back.

“Because it really is just [the story of] the average guy that took an opportunity and ran with it.”

I’ve tried to take advantage of every opportunity that I could like he has, and that is the thing that keeps me going.
– Vinny Papale regarding his father, Vince

Even as Vinny Papale navigates his quest to make the NFL – besides tryouts with the Raiders and Commanders, the former Delaware star has played in a variety of spring football leagues – he marvels at what his father accomplished.

“I know a lot of people try to draw that parallel, but honestly, in my eyes, I think it’s a pretty different path. I mean, he didn’t play college football,” Vinny Papale said of his father, who was a track star at St. Joseph’s University.

Vince Papale, now 78, played one year of high school football but honed his skills by playing two seasons in the ragtag World Football League and “rough touch” football in sandlots.

Given that backdrop, Papale’s three-year NFL career “was actually pretty insane,” his son says.

“I’ve tried to take advantage of every opportunity that I could like he has, and that is the thing that keeps me going.”

(L-R) Janet Papale; Gabby Papale; Elizabeth Banks; Mark Wahlberg; Vinny Papale; Vincent Papale at the 2006 “Invincible” premiere. (Photo courtesy of Vinny Papale/ESPN)

Vinny Papale – who also played for two seasons in 2022-23 versions of the USFL – is making the most of his UFL chances.

An ESPN commentator inevitably will reference Invincible in describing Papale’s exploits.

In Week 4 in St. Louis, a long Papale kickoff return set the stage for his third touchdown reception and a mid-game highlight package ESPN’s play-by-play voice Lowell Galindo narrates in the video above.

Galindo tells Front Row: “It turns out Vinny embraces his father’s legacy . . . They are tight. It was really inspiring to learn how much he admires his father and how comfortable he is with his dad’s story as a central piece of his story.”

For Vinny Papale, who estimates he’s watched Invincible nearly 50 times, the references are a welcome reminder of family. Father Vince, mom Janet, and sister Gabby are regulars at Vinny’s games. 

The Papales pose with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson when they appeared as extras in the Disney movie “The Game Plan.” (Vinny Papale/ESPN)

The Papales were invited to appear as extras in another Disney sports film, The Game Plan (available for streaming on Disney+). Released a year after Invincible, this film depicts a fictional star pro quarterback – portrayed by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson – unexpectedly dealing with fatherhood. 

Dwayne Johnson, co-owner of the UFL, starred in the Disney sports comedy “The Game Plan,” in which the Papales were extras. (TWDC)

Vince, Janet, and Gabby portray customers in a Plan scene set in a restaurant. Vinny Papale was also on the set with his family; what happened to his cameo?

“I think I got cut out; my mom and my dad made it, but it was just cool to be there with The Rock,” he said, chuckling.

Seventeen years later, Johnson – a co-owner of the UFL – is giving Vinny Papale another chance to shine.

“It’s sort of a cool, ironic, full-circle moment now that he’s the head of the UFL. It’s just that Disney connection there,” he said. 

“It’s pretty cool. I’m not even sure if he knows about it.”


    The Papales’ football saga has been a touchstone of Disney/ESPN/ABC storytelling on various platforms for years, and Vinny Papale’s quest to follow in his dad’s footsteps via the UFL is just the latest chapter. Here are just a few instances the Papales and Disney platforms have crossed paths:

  • 2002: Before an Eagles-49ers game, ABC’s Monday Night Football airs a four-minute NFL Films profile of Vince Papale in a salute to the 26th anniversary of the release of “Rocky.” Disney film executives begin talks shortly afterward about making the film that would become Invincible
  • 2005: ESPN’s Features Unit produces a seven-minute Papale profile that re-airs in August 2006, the week of Invincible’s release
  • 2005: ESPN The Magazine senior writer David Fleming writes about being a football-playing extra on the set of Invincible
  • 2006: On Aug. 25, Vince Papale narrates the opening of a Pittsburgh Steelers-Philadelphia Eagles preseason game on ESPN
  • 2006: Also on Aug. 25, Invincible is released to nearly 3,000 theatres, grosses nearly $60M worldwide (about $95M adjusted for inflation)
  • 2007: The Papales attend The ESPYS as Invincible is a nominee for “Best Sports Movie”
  • 2009: senior writer Ryan McGee reports on a NASCAR racing team that rallies around Invincible
  • 2018: Vinny Papale stars for Delaware in Division I Football Championship Subdivision games streaming on ESPN3
  • 2020: During the pandemic, NFL Nation Reporter: New England Patriots Mike Reiss interviews Vince Papale and Mark Wahlberg (see video above) to reflect on Invincible before ESPN airs the movie
  • 2024: The UFL begins play, merging the USFL – where Vinny Papale starred for two seasons – and the XFL
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