During the 1970s, chaos reigns in the city of Philadelphia as southern portions of the city protest the shutdown of several job sites while their NFL team, the Philadelphia Eagles, endures a string of losing seasons, along with irate fans.
In 1976, Vince Papale goes to a sandlot one night and joins his friends playing a pick-up practice football game against another group of young men. After the game ends, Papale goes home and finds out that his wife Sharon is disgusted with his alleged failure to provide proper support.
The next morning, Papale goes to the high school where he works as a substitute teacher. In a short, unexpected meeting with the principal, he is told of his layoff. Later in the day, there is a report that the Eagles have hired a new head coach named Dick Vermeil as shown in a formal televised conference. That night, Papale goes to the bar where he works as a part-time bartender. The bar contains die-hard Eagles fans, who are watching TV about the hiring of Vermeil. The news story concludes with the announcement by Vermeil that he is staging open public tryouts for the Eagles. The men in the bar encourage Papale to go to the tryout. When Papale returns home, he finds out that his wife has left him and a note from her saying he will never be anything in the world. Distraught, Papale thrashes the few remaining belongings that Sharon left behind.
When Papale goes to the bar the next night, he meets a new co-bartender, Janet Cantrell, who is a Giants fan. Desperate for income in the aftermath of his wife's departure, Papale receives support from his friends and attends the tryout hosted at Veterans Stadium. Out of several hundred Philadelphia residents attending the training facility, Papale performs well during the workouts. After the camp is over, Papale fails to start his car, and Dick Vermeil comes by. He is impressed by Papale’s actions at camp and invites him to training camp to compete for a roster spot with the Eagles. Everyone at the bar becomes excited about the TV announcement that Papale will be joining the team. After work, Papale has an interview with a newscaster.
The next day, Papale exercises by jogging in the city and stops by at the empty home he tore up, where his former wife Sharon lived; then he interacts with his friends, telling them about joining the Eagles. His father, meanwhile, offers to let Vince stay with him. The following day, he goes to his first training camp with the Eagles. As the days of training camp progress, Papale endures a life full of hard work and disrespect from the other players. Papale goes out on a date with Janet one night, but didn't think he'd still be on the team. He says he's not sure he can start a new relationship at that time, because he is focused on trying his best to make the team and she claims she didn't know it was a date. She goes to help out at the bar and he leaves. As training camp ends, the final roster spot is down to Papale and a veteran. Against his assistants' advice, Vermeil decides to give the spot to Papale.
As Papale’s career with the Eagles begins, the team loses all six preseason games and their regular season opener against the Dallas Cowboys. Papale plays poorly against the Cowboys, and Vermeil faces pressure from the fans and media for the poor start. After the team returns to Philadelphia, Papale goes to the sandlot where he played with his friends once before. He is invited to play, but he declines because of his upcoming Eagles game and watches for a few minutes. A rainstorm begins, and then Papale does join his pals and plays against another sandlot team to help his friends. During a wet and dirty game, Papale ends the game by throwing a touchdown pass. When he runs into Janet later, they speak briefly before passionately embracing and tumbling into Vince's home.
During the home opener against the New York Giants, Eagles fans are enraged about Janet’s appearance in a Giants shirt. In the locker room, Vince looks again at the note Sharon had left and tears it up. Papale opens the game by solo-tackling the kickoff returner inside the fifteen-yard line. After an up-and-down game, Papale gets downfield during an Eagles' fourth quarter punt to tackle the returner, forcing a fumble that he recovers and takes into the end zone for a touchdown, giving the Eagles their first win in Papale’s career. Eagles fans go wild with joy. As the film's end credits appear, media and actual footage show highlights of Papale’s career with the Eagles. Papale plays for the team for three seasons and eventually marries Janet while Vermeil succeeds in turning the Eagles into a winning team, culminating in an appearance in Super Bowl XV.Mark Wahlberg as Vince Papale
Greg Kinnear as Dick Vermeil
Elizabeth Banks as Janet Cantrell
Kevin Conway as Frank Papale
Michael Rispoli as Max Cantrell
Kirk Acevedo as Tommy
Dov Davidoff as Johnny
Michael Kelly as Pete
Sal Darigo as Mick
Nicoye Banks as TJ Banks
Turron Kofi Alleyne as Ronnie Sampson
Cosmo DeMatteo as Dean German
Stink Fisher as Dennis "Denny" Franks
Michael Mulheren as AC Craney
Michael Nouri as Leonard Tose
Jack Kehler as Wade Chambers
Lola Glaudini as Sharon Papale
Paige Turco as Carol Vermeil
Anthony Masucci as Josh Barnes
Mike Kerley as Tom Landry
Randy Couture as "Toruci" Player #1
In reality, Papale started playing football in the Delaware County Rough Touch League (PA) since the late 60's before his semi-professional and pro football experience. He then played with the semi-pro Aston Green Knights of the Seaboard Football League and two seasons with the Philadelphia Bell of the World Football League, one of the NFL's rival leagues on the level of the AFL and the USFL. Papale was a standout special teams star for the Bell, who played at Philadelphia's JFK Stadium.
Mark Wahlberg was shorter (5'8") than Vince Papale, who stood at 6'2" while playing for the Eagles. Mark Wahlberg was closer to Vince Papale's high-school height of 5'7".
Vince Papale's first wife did leave him, leaving a similar note. However, that happened in 1971, five years before the events of the movie.
The movie portrays Vince meeting Janet before the tryouts. In real life, Papale dated and married his second wife, Sandy during the movie's time frame. He was divorced and met Janet after his Eagles career as the couple married in 1993.
Papale did participate in an open tryout before earning his spot on the Bell roster, which the filmmakers used as a model for the tryout shown in the movie. For the Eagles, Papale actually participated in a private workout that was by invitation only.
The opening scene of the movie features the Eagles' 31−0 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on December 7, 1975. One of the fans makes a comment that the Eagles lost to a team worse than they were. In 1975, the Bengals actually went 11–3 and were the wild card team in the AFC.
The game versus the New York Giants is depicted as being a close defensive struggle, with the Giants scoring first to take a 7–0 lead. The Eagles actually won easily, 20–7, with the Giants not scoring until late in the game. The fumble recovery depicted in the climactic scene did occur, but Papale's touchdown did not count, under NFL rules at the time, since the ball could not be advanced. It was still a key play in the victory for the Eagles. Papale never scored a regular-season touchdown in the NFL. His only offensive stat came in the 1977 season, where he had 1 catch for 15 yards. However, he scored his first NFL touchdown against Patriots in a 1977 exhibition game. As with so many of his breaks, this was a big one—the game-winning score. Rookie Quarterback Mike Cordova threw from the Pats' 14, and Cornerback Raymond Clayborn deflected the ball slightly allowing Papale to make a diving catch in the end zone.
The preseason/tryout scenes were filmed at Franklin Field at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Central High School Lancers field during July and August 2005. (For 13 seasons, 1958–70, Franklin Field was the home field of the Eagles.) The crew used their locker room and field. The Lancers, who had a preseason, used Fairmount Park in West Philadelphia during this time. The office scenes were filmed in Delaplaine McDaniel Middle School, During renovations to the school at 1801 Moore street [South Philadelphia, Pa].The carnival scenes were filmed at Our Lady of Mount Carmel School in South Philadelphia at 2329 South Third Street. Some of the street scenes were filmed on location in the city. The remainder of the film was filmed in a former aircraft carrier parts warehouse on Langley Avenue in the Philadelphia Naval Business Center. The crew shared this facility with the floats for the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade.
In opening weekend the movie made approximately $17,031,122 domestically. As of November 16, 2006, the movie has generated an estimated $57,806,952 domestically.
The film received generally positive reviews from critics. It is certified "fresh" with a 71% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a "generally favorable" rating with a 63/100 on Metacritic, and a 4/5 stars on Common Sense Media.
The film also inspired the show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia in its third season in an episode called “The Gang Gets Invincible” in which Dennis, Mac and Dee try out for the Philadelphia Eagles due to the movie Invincible.
The film released on DVD and Blu-ray on December 19, 2006. It re-released on Blu-ray on March 29, 2011.