In 1976 the Philadelphia Eagles were terrible and had been so for years. The largely working class fans were getting impatient. In response to the growing criticism, the team did what every team does. They hired a new coach. In this case it was Dick Vermeil, fresh from leading UCLA to a Rose Bowl victory over Ohio State. (The less said about that the better.) Vermeil was young then and full of ideas. One of them was to hold open tryouts for the team since he inherited a serious dearth of talent.

Vince Papale was a substitute teacher in south Philly. He was barely making it by his rare assignments and a night job tending bar. But he’s the star of the neighborhood sandlot football games and a big Eagles fan. When he hears about the tryouts he’s at first reluctant to put his dreams to the test, but his sandlot buddies convince him to try.

Of course he makes the team as a special teams demon and his enthusiasm infects the whole squad. It’s one of those unlikely but true stories that Disney has been cranking out lately. Think The Rookie or Miracle. They’ve actually had an impressive streak with them.

The setting is the best element here. They capture the rust and grit of the recession plagued 70’s and that extends to the faces of the neighborhood guys that are lined with disappointment and fear for the future.

Mark Wahlberg doesn’t really stretch himself as Papale. It’s the kind of everyday guy role that he always seems to play. Greg Kinnear stands out as Dick Vermeil, the volatile workaholic coach.

The Eagles built on that 76 season to play in a Super Bowl. Papale was gone by then but he had a role in that success.


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August 2006
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