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Greatest Football Movie Ever Tournament: Invincible vs Paper Lion

Well, we're on to the last of our first round match-ups in the Professional bracket, and our last match-up gave us what can definitely be termed an upset, as the young upstarts. . .The Replacements. . .knocked off the old standby, North Dallas Forty. I thought the old timers would get through to the next round, but hey. . .I guess I can't argue with the mad acting skills of Keanu Reeves and an I Will Survive choreography number.

So, The Replacements will move on to face the winner of today's match-up in the semi-finals of the Professional bracket. Both of today's movies have a bit of a similar theme. . .true stories about guys basically getting up off of the couch and pursuing their dreams of professional football.


Invincible, which came out in 2006, is based on the true story of Vince Papale (puh-PAUL-ee), who played for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1976 to 1978.

Papale, played in the movie by Mark Wahlberg, has just lost his part-time job as a teacher and has just taken a job as a bartender. Oh, and his wife left him, too, being kind enough to take all their stuff and leave him a note to say that he'll never amount. . .in my best Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker voice. . .to JACK SQUAT. One night at the bar, he overhears a press conference with the new head coach of the hometown Philadelphia Eagles. . .a guy you may or may not have heard of by the name of Dick Vermeil (played in the movie by Greg Kinnear). . .announce that the Eagles are going to have an open tryout, which is basically unheard of at the National Football League level. So, after much prodding from his friends at the bar, he decides he's going to try out for the team.

Since this is a Disney movie, a couple of liberties are taken with the facts. The real Vince Papale had actually spent the two seasons prior to his time with the Eagles playing with the Philadelphia Bell of the old World Football League as a wide receiver and special teams monster. That performance got him an invitation to Vermeil's practice. . .which was not an open tryout as the movie says, but rather a workout that was invitation only.

Papale eventually became the Eagles' special teams captain, and played in 41 of 44 career games before a shoulder injury ended his career. While Invincible may take a few liberties with the facts, it's still a good, inspirational film.

Paper Lion


(Picture via Wikimedia Commons)

You know, for as much as I've scoured the internet in an attempt to find it, I can't seem to find the trailer. . .or any other clips. . .from Paper Lion. But, Wikipedia did have a picture of the cover of the book that this movie is based on, so we'll just roll with that.

Paper Lion is the story of American journalist George Plimpton, and this is one of the series of books that had established him as sort of an everyman athlete, undertaking various tasks to see how the average Joe off of the street would fare against finely-tuned professional athletes. Plimpton joined the Detroit Lions' training camp in 1963 under the guise that he was trying out to be the team's third-string quarterback. (He was eventually beaten out for the job by a young Jon Kitna.) The coaches knew about this ruse, but the players on the team did not. . .until it becomes obvious that Plimpton can't even handle the center/quarterback exchange.

In the movie, Plimpton is played by Alan Alda, who many folks know better as Hawkeye Pierce from M*A*S*H. There are a few football players that appear prominently in the book and in the movie, most notably Alex Karras, who a) was suspended from the league for gambling during his playing days, along with Paul Hornung, b) punched out a horse in Blazing Saddles (because, after all, Mongo just pawn in game of life), and c) went on to play Webster's dad in the 80s sitcom. Vince Lombardi and Frank Gifford both appear in the movie as well.

Paper Lion is a pretty good film, if you can track down a copy, but the book is awesome and one that every football fan should read at some point.

And that's our final Professional bracket match-up, ladies and gentlemen. Have at it!