Vinny Papale comes by his drive and perseverance honestly.
Last month, the rookie receiver signed a two-year deal with the Montreal Alouettes. The six-foot-one, 205-pound Papale last played football in 2018, registering 36 catches for 618 yards and six TDs at the University of Delaware.
Papale’s father, Vince, became a folk hero in Philadelphia when he cracked the Eagles’ roster as a 30-year-old rookie. The senior Papale spent three seasons (1976-78) with the NFL club on special teams and was the subject of the ’06 Disney film “Invincible,” featuring Mark Wahlberg in the title role.
“I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” Vinny Papale said. “He was told, ‘No,’ a million times, I’ve been told, ‘No,’ through this whole process.
“Just keep grinding, put your head down and if you want something bad enough good things will happen if you keep working. Good things have happened.”
The COVID-19 pandemic certainly didn’t help Papale’s plight as he was forced to cancel scheduled pro day appearances at Delaware, Temple and Rutgers as well as workouts with three CFL teams — including Montreal. Papale said a year away from the game wasn’t easy, but the 23-year-old native of Cherry Hill, N.J., has never let adversity override his childhood dream.
“I’ve wanted to play professional football since I was five years old and never thought anything was going to stop me,” Papale said. “I’ve been told one million times that maybe I was too small or not fast enough but I always knew what I wanted to do and was meant to do.
“Even over the past year when I didn’t get that shot, I was like, ‘I’m not stopping until I at least get one shot to make a team,’ and I finally did. It was a long year, I’m not going to lie, there were some low times, for sure. But there was never a doubt in my mind that I couldn’t play at the professional level. There were doubts if I was going to get a call to get in front of people and showcase it.”
Vince Papale said the CFL is a good place for his son to embark on a pro career.
“I just love the style of play,” he said. “The league has credibility, good competition and a great fanbase and for him to be in a city like Montreal is just out of control.
“I’m so proud of him, just the way he’s continued and been so resilient to finally get that shot.”
Papale said “Invincible,” also accurately portrays his son’s football journey.
“It’s a metaphor for anybody who’s had a dream and has tried to chase that dream,” he said. “It’s almost like trying to grab that gold ring when you’re on a merry-go-round and sometimes you continue to go in circles and you don’t get a chance to get it.
“We’re looking at the Alouettes as he got the brass ring. All he ever wanted was a shot and that’s what ‘Invincible’ is about.”
Shortly after Vinny Papale signed with Montreal, he and his family watched a replay of the 2009 Grey Cup game.
Montreal edged Saskatchewan 28-27 on Damon Duval’s 33-yard field goal. Duval had originally missed from 43 yards out but got a second chance after the Riders were penalized for too many men on the field.
“It was really cool to watch,” Vinny Papale said. “They throw the ball a lot (in the CFL), it’s fast paced.
“I think it’s definitely good to be a receiver in that league because you’re going to be catching a lot of balls if you’re on the field. It’s different with the bigger field but I think it’s a very receiver-friendly league, which I’m super excited for because coming from a college that didn’t pass so much it’s going to be nice to have the ball thrown a bit more.”
Papale had 55 catches for 866 yards and six TDs in 34 games at Delaware.
Like most athletes, Papale has had to be innovative in his off-season preparation with gyms being closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But living in Florida, Papale has had the benefit of decent weather to work outdoors with a small group of players that includes Saskatchewan Roughriders receiver Kenny Stafford.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to work with him and learn a lot from him,” Papale said. “He’s definitely been keeping me in the loop a little bit because he’s been in the league for a while so it’s nice to have him to talk to.”
There are serious questions regarding if the CFL will have a 2020 season due to the pandemic. The league has already postponed the opening of training camps, which were to begin this month, and pushed back the June 11 start to the regular season to early July, at the earliest.
But Papale is taking the uncertainty in stride.
“I wasn’t sure if I’d play football again, especially after taking a year off from college,” he said. “With all of my workouts cancelled, I thought I was done.
“Everything that could go wrong did but eventually it worked out and I feel very fortunate. There are many guys right now going through the same thing I did and I’m just so fortunate to have got a call.”