The opening credits shows scenes from Philadelphia 1975. You see the hard times with bad living conditions, strikes, and closed factories. We cut to a snowy day at Veterans stadium where the Eagles are getting killed 31-0 by the Bengals. The Philly fans are yelling and booing at the Eagles. The game ends with the Eagles in possession of the ball and kneeling down after the hike. The fans leave angry and disappointed.
Its now summer and we see a small fenced in field where Vince Papale (Mark Wahlberg) and his 30-something year old friends are playing street football. We meet: Max - owner of the bar that Vince works at. Tommy - Vince's best friend Pete - another friend whose having a hard time with his brother coming home deaf from the war Johnny - another friend who is out of a job
After the game, Vince walks home to these really small, cramped, sad-looking apartments. His wife, Shannon, sees he's been playing ball and looks angry. She accuses Vince of wasting his time when he should be looking for a job. He argues that he does have work and she says that substituting high school 2 days a week and bartending at night doesn't cut it.
The next day Vince goes to school to teach but is told that he is being let go because the district is forcing the school to make more cuts.
A press-conference introduces Eagles new head coach, Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear) from California. The news press seem unimpressed.
Meanwhile, while Working at the bar, Vince asks Max if he can work more hours. Max tells Vince that his cousin just moved to Philly and works Thursdays but Vince can have the rest of the hours. The press conference is showing on the bar's tv and the Vince and his friends hear Vermeil announce open tryouts on Saturday. Pete suggests to Vince that he should try out which Vince shrugs off. After work, Vince goes home and sees that his wife has left him and has taken everything but the phone and a note. Vince reads the note, gets upset, and bashes up his apartment.
At the Vermeil household, Vermeil asks his wife if the open tryouts sounded desperate. She replies "Maybe a little bit".
The next night at the bar, Vince's friends are sympathetic about Shannon leaving. Vince also meets Max's cousin, Janet (Elizabeth Banks), a really cute blond who is working at the bar. Max announces to the barmates that Janet has one defect - She's a NY Giant's fan. The guys ask her trivia about the Giants which she shows she knows. The boys try to convince Vince to go to the open tryouts again. Johnny mentions Vince's old lady isn't around to stop him. Max throws Johnny out of the bar for this and Max apologizes for Johnny saying he's drunk. Outside the bar, Tommy talks to Vince. Tommy is worried because there are rumors that his company is going to go on strike. Tommy also brings up the open tryouts again to encourage Vince to go. Its evident that everyone is going through really hard times. After work, Vince stops by his Dad's apartment. They don't have a very close relationship and we find out that Vince's mom died from health issues. Vince asks his dad for some rent money - $100. Vince's dad says he heard about the guys telling Vince to go to the tryouts and tells Vince maybe he should let this one go - "A man can only take so much disappointment".
The next scene shows the news interviewing some fat and pathetic looking guys waiting in a long line outside Veterans stadium for the open tryouts. There are some funny scenes watching the guys at the tryouts tripping, missing catches, trying to tackle, etc. We then see a line of guys waiting to be timed on their sprinting. In the line we see Vince. All of the coaches are completely disappointed by the pathetic times. Then it's Vince's turn. The coaches are amazed at their stop watches and check each others times. Vermeil also notices and tells the coaches to have him catch a few which Vince does well at. After a day of pitiful tryouts the coaches call it a day. Everyone whines with disappointment and start leaving the field. We see Vince get to his car which doesn't start. He opens the hood when Vermeil walks up and introduces himself. Vermeil tells Vince how fast he ran - 4.5.
The next scene shows Vince working at the bar. On tv, the news is reporting the days events at the tryouts. Tommy says to Vince that he had a chance and didn't take it. Then the tv reporter announces that Vermeil only asked one person to training camp - Vince Papale. Vince smiles and the whole bar stops and looks at him and then starts cheering. Vince knows though there are many cuts in training camp and that its not likely he will make the team.
The next day We see Vince leaving his apartment at dusk to go running. When he gets home, he catches his breath, thinks about it, and then leaves to run some more. It is late when he gets home and Pete is sitting on his porch looking depressed. Pete tells Vince that he never told his brother good luck before his brother left for the war. Pete tells Vince to do good. Its clear that Vince's success is helping his friends get through the hard times.
Vince arrives to training camp early in the morning before anyone else. The gear manager lets him in the locker room. Vince sees his name is misspelled on his locker and the gear manager says he meant no offense, but will it really matter in a couple of days? We see Vince pull out the note that his wife left. He reads it and then hides it under a towel.
Vince works hard on his first day but is disliked by all the veteran players. He makes it through the first day and is given a dorm room at the training camp. Back in the locker room the other players find the note from Vince's wife. We see for the first time what it says:
Vince, You will never go anywhere
You will never make any money
You will never make a name for yourself
In his room he finds a package from Janet that includes a Giants shirt. Vince calls Janet and asks her out but neither claim that its a date.
Vince is placed on Special Teams but is struggling at the training camp. He reads the note from his wife before each practice. In one scene, after getting beat out by two players in a sprint several times, Vince opts out his pads for quarterback pads. The gear coach sees this and tells him he'll get hurt. Vince tells him No offense, but will it really matter in a few days? After he changes the pads he is able to keep up with the other players. Vince makes it through the first cuts but still struggles. The Eagles lose the first 6 pre-season games which we are told through a tv reporter that Vince has seen little playing time. Vince also asks Janet out on another date but once he meets up with her tells her that he should just focus on one thing at a time. He gets paired with a player, Franks, as his dorm-mate. Vince makes a comment to Franks that he heard the coaches say Franks is weak on one side. Franks gets angry and grabs Vince. Franks gets down in a pre-tackle position and tells Vince to look at his knuckles - they are white because he is leaning back about to tackle Vince. Then he says the color comes back when he moves forward. Vince uses this in the last training camp practice in tackling. Watching his opponents knuckles, he is able to go through the tackler twice but still gets tackled on the third try.
Vermeil and the coaches sit around the table and Vermeil says there is one more receiver position open. Its either Vince or another player. The coaches all say to go with the other player. Vermeil doesn't seem satisfied and says that Papale has heart. After the other coaches are gone, Vermeil's wife comes in. He says tells her they are thinking of letting Papale go. She asks isn't that his decision?
Vince is sure that he is going to be cut from the team the next day. He goes to see his dad. Vince's dad works for the same company as Tommy and it has gone on strike. He tells his dad he feels bad for borrowing money with the strike going on and tells his dad that he will be cut tomorrow. Vince's dad tells him "Even though I said not to get your hopes up, it doesn't mean that I didn't".
The next day Vince is sitting in the locker room holding his playbook, ready to be cut. A coach comes up to Vince and says that vermeil wants to see him. The rest of the players mock him and make comments such as "Its about time" as Vince walks away. Vince goes into Vermeils office and Vermeil asks how he is holding up. Vince says a few bumps here and there and asks Vermeil how he is holding up. Vermeil smiles and says a few bumps here and there. Vince thanks the coach for letting him get this far and passes the playbook across to Vermeil. Vermeil passes it back and says "Why don't you hold on to that for a few more months." Vince smiles and Vermeil says "Welcome to the Eagles."
Vince is outside waiting by his car with the hood up. An irritated Tommy drives up and complains about Vince's car breaking down again. Vince sits against Tommy's car as Tommy looks at Vince's car battery. Tommy says everything looks ok and looks at Vince to ask if he's sure the car won't start. Vince just smiles at him. Tommy realizes Vince has made the team and asks Vince if he's kidding. Vince says he wanted Tommy to know first and the two hug and laugh that Vince is now an Eagle. Before they leave Vince, knowing Tommy's company is now on strike, asks Tommy if he is ok. Tommy says "I am now."
The two walk into Max's bar and everyone cheers. Max throws a big party for Vince. Vince's dad also shows up and whispers to Vince "Van Buren [Vince's dad's fav player] has nothing on you." Johnny who is still pouting plays pool. Vince sends over a pitcher of beer and Johnny nods to him. Afterwards, Vince goes over to Janet's and tells her how he was just scared because he knew he could really like her and felt it was too soon after his wife left. He tells Janet that he wanted her to know how he really feels but Janet tells him it can't happen.
The season opener is at the Dallas Cowboys. Vince, on Special Teams for the opening kickoff, runs down to the receiver. Avoiding several players, he has a chance to tackle the receiver but freezes and gets tackled. He runs back to the sideline and apologizes to Vermeil who yells at him saying that he stuck his neck out for Vince. We see Vince's friends watching the game at the bar and are disappointed. The tv sports reporter says that Vince was a bust on his pro debut.
The next day, Vince drives to the fenced-in field and watches his friends play football from his car. Johnny sees him and comes over to him and says even if the Eagles don't need him that his friends do. Vince says he can't play because he has a game on the weekend. Johnny is disappointed and goes back. Vince contemplates and decides to play. The friends play in the rain and all are having a good time. Johnny also seems to make peace with Vince. Vince walks home and sees Janet on his doorstep. She tells him that she needed a couple days to think about what he said. He kisses her and doesn't let her say anything else and takes her inside.
The home opener is against the NY Giants. In the stadium, we see Vince's friends getting to their seats and Janet is decked out in Giants gear. Its a funny scene, as all of the fans around her are Eagles fans and are booing her. Meanwhile, Vermeil gives the pep speech to the Eagles and says win for the Philly fans and for ourselves. They huddle and then part to go to the field. Vince goes to his locker and reads the note from his ex one last time and then tears it up.
On the kickoff, Vince gets through several players and this time tackles the receiver. Vermeil is pleased. The progress of the game is shown to Ted Nugent's "Stranglehold". Vince has tackled some and gotten tackled. The score is tied at 14. At just over a minute left in the game, the Eagles are on their own 5-yard line at the 4th down and opt to punt. As they are preparing to punt, Vince notices the Giants' knuckles and calls an audible. The Eagles re-arrange themselves and hike the ball. Vince takes off and gets through the line and sprints to the receiver. He tackles the receiver who fumbles the ball. Vince grabs the ball and runs to the goal line and scores the winning touchdown. Everyone celebrates and the crowd is cheering. Vermeil says to one of his coaches "Now that's the sound we've been looking for."
We then see real clips of the Eagles-Giants game with the real Vince Papale. We are told that Vince played 3 seasons with the Eagles and he currently lives in Jersey with his wife Janet and their 2 kids. Vermeil took the Eagles to the Super Bowl in the 80-81 season.
*CUT TO THE CHASE*
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Mark Wahlberg stars in the True Life Story of Vince Papale, the unemployed but indefatigable 30-year-old Philadelphia-area native who hustled his way onto Dick Vermeil's Eagles in 1976. Overburdened by debt ,having been left by his wife and let go from his job as a substitute teacher, Vince finds himself borrowing money from his widowed father (Kevin Conway), a factory worker on strike. Nearly all Vince's time is spent with his boys down at the neighbor hood bar, whose owner (Michael Rispoli) gives Vince a pity bartending gig.
Vince answers a call from the new Eagles Head Coach ( Greg Kinnear as Dick Vermeil) to an open tryout and gets an invitation to training camp. (There are some hilarious points during the open tryouts) Shunned by the real pros during training camp, Papale overcomes the odds to make the team as a special team player. In the first regular season game on kickoff coverage Vince has a great opportunity to tackle a real live Dallas Cowboy, but instead gets planted.
In the first home game, Vince shows his real stuff against the rival New York Giants. He makes several tackles on Special teams kickoffs and punts, earning the admiration of his teammates. He also brings the Eagles fans back into supporting the team, something the Eagles Players had not heard in a while. Late in the game, he causes a fumble on a punt, returning the punt into the end zone for a touchdown helping the Eagles win.
Pre credits show that Vince played three more seasons with the Eagles, and now lives with his wife (the female bartender he meets in the movie) and two daughters in Jersey. Also that Vermeil took the Eagles to the Super Bowl.
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