There’s no questioning the hardships that local business owners are facing in today’s economy, but with the right attitude and mentality, anything can be possible. That was the message that was sent last week to many area businesspeople by Philadelphia Eagles’ legend and inspirational speaker Vince Papale. Throughout the Philadelphia area, Vince Papale is a hero – a Joe Everyman who rose to the occasion and became a city’s phenomenon. In the mid- to late 1970s, the nation’s economy was hurting, much like today. The Vietnam War had brought the marketplace to a standstill, and many people were out of jobs. In Philly, the spirit was gone as the Eagles struggled to regain success and their fans’ support.
But Papale rose to the challenge, answering the call when new Eagles coach Dick Vermeil held open tryouts for the team. The nearly 30-year-old bartender who was in a rocky marriage seemed like a long-shot, but his experience on the track team at St. Joseph’s University worked in his favor. Before he knew it, he was not only on the team, but working his way up to special-teams captain.
His story was eventually brought to the big screen, as Mark Wahlberg and Disney Productions retold his life in the box office smash “Invincible.”
“I wanted to live my dreams,” he said last week during the 4th Annual Chamber Mixer and Small Business Expo at Seacrets in Ocean City, hosted by the Bethany-Fenwick Area and Ocean City, Md. Chambers of Commerce. “I had to be invincible to do so. That was the most important thing in those times. At that time, you had to be strong-willed.”
With no college football experience to speak of, he became an unlikely catalyst for the team and climbed to the top.
“I don’t look at what I did as anything special,” he told those in attendance at the Nov. 25 event. “I just look at the end result. It’s all about never quitting, never throwing in the towel.”
Papale drew parallels between his role as an athlete and the responsibilities small-business owners have in today’s market: analyze, adapt and achieve.
“A lot of what I had to overcome can be applied today,” he said. “There were times I was playing and I just wanted to give up. The wind was in my face and the rain was coming down. Some mornings, I rolled out of bed in the morning and felt like Nick Nolte in ‘North Dallas Forty,’ but I just pushed to get through it.” Even when times are troubling, a sound mentality and perseverance could be all that’s needed to bring an entrepreneur to his or her goal.
“Life’s not perfect, and life’s not fair,” said Papale, who also overcame cancer with the strength and support of his family. “I was down and up all the time, but I was able to find myself and find my identity.”