Article originally published in the American City Business Journals on November 28, 2016
There are those who successfully pursue improbable dreams. One such individual is Vince Papale, who was a 30-year-old walk-on at a 1976 tryout for the Philadelphia Eagles football team. Against the odds, he made the team.
This year is the 10th anniversary of the film “Invincible,” which chronicles Papale’s journey as an Eagles player, and how hard work and a positive attitude can help you achieve your goals. I recently met Papale and asked if I could interview him.
Papale was a track star at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, where he excelled in the jumping and sprinting events. He never played college football, but played two years for the Philadelphia Bell, a team of the short-lived World Football League.
In the forward to the 2011 book titled “Be Invincible” by Papale and his wife, Janet Cantwell, Dick Vermeil writes that when he arrived in Philadelphia as the team’s new head coach in early 1976, he and his staff decided to host a tryout to “pick up a few players who could come in and help during the 10-week training camp” during the summer. Papale jumped at the chance. The tryout gained the team much publicity and, as I recall, some derision.
Before Vermeil’s arrival, the Eagles record was 16-25 during the previous three seasons. The team did not have a first-, second- or third-round draft pick until 1978. The only way to improve in the short-term was through hard work and a change in the team’s attitude and mindset. Vermeil had to seed the team with players who could act as catalysts to turn things around.
Papale’s speed and his overall athletic ability quickly became apparent to the coaches during the tryout. In the forward to “Be Invincible,” Vermeil wrote, “The combination of [Papale’s] athletic skills, passion and work ethic made the evaluation process easy. I was convinced that we had someone who could help us build a foundation we would eventually win with.”
Papale served as the catalyst Vermeil needed in the early years of his tenure as the Eagles coach. Papale said in his interview, “Coach Vermeil needed a change agent. Change is the only constant in life, and you had to be comfortable with change to be successful as an Eagle.”
Papale won a position on the Eagles special teams, responsible for punts and kickoffs, and was eventually voted by his teammates as special teams captain. He earned that leadership position.
The Eagles went 4-10 during the 1976 season, and by 1978 had improved to 9 – 7, Papale’s last year as a player, sidelined by a shoulder injury. In 1980, the Eagles under Vermeil were 12-4, went to the Super Bowl, but lost to the Oakland Raiders. During his career as an Eagle, Papale played a key role in the team’s climb in the standings.
Papale is now a motivational speaker, sharing his inspiring story with others. There are many parallels between being successful in sports and successful in business, and Papale talks about these to corporate audiences.
1. Work hard, and don’t have a sense of entitlement
Papale writes that some players at that Eagles training camp during the summer of 1976 had a sense of entitlement. They were NFL veterans and had seen head coaches come and go, and did not want to work as hard as Vermeil wanted them to. Many of them didn’t make the team.
Papale worked hard to gain acceptance, not only from the coaching staff, but also from the veteran players, many of who supported him and his work ethic. This is also how acceptance and recognition is gained in a corporate environment.
2. Get out of your comfort zone
Papale writes in “Be Invincible,” “I think people are at their best when they are battling some obstacles. We weren’t meant to be comfortable. When we become complacent, we start to die.”
If you are comfortable for much of your professional life, you never grow. Occasionally you may fail, but you learn from those failures, and this helps you successfully face the next challenge.
3. Travel a journey to be the best in the world at what you do
During my interview of Papale, his outlook on life was very apparent. Papale is always on a journey to be the best in the world at what he does. He serves as a role model and a catalyst for others to do the same.
4. Be a positive thinker with a can-do attitude
We all know people who have a negative attitude about nearly everything. Papale is always positive. He sees challenges as opportunities. He undertakes every task with a winning attitude that he will succeed. This is what Vermeil saw in Papale when he made him a member of the Eagles.
5. “Good is the enemy of great”
These are the first six words in “Good to Great,” the iconic book by management guru Jim Collins. If you think you are good enough, you never will become great. Papale writes, “Many people think that life is all about competition with others, and sometimes that’s true. But in reality, your biggest competition is yourself.”
Papale’s compelling journey is an inspiration and serves as an example for those who are pursuing success in any endeavor. Be open to all opportunities and pursue those for which you have a passion. Differentiate yourself through hard work, results and a commitment to excellence, as did Papale. With these traits, you will have a rewarding future.
Stan Silverman is the former president and CEO of PQ Corp. He also is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership and is vice chairman of the board of trustees of Drexel University. Silverman earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering and an MBA degree from Drexel University. He is also an alumnus of the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School.