Character Counts and Helps Separate Winners from Losers

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), September 8, 2006 | Go to article overview

Character Counts and Helps Separate Winners from Losers


Byline: Bob Frisk

Heart and character.

How did a 30-year-old unemployed schoolteacher and part-time bartender survive an open tryout for a beleaguered team and actually play three years in the National Football League?

Heart and character.

That's what Philadelphia Eagles rookie coach Dick Vermeil saw as the big difference that finally separated 30-year-old Vince Papale from all the other candidates in the excellent new movie "Invincible."

Of course, it didn't hurt that Papale could run the 40-yard dash in 4.5 and was an outstanding athlete, particularly in track and field, who had played for the Philadelphia Bell of the World Football League.

Nevertheless, he was a 30-year-old trying out to become an NFL rookie and needed something other than speed to open the eyes of Vermeil and the Eagles' coaching staff.

Heart and character.

Vermeil insisted that was the difference, and he overruled his assistants to take Papale.

"Congratulations, old man, you're a Philadelphia Eagle," Vermeil told Papale a week before the season opener with Dallas.

Papale played three years in the NFL, mainly as a special-teams demon, before an injury ended his career in the 1979 preseason.

This father of two school-age children became an Eagles broadcaster, executive with the nation's largest provider of student loans and motivational speaker, surviving a bout of colorectal cancer.

The way this feel-good underdog movie shows the emphasis on character in coach Vermeil's selection process provides a strong statement that I hope resonates with young athletes everywhere.

I can write about character, and coaches can preach about character to their players. But sometimes it takes a portrayal on the big screen like "Invincible" to make the most effective statement.

Sports are a big part of our culture, and they often play an important role in our lives. They say sports build character, but we still hear accounts of unsportsmanslike conduct, unethical and even illegal conduct at all levels of athletic competition.

This is where coaching becomes so important.

Coaches are, above all, teachers and among the most influential people in a young athlete's life.

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