In the Shadow of Rocky by Meredith L Pymer

If you are not familiar with the 2006 movie, Invicible, I would start off with its trailer which can be viewed via this link.

While Rocky was debuting on the big screen in November of 1976, Philadelphians were watching the real rag to riches story come true on the Eagles’ football field. Vince Papale, a thirty-year-old teacher at the time, became a wide receiver and member of special teams for the Philadelphia Eagles. Papale was the oldest rookie, excluding kickers, in the history of the NFL to play professionally without having a college football career. In many ways the ordinary Philadelphian boxer being portrayed in theaters, embodied the new rookie of the Eagles, even gaining the nickname ‘Rocky’. Rocky and Papale even shared the same age, both in their 30s, and considered out of their prime for physical competition.

By 2006, Papale’s story was told on the big screen. Invincible, set in 1976, retold Papale’s story and shared many aspects that could also be found in Rocky. For example both stories embody the chaos during the 1970s as well as take place in South Philadelphia (I included an image of a typical Philly doorstep in Invincible and immediately was like “That’s so Rocky”). Rocky portrayed the scandals of Watergate, the War in Vietnam, the Oil Crisis and Affirmative Action in the distance, typical of the historical time period.

However, Invincible takes up issues of unemployment. Papale actually looses his job within the movie, a teacher turned bartender, and even deals with his wife leaving him, disgusted of his professional failures… Sound familiar? While watching TV it is broadcasted that the Eagles will be holding open tryouts. This eventually leads to Papale gaining a spot on the team, hence the rag to riches mentality that reflects the movie Rocky.  The movie even goes to imitate a special moment where Rocky remarks that the Bicentennial poster doesn’t depict the actual shorts he is wearing. Mr. Jergens responds that it doesn’t really matter. Similar to Rocky, Paple remarks that his name is spelled wrong on his Eagles’ locker. The equipment manager tells him, “Nothing personal, but is it really going to matter.”

Personally, I prefer the Papale’s version of the rag to riches commentary, that you too can have the American Dream. However, I would have to argue that Papale himself is not an American icon, which leads me to wonder why isn’t he? I think the icons are strongly embedded into our culture when a sense of myth or anonymity comes into play. Rocky isn’t an actual person, he is fictional, and like Barbie is fluid enough in his identity that Rocky can embody everyone. Unlike Papale who has a face and an actual real life story to tell, Rocky is a figment of our imagination. Even you can run the Art Museum stairs, turn back towards the city and for that moment feel a sense of pride in our accomplishment.

Just like in Rocky where he is portrayed as a bum, and told he could never be a good boxer, Papale reads this note from his former wife before she leaves him.

I mean… this might be stretching it, but those stairs are so familiar… Rocky much?

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