The NFL is full of inspiring stories, ranging from out-of-nowhere players making names for themselves and becoming stars, to in-their-prime players proving that some things are bigger than the sport. That being said, here are 5 inspirational NFL stories that will be told forever.
In the late 70s, Vincent Francis Papale was making a living as a bartender in Monkster’s Club in Philly and moonlighting as a substitute teacher at Interboro High School as well. That’s when he tried out for the Philadelphia Bell, of the long-defunct World Football League (WFL), as a wide receiver, doing so without playing even a single snap of college football. The then 28-year-old made the team, playing well enough to secure a private workout from the Eagles’ coaching staff. In 1976, the humble bartender was on an NFL roster, an unheralded 30-year-old rookie who defied the odds. He went on to play 3 seasons for the Eagles, fittingly earning the nickname Rocky for his own, true-to-life underdog story.
Not too long ago, Brady was but a lightly regarded prospect, as he had been drafted late in the 6th round by the New England Patriots. The former Michigan Wolverine began his career 4th on the Patriots depth chart and got his 1st start only a season later against the Indianapolis Colts. Since then, he has held on to that position, in the process of becoming one of the NFL’s greatest ever. Now 41, Brady’s illustrious career might come to an end 4 years from now, as he playfully implied in his interview with ESPN. And for Brady, those 4 years might be more than enough time for 5-time champ to settle the greatest of all time debate, which we touched on last year in our ‘Is Tom Brady The Greatest Quarterback Of All Time?’ post.
Much like Brady, Warner was lightly regarded coming out of college, but unlike Brady, Warner was never drafted. He was signed in 1994 as an undrafted free agent by the Green Bay Packers. Warner was buried in the depth chart, with Lottoland reporting that he was the team’s 4th in line QB. With Brett Favre, Mark Brunell, and veteran Ty Detmer already in tow, the Packers eventually released Warner, who then took a job at Hy-Vee grocery store in Cedar Falls on $5.50 an hour. He then took his talents to the Iowa Barnstormers in the Arena Football League, before finally making it back to the big leagues in 1997 via the St. Louis Rams. A few years later, he was leading “The Greatest Show on Turf,” a blistering, way-ahead-of-its-time offense that helped the Rams win in 2000 in what Sports Illustrated once described as the greatest Super Bowl ever. Warner retired in 2009 and is now part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. For more about Warner, we suggest you revisit our profile of the Iowa all-star.
Tillman’s story is one of sacrifice and love for his country. In the midst of a fledging NFL career playing safety for the Arizona Cardinals, Tillman declined a contract offer from the Cardinals in 2002 to enlist in the military and serve for a country reeling from 9/11. The star safety-turned-soldier was deployed in Iraq that same year as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, then in Afghanistan a year later, where he was killed by friendly fire in 2004. He was just 27 at the time, right about the age where athletes start hitting their athletic primes.
Griffin is resiliency and determination personified, working tirelessly to become one of the nation’s top linebackers. Now, he has the opportunity to showcase his freakish athleticism and ferocious fortitude on the grandest stage of them all after Seattle Seahawks made him the first one-handed player to be drafted into the NFL. Fittingly, he will be sharing the field with his twin brother Shaquill.
The league has plenty of these inspiring stories, and the ones listed above are arguably the 5 most inspiring. Each, for sure, will be retold time and again, from one generation to the next.