Being 'Invincible', Part II   

Updated: September 27, 2007, 4:39 PM ET

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Editor's note: This piece was originally posted by Page 2 on Aug. 31, 2005


At the end of this drill, I turned to Wahlberg and said, "So this is what it feels like to be a linebacker for the Cleveland Browns." Surrounded by real football players and actual actors, I felt a bit like Ryan Cabrera stuck in an elevator with Bono when I first arrived on set. Marky Mark's people had also told my people that I should keep my distance. But by the end of the day, we were hanging out like Drama and Turtle. It's funny what a few shared concussions can do.

I took several huge hits during my tryout -- not exactly the La-La Land I had hoped to wind up in -- but nothing hurt worse than the wisecracks of curmudgeonly equipment dude Mike Fox Sr., who told me I looked like a lawn jockey, only smaller. Mike had a reason to be cranky. Costume and equipment people on set were obsessing over every little detail, trying to make sure that every piece of equipment, all the way down to the chin straps, were what they call in the biz "period correct." I arrived on set at the same time as an entire truck load of Bengals equipment, full of hundreds of helmets, pants, sox and jerseys. All of it for one shot in the movie. Ever wonder why movie tickets cost eight bucks? Now you know. Blame the Bengals.

I know it looks like I'm determined to pass Wahlberg, but actually that's my "four Gorditas for lunch was probably a bad idea" look. After practice, I joked that it would take me a week and 53 Advils before I'd be able to move my neck enough to switch lanes while driving; and, well, I was wrong. It was 73 Advil. But it was well worth it. How many people can say that in one day, they won over an AFL Ironman, an NFL star and Dirk Diggler? "Sometimes I can't believe they pay me to do this," Wahlberg said as we left the field. Yeah, me neither.

Papale is all smiles as he poses with his daughter Gabriella and producer Mark Ciardi. Why is everyone chuckling? Before the shot, I believe the photog said, "Hey, Fleming really showed some talent out there today, huh?" Papale seems to possess the perfect movie magic formula of a tender heart and a steel will. Right now, he works for the charitable arm of Sallie Mae, helping kids from all backgrounds secure money for college. At the time of the rehearsal, T.O. was in the midst of his pre-season temper tantrum. After learning about Papale's amazing story -- he picked the smallest shoulder pads he could find since he figured he was going to get cut in a day or two, anyway (he played four years) -- it was impossible not to wonder about just how much the definition of an NFL star has changed in three short decades.


David Fleming is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine. His book, "Noah's Rainbow," a father's emotional journey from the death of his son to the birth of his daughter, will be published in the fall of 2005 by Baywood. Contact him at


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