The Philadelphia Eagles may have stopped playing at Penn’s own Franklin Field in 1970, but in the mid-2000s, the team sort of returned to its old stomping grounds.
In August of 2006, the Disney film "Invincible" was released in theaters. The movie told the true story of part-time bartender Vince Papale, played by Mark Wahlberg, who tried out for the Eagles at the age of 30 and, against all odds, made the team.
His time with the Eagles lasted from 1976 to 1979, during which time they played at Veterans Stadium. Unfortunately for the production of the movie, the stadium had been demolished in 2004, so it would be impossible to shoot there. As a result, the filmmakers were forced to find a stadium that would serve as a substitute for the Vet.
The initial inclination of the producers was to shoot all the necessary stadium scenes at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
Greater Philadelphia Film Office Executive Director Sharon Pinkenson tried to convince them otherwise by appealing to the fact that the Eagles had a history with the Penn landmark.
"That was my marketing pitch, but they didn't buy it at first because Franklin Field looks nothing like Veterans Stadium," Pinkenson said at the time.
While the producers may have thought that the peculiarities of Franklin Field may have been problematic, they found the features of Giants Stadium to not be much better.
"When they got inside there and they saw that Giants Stadium was red and blue, they were like, wait a second, maybe it's not such a good idea," Pinkenson said. "I think that as they continued to get into the issues of shooting in both places, Philadelphia got the nod after a while."
The stadium also already had successful film experience with the 2000 M. Night Shyamalan movie "Unbreakable," in which Bruce Willis portrayed a Franklin Field security guard.
Additionally, Pinkenson credited the financial incentives as most likely being the predominant factor in the filmmakers using Franklin Field over Giants Stadium.
Penn’s former Director of Athletics Facilities and Operations Dave Bryan claimed that the pitch to those behind "Invincible" was quite simple.
"The University of Pennsylvania can make this happen," Bryan said at the time.
Once Penn had been chosen as the spot where significant chunks of the movie would be shot, an extensive alteration period was underway. On July 11, 2005, the film crew began a weekslong process to transform Franklin Field into Veterans Stadium.
To do so, they painted a shade of green over Franklin Field’s field hockey and lacrosse white lines so that the entirety of the turf would match. They also inserted padding on the walls that mimicked the way the Vet looked, made a tunnel that resembled the entrance onto the Vet field, and anything that had the Red and Blue signage of the Quakers was replaced with Eagles green.
The shoot then commenced from July 28 to August 20, during which time Franklin Field’s running track, which was typically open to the public, was closed.
For Bryan, having the exposure that the film shooting there gave the school outweighed the sacrifice of having to shut down the Franklin Field running track for a period of time.
"It certainly doesn't hurt -- we try to host these things as often as we can -- other than the inconvenience for those who may be accustomed to using the stadium," he said.
The shooting of the movie also caused some minor funny campus disruptions as well. While filming the scene at Hollenback Center where Papale gets accepted to the Eagles, Bryan was forced to stop Mark Wahlberg from hitting golf balls off of Rhodes Field, where Penn soccer plays.
In addition to all of the game footage that was shot on the field, the filmmakers utilized other areas of Franklin Field as well. The scenes in the movie that take place in the Eagles locker room were shot in the stadium, as it gave the authentic appearance that the filmmakers were looking for.
The lower north locker room was used for the scene in which new Eagles head coach Dick Vermeil, played by Greg Kinnear, gives his introductory press conference.
According to Bryan, the scene was filmed there because it showed off “the dungeon-like feel of Veterans Stadium.”
Franklin Field’s bleachers were also used for when the movie shows the Eagles’ fans in attendance at home games. Hundreds of dummies lined the stands in addition to numerous actors and stand-ins, who would migrate from one section of the stadium to another to give the impression of a packed crowd.
For the scene in which droves of fans are lined up to try out for the Eagles, the east concourse was used.
Once filming was completed, post-production involved implanting computer-generated images of Veterans Stadium onto anything that resembled Franklin Field. The shots of the exterior of the Vet were done using CGI.
While the movie covers up almost all of what looks like Franklin Field, keen observers will notice the stadium’s running track surrounding the field as well as the stadium’s bench seating, which is unlike the Vet’s composition of individual seats. On an even more minute level, the Sprinturf of Franklin Field is shown, despite its difference from the artificial turf of Veterans Stadium.
The Penn connections in "Invincible" span beyond just Franklin Field, though. Vince Papale’s romantic interest in the film, Janet, is played by Elizabeth Banks, who graduated from Penn in 1996. On top of that, Vince Papale’s real-life wife, whom Banks' character is loosely based on, happens to be Janet Cantwell-Papale, who acted as Penn’s head gymnastics coach from 1976 to 1988.
The film itself has left a lasting impact long after its debut in 2006. It grossed over $58 million when it was released, and Vince Papale ranks alongside Rocky Balboa as one of the most legendary film characters in Philadelphia history. In 2011, The Philadelphia Inquirer ranked "Invincible" second among the top ten greatest Philadelphia sports movies. The movie even inspired a season three episode of "It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia" entitled “The Gang Gets Invincible.”
To help commemorate the 125th anniversary of Franklin Field in 2019, a showing of "Invincible" was held on the very field it was shot at.
Although the film revolves around events that took place several years after the Eagles left Franklin Field, the iconic stadium still holds a place in the legacy of "Invincible."
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