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Picture This: The Fake Papale Photo

Posted Feb 20, 2014

Ed Mahan has been a team photographer for the Eagles since 1971. In addition to his work with the Eagles, Mahan has been the photographer for the Flyers, Phillies, Sixers and University of Penn athletics. He is also the Director of Photography for the Penn Relays and the Big 5. Here he tells the story of how he captured this photo of Vince Papale, which appears to be a sideline shot from a game, but ...

Everyone knows the story of Vince Papale.

Even for those who weren’t around to cheer for Papale in the 1970s, his tale was chronicled by Hollywood for the movie Invincible in 2006.

At the end of the movie, a montage of the real Papale was featured, showing both video and still photography highlights. The sideline portrait above captures the passion that made Papale the iconic figure that he is today. However, there is a little secret – the photo was staged.

NFL Properties wanted to document Papale’s story for a piece that they were working on, and they needed a color sideline portrait photo. The only problem was that the only ones we had at the time of Papale were black and white photos. Color film was not that good and there wasn’t much of a need for it at the time. The request came in the spring, so the only way to get the photo was to stage it.

On a spring day, it was late April or early May, we set up the photo shoot at Veterans Stadium. Rusty Sweeney, the former equipment manager, dressed him from the waist up in his game uniform. The late Otho Davis, the longtime head athletic trainer, did a wonderful job of putting the bandage on his nose and made it look like Papale was in the middle of a game. We sprayed some water to make it look like perspiration and simply told Vince to act like a big play happened on the field. He started to yell and scream and he really imagined that there was a fumble.

Normally, I would use a 180mm lens to shoot a sideline portrait, but for this I used a 300mm lens. The stronger the lens, the more the background drops out of focus. It created a more dramatic shot. We couldn’t show the empty seats, so we focused right on Vince. When doing sideline portraits, the subject of the image jumps out a lot more this way, compared to having an in-focus background.

It was nice to have that sideline portrait for the end of Invincible to show the real Vince Papale. It was a job that we had fun with, and it worked out well for everybody involved.

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