Not many people who have walked this planet have had a movie made about them. Vince Papale is one of those people. If you have no idea who Papale is, then you should have been in Philadelphia this week, because he delivered the opening keynote address at the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials’ annual conference.

For those who weren’t there, allow me to fill you in. Papale is a folk hero in the City of Brotherly Love because he tried out for and made the Philadelphia Eagles as a 30-year-old, without having played any collegiate football. His only experience was in the city’s hardscrabble sandlot leagues, where they played tackle football without the benefit of any protective equipment. Papale proved his worth. He was a backup receiver, but excelled on special teams, so much so that he eventually was named the squad’s captain. Injuries ended his career after four seasons.

The movie, made by Disney, was titled Invincible, and starred Mark Wahlberg as Papale. “That was pretty cool,” Papale said. I have to agree — I’m a fan of both Mark and his brother Donny, an accomplished actor in his own right. It’s a pretty good movie, too.

He said that he beat the long odds he faced in making the Eagles largely because of the hard work and dedication he applied to the task. He summed up his attitude by quoting Dick Vermeil, the coach who gave him a chance: “Nobody ever drowns in sweat.”

Papale told a bunch of stories about his playing days and the making of the movie and drew a few laughs from the audience. But he drew applause at several junctures when he turned serious and proclaimed that while people look at football players as heroes, they don’t compare with the true heroes who save lives every day because of their ability to think quickly and decisively — 911 call-takers and dispatchers.

Sure, Papale was playing to the crowd — but that doesn’t mean he isn’t right.

He compared the pressure faced on the gridiron with that encountered in public-safety answering points and said — again rightly so — that there is no comparison.

“Think about the pressure you face and then think about a kicker who has to kick the winning field goal in the Super Bowl — that’s not a life-and-death situation, but you face them every day,” Papale said. “And if you screw up, it’s going to go on YouTube, isn’t it? And when you do a great job, they don’t make a movie about you, do they?”

There are many, many 911 telecommunicators who do a great job, and APCO honors the best of them every year. Here are this year’s winners:

  • Information technologist of the year: Robert W. Jeffrey
  • Radio-frequency technologist of the year: Peter K. Loewenheim
  • Telecommunicator of the year: Richard Garman
  • Trainer of the year: Connie Felten
  • Line supervisor of the year: Shayl McCormick
  • Team of the year: Pima County (Ariz.) Sherriff’s Office 911 dispatch team
  • Communications director of the year: Robin Schmidt

They all had great stories. The folks from Pima County were honored for their performance in the aftermath of the Rep. Gabrielle Giffords shooting in Tucson in January. In the first three minutes after the shooting, the team handled 30 calls, and eventually handled hundreds. They also had the added challenge of having to deal with the FBI, the Capitol Police and a swarm of media, given Giffords’ stature as a member of Congress.
Impressive as that was, it was something that Felten, who hails from the Kansas City suburb of Lee’s Summit, Mo., was quoted as saying that really got my attention. Speaking of 911 telecommunicators, she said, “We work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We don’t take holidays off and we very rarely get a hot meal. But I love what I do and I don’t see myself ever doing anything different.”

Talk about being invincible.

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