Read Part 1 and Part 2 of the debate.
The greatest athlete in Philadelphia history was a hard one for me to iron out. Sure I thought about obvious choices like Mike Schmidt, Charles Barkley, Joe Frazier, Bobby Clarke and Dr. J, but none of them seemed to stand out above the other.
Then I started to think out loud, “what if I built a brand new stadium in town, and opened it live on national television? Who would be the one athlete above all that symbolizes the spirit of athleticism in Philadelphia?”
Well, someone did just that, and they settled on the same man I did, Rocky Balboa. Though the “Italian Stallion” is purely a work of (Oscar-winning) fiction, when the Linc was introduced to the world on ABC’s “Monday Night Football,” it was Rocky who kicked off the festivities. In fact, it was so important to have Sylvester Stallone playing his signature role that they used him despite him being in production for a show on another network (NBC’s “The Contender”).
Released in 1977, “Rocky” recently spawned its forthcoming fifth sequel titled, “Rocky Balboa.” The original film won three Academy Awards, including best picture, and was nominated for seven more Oscars.
I lived for few years in Los Angeles, and the first athlete people there associate with the city is Rocky. Growing up in the Philadelphia area, I was able to learn about all of the great players who’ve donned the uniforms of my favorite teams. But out west, the Philly squads don’t exactly turn heads (a championship draught can do that).
When friends visit from out of town, one of the first things they all seem to ask is where the art museum is. Not that the art inside isn’t outstanding, but their reason for going is to run up the steps made famous by Balboa. I'd be willing to bet that no other act by a Philadelphia sports star is as imitated as that scene.
When a friend of mine, a Cowboys fan, lost a bet to me a couple of years ago, his payment to me was dinner and a photo of him wearing Eagles garb while standing next to the Rocky statue at the Spectrum. Rocky is so important to Philly's sports psyche that he has a statue outside of one of our sporting venues.
So as the debate continues, I ask the questions: What Philadelphia athlete has five movies completed, a sixth on the way, and a video game? What star was tapped to open the Linc live on national television? What local sports figure is emulated more than any other by people from all over America? The answer: Rocky Balboa.