|Posted by doktakra on June 15, 2011 at 11:24 AM|
I tried to not get too excited when Michelle, my wonderful wife (still feels weird to not say, "fiancée"), told me that she was able to get two VIP tickets from Showtime Sports to the Boxing Hall of Fame weekend, where Sylvester Stallone would be one of the inductees. Never mind the merits of a Hollywood actor who played a boxer over the span of four decades getting recognized among the sport’s all-time greats – someone joked that by the same token, Whoopi Goldberg should be in the Basketball Hall of Fame for her role in Eddie – we’re talking about Sly freakin’ Stallone here.
Now, I’m sure most guys own the first Rocky, many have the entire box set, and every single one stops whatever they’re doing if they catch the last few minutes of any movie from the series on cable. About three years ago, I took it a step further and and started a Stallone DVD collection (if you’re wondering, I have a couple of Frank Stallone movies, too, such as the brilliant Terror in Beverly Hills). The only Sly movie I still don’t own is Rhinestone, partly because its IMDB description is, “A country music star must turn an obnoxious New York cabbie into a singer in order to win a bet” (must see!), but more so because it’s out of print and sells for $71 on Amazon. So, yes, I guess you could say that I’m
insane a Stallone fan.
Last year, I came across a Rocky mini-poster at a New York street fair, and it’s been displayed on our credenza ever since, patienly waiting for an autograph. If I lived in a dorm room, I would absolutely hang my old Rambo poster on the wall, too, but apparently adults in their mid-twenties are expected to act like grown-ups. I almost forgot to even bring the Rocky poster with me, but luckily, Michelle remembered and went back to get it.
Anticipating that Stallone would make an appearance at the Saturday morning golf event or the afternoon celebrity workout session at the Hall of Fame grounds, Michelle and I made the four-hour drive to Canastota, NY on Friday night. When we arrived at the course the next morning, it turned out that no one, including the chairman of the Hall, had any idea when (or if) Stallone, who was shooting a movie in Texas, would arrive. A security guard at the museum then told us that Sly wouldn’t come until Sunday’s ceremony and would leave immediately afterwards. There goes my plan.
With little else to do, we stuck around on the golf course and met a few boxing legends, including “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler, Ken Norton, Leon Spinx, and Kostya Tszyu. I’m sure these names mean something to avid boxing enthusiasts, perhaps as much as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Julius Erving, and Moses Malone would mean to me as a basketball fan, but their autographs seemed like mere consolation prizes at the time.
When we arrived at the Awards Banquet dinner later than night, I told Michelle that I was bringing the Rocky poster anyway. “I know he won’t be there, but just humor me,” I told her.
Inside, we realized that Michelle got the serious hook-up (holla if you hear me!) with the VIP seats. We were sitting at table four of over 150, alongside a New York senator (not Anthony Weiner, unfortunately), and directly in front of Don King, who was among the boxers, trainers, and celebrities seated at long tables behind the podium. We spotted a placecard for Stallone, and I took a picture in front of it, figuring it would be the closest I’d ever get to seeing him in person.
Not surprisingly, when the celebrities were introduced and walked onto the stage, Stallone’s name was skipped from the order. But after the last boxer sat down, the announcer gave one last unexpected intro.
“And now, ladies and gentlemen, you know him as Rocky Balboa, 2011 Hall of Fame inductee, Sylvester Stallone!”
No way. I watched with my mouth agape as Stallone walked out from behind a curtain to a rousing ovation and shook hands with every person on the stage. “Holy crap. Stallone is here. I might faint,” I Tweeted (half-jokingly) after getting close enough to get a picture.
I started daydreaming about how I’d tell Sly I own all but one of his movies, how he’d laugh after hearing which one I don’t have, and how I’d show him pictures of me and Michelle dressed up as Rocky and Adrian on Halloween. Yes, I live in a fantasy world.
Shockingly, it turned out that I wasn’t the only person who was interested in seeing a famous movie star. Hundreds of people crowded near his table, watching his every move and snapping photos like paparazzi. I asked a couple at our table, who’d attended the last 10 inductions, whether I had any chance of getting Stallone’s autograph, and was told that the odds were “slim to none.” Damn it.
After three hours of speeches, video clips and auctions (I unsuccessfully bid on signed photos of Burt Young and Mr. T), the dinner unceremoniously ended and the crowd rushed the stage. By the time I ran across the room to Stallone’s table, nearly a thousand people were already holding up boxing gloves, photos and ticket stubs for him to sign.
Instead of organizing the fans into one line in front of him, the security guards yelled for everyone to move back and threatened to end the autograph session. Of course, no one listened, and it turned into a mob scene – people pushed, elbowed and stepped on others’ feet, with no regard for women or children. I fully expected to wake up with bruised ribs the following morning after enduring a worse beating than Ivan Drago (sorry, I had to go there).
I made it to the front of the crowd – at this point, shoving just like everyone else – three times in different locations, just barely missing Stallone, but I kept picturing Adrian telling me to win. I could barely even see Sly over the outstretched arms and memorabilia in front of my face (you can see my attempts in photos above), but on my fourth try to get his attention, he finally took the poster out of my hand, put it down on the table (getting a little cheesecake on it in the process) and signed it. I felt like I just took down Clubber Lang after 15 grueling rounds.
When I was able to escape the vicious crowd, I searched for Michelle, who as I soon found out, went through a similar experience while trying to get Sly’s autograph for me on the other side of the stage (if you haven’t realized it by now, she’s awesome). After nearly getting trampled over, she just barely missed Stallone as he ducked behind the curtain right in front of her. She might’ve been even more excited than me when I showed her my signed poster.
The next day, Stallone was officially inducted and received his Hall of Fame ring. True to form, his entire speech was a nod to Rocky, with several quotes from and an emphatic, “Yo, Adrian, I did it!” finale. It almost felt like being in a movie, with the crowd giving him a long standing ovation and chanting “Rocky!” Is it really that far-fetched to think he'll go up against Mike Tyson (which Stallone said almost happened once before) in Rocky VII?
Sly left shortly afterward, and although he didn't pose for pictures or do much signing, he acknowledged the fans and shook my hand as he was escorted to his car. It should also be noted that moments before he walked by, I stood right next to Frank, who said something like, “the real star is up ahead.”
As Michelle and I drove back to the city, I looked at the poster again in disbelief. I read the tagline underneath Stallone's signature – “Their lives were a million to one shot” – and I couldn't help but smile. I couldn't have said it better myself.
Categories: Sylvester Stallone