I wasn’t brave during the boxing matches. When the fighters would enter the ring, I’d ball up on the couch, head cocked to the side, and mouth twisted into a grimace. I’d completely shut my right eye, and leave my left eye open just a slit. Come to think of it, my face looked a lot like Rocky’s at the end of the fight.
But I didn’t stop watching. I couldn’t. Once I started, I was hooked. I was left-hooked.
What do you call it when you chain-watch Rocky film after Rocky film?
What do you call it when you can’t stop quoting Rocky, can’t stop quoting Sylvester Stallone?
What do you call it when you suspect you have Rocky on the brain?
What do you call it when you are drunk on Rocky?
Am I inRocksicated?
I’d always thought these films were good. In fact, when I was in high school, my audition to be the school mascot was a “Rocky” skit. The night before try-outs, I sewed enormous white satin shorts with a red stripe and finagled them over the cardinal suit’s gigantic red rump. The next morning in the gym, I sweated through that seven-foot, shag-carpet get-up, doing the cabbage patch to “Gonna Fly Now” and chunking candy into the stands. The student body loved it so much that I won! (Ok, I was the only one who tried out that year.)
I didn’t know the films were this good, though. I’ll admit, they are formulaic. In 1976, Sly crafted THE PERFECT MOVIE in Rocky, and then spent the next thirty years and five more films trying to repeat the experiment, which, most creatives will tell you, doesn’t work. Yet, here, it does. Every time our blue-collar hero hurts, we root for him again. Holler and cheer for him, even.
This story is weak in dozens of places, yet we continue to tell it and want it told. Some of the plot twists are ridiculous, but we don’t care! We’ve got the eye of the tiger!
Because Sylvester Stallone populated his story with characters that are deep and rich, and their irony is strong enough to carry us from movie to movie.
- Rocky is a tough fighter who is tender-hearted and helps the weak.
- Adrian is a silent recluse who speaks her mind when she needs to. Loudly.
- Paulie is an free-loading alcoholic who is weirdly loveable.
- Apollo is a narcissistic fool who has irresistible charm.
- Mickey is a caustic coach who cares enough to tell the truth.
We love these characters because we are these characters. Most mornings, the bathroom mirror reveals that we are both challenger and champion. When we get into the ring each day, the hardest fight we face is remembering to act like the right one.
I found a pair of boxing gloves in the garage. To me, they represent defeat. I purchased them as a prop for a DVD curriculum project that I just knew was going to be a sales phenomenon, successful beyond imagination. After a great investment of time and effort, everything fell to the mat. Everything. I lost momentum. I lost the opportunity. I lost money. A lot of it. And we had nothing to show for it. I felt humiliated, walking with my shoulders involuntarily stooped for days. I didn’t want to face anyone involved with the project, because we had all been so hopeful it would fly … and the crash was my fault. All of the props, including the boxing gloves, landed in a box in the garage. For years. Whenever I happened upon that box, I wanted to spit.
I was down for the count.
one … two …
Rocky said, “It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”
… three … four …
It is difficult to remember that every bone-shaking gut punch, every pain, every peril is only breaking your pride. It isn’t breaking you.
… five … six …
Nothing hurts as much as a shot to the pride, but the paradox is that a loss of pride lightens you. Once it breaks, pride is the heavyweight misery you no longer have to lift.
… seven … eight …
There are so many great lines in Rocky films, but an important one to me is: “The last thing to age on somebody is their heart.” I don’t care how many years you’ve lived or how long it has been since you took the hit: The bell hasn’t rung.
… nine …
It is time for me to pull the boxing gloves from the box. I’m hanging them on my bathroom mirror, where I can see them every day. Maybe then it won’t be so hard to remember if I am a coward or a contender. These gloves don’t have to symbolize defeat. They can symbolize standing to my feet.
Get up. Get back in the fight with me. Fuel something new with the wisdom from your old wound. I’m in your corner.
Stay off the ropes, baby.