Pete Rowe, from Strasburg, was in Philadelphia over the weekend with two college friends from California. They ate cheesesteaks, saw the sights, and finished with a run up the Rocky Steps.
At the top, as they celebrated the moment, a voice from behind them said, "You guys got up here pretty fast. You're making me look bad."
They turned around. It was Rocky himself, Sylvester Stallone.
"He was walking around with some of his family," according to Rick Rowe, Pete's father, who posted the item on Facebook, along with a picture the three college students took with Stallone atop the famous steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
"Yes, it was very fun both for Mr. Stallone and the surprised visitors," confirmed Michelle Bega, Stallone's publicist. "When he visits the steps . . . he prefers not to make an event of it - just be with the fans in a genuine and happily surprising way."
Stallone was in town to film what will be the seventh Rocky movie, titled Creed. Stallone, playing Rocky, takes on the role of his old trainer, Mickey, to train the son or grandson of Apollo Creed, Rocky's rival in the original movie and his friend in sequels.
The original movie, winning the Academy Award in 1976 for best picture, will be 40 years old next year. The new movie, according to Rocky impersonator and fan Mike Kunda, will end at the Rocky Steps.
Stallone has always loved the steps. When he wrote the screenplay to the original movie, he conceived of the scene there. And in every subsequent movie, his character either runs the steps again, or returns there. In Rocky IV, which took place in Russia, there are flashbacks to the steps. In Rocky on Broadway last year, there was an homage to the steps.
In the original Rocky, Stallone wanted to run the steps carrying his dog, Butkus, but the dog weighed 120 pounds.
"After going up a flight and a half," Stallone wrote in the foreword to ROCKY STORIES: Tales of Love Hope and Happiness at America's Most Famous Steps, "I realized I would only be completing this with a terminal case of a hernia, so I abandoned that idea." (Editor's Note: Staff Writer Michael Vitez is coauthor with Inquirer photographer Tom Gralish of ROCKY STORIES: Tales of Love Hope and Happiness at America's Most Famous Steps.)
In Rocky Balboa, the sixth movie, however, he runs the steps, at age 60, with his new dog, much smaller, on a leash, and thrusts only one hand to the sky in celebration at the top because he has picked up the pup with the other.
It was hardly surprising that Stallone returned to the steps incognito on Saturday. He loves it there.
For all his fame, wealth and success, Stallone loves the idea that nearly 40 years later, people still come from all over the nation and world and run these steps. The ritual is organic, authentic, and as we discovered in our book, the actor and movie may bring people to the steps, but they run to celebrate their own lives and accomplishments, or to get motivation for challenges ahead.
Stallone so loved the idea of our book, and this ritual, that he decided to end the movie Rocky Balboa with scores of Philadelphians running the steps and dancing at the top as the credits roll. As a gesture of kindness, he included Gralish and me. Tom has the camera and I have the notebook. Blink and you will miss us.
For my book, I asked Stallone why he thought people continue to run the steps many decades later.
"Because we are underdogs," he wrote in the foreword. "And there's very few things, iconic situations, that are accessible. You know you can't borrow Superman's cape. You can't use the Jedi laser sword. But the steps are there. The steps are accessible. And standing up there, you kind of have a piece of the Rocky pie. You are part of what the whole myth is."
I submit that Sylvester Stallone is happy at the steps. He is proud of what he inspired here, that running the steps still resonates with so many. I believe he will continue to surprise people at the steps for as long as he lives.