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Tom travels to Philly and survives the Rocky steps

click to enlarge Rockys footsteps

Rockys footsteps

Forty or so years ago, Rocky became the first sports movie to win the Oscar for Best Picture. It was the Bicentennial Year and post-Vietnam patriotism was busting out all over. It was also an Olympic year, although the International Olympic Committee screwed over the United States (and, as it turned out, Canada, as well) by giving the Summer Games to Montreal. The star of those Olympics was Bruce Jenner, who was a guy back then ... not that there's anything wrong with that.

People my age might remember that Sylvester Stallone was everybody's darling back then, the long-shot guy who turned down a fortune for the screenplay rights in exchange for being able to play the title character. Over the decades that followed, he gave back all that goodwill by making Rambo 4, marrying Brigitte Nielsen, making a movie about arm-wrestling, and doing shirtless scenes in sub-zero temperatures in Cliffhanger.

Despite all that, the original Rocky remains the poop. The movie is full of iconic moments—the surprise ending where he actually lost to Apollo Creed; the "Cut me, Mick" scene where his swollen-shut eyelid is sliced open so he could continue the fight; and, of course, his triumphant run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Like just about every guy who has ever seen that movie, I told myself that I was going to run those steps someday. When the movie first came out, I was playing college basketball, and like Bob Seger sang, "... lean and solid everywhere." Now, not so much. Judging by my appearance, the past 40 years haven't been so kind to me. But they've actually been great. I've got a wonderful wife and two semi-perfect kids. (Holding them back, respectively: My son plays in an adult soccer league and my daughter sometimes listens to country music.)

True, my Italian genetics haven't been so friendly. I can put on (and keep on) weight with the fattest of them.

Anyway, a couple months ago, my daughter asked me if I would like to accompany her to the first-ever Ivy League Basketball Tournament.

We left Tucson on the day when it was supposed to hit 90 degrees for the first time. We walked out of the Philadelphia airport into snow flurries. Snow in small doses, is absolutely wonderful. It never got above freezing the entire time we were there; I loved it. Darlene got us this badass hotel about three blocks from the tournament site. The Palestra is the legendary venue that has served as the hub of Philadelphia basketball for nearly a century.

The games were really good, especially the semifinal game between Princeton and host Penn. Apparently, the fans of these two teams aren't fond of each other. They don't like Cornell or Yale much, either. And everybody hates Harvard.

There was a guy sitting not far from us and he had his laptop open. On the shell part of the laptop screen was a bumper sticker that read, "What Would Nixon Do?" He looked to be college-age, so it might have been a joke. But he was also a white guy in Pennsylvania and just a few months ago, 57 percent of them lost their damn minds, so I don't know.

My son lent me a beanie that has a block Wildcat "A." Once when I was leaving the hotel, the concierge saw the beanie and said, "University of Arizona. Good basketball team."

I felt like Sandra Bullock in Speed.

There was a disturbing element to the trip. Because we happened to be in one of the stupid parts of the United States on the second weekend of March, we lost an hour due to the start of Daylight Savings Time. But since I have no plans to be in a stupid part of the U.S. on the first weekend of November, I can't shake this ridiculous feeling that I've somehow lost an hour that I'll never get back.

We got up early Sunday morning and took a cab to the Rocky steps. There was a steady stream of people coming and going, including tour buses dropping off a couple dozen at a time. It was so cold, I actually had to wear sweats and gloves, neither of which I like. I had told our beloved editor what I was going to do and she asked that it be filmed. (You've been warned.)

I did my best to run all of the steps. I did walk the flats because anybody can run on a horizontal surface. About two-thirds of the way up, I paused briefly because Darlene, who was filming the mess, was apparently surprised by my hyper-speed and was trying to run up the steps backwards to keep up. Being a dad (and slightly winded), I told her to get up to the top so that I could finish, which I did.

I felt good enough to do a Take Two, but thought it would be somewhat dishonest. We walked down, took a picture by the Rocky statue and then hailed a cab. When we got in, the cabbie asked, "So, how did you do?"

"Well, I ran all the steps."

"That's great," he said. Then, after a pause, he added, "You'd be amazed at how many heart attacks we've had on those steps."

Well, that's good to know.

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