Rusty Balboa by Nico Di Mattia

Nico Di Mattia is an illustrator, sculptor and toy maker.  He created the Rusty Balboa piece above (and the pencil art below).  Rusty Balboa is just one of the many pop culture pieces that include Rusty Sarah Connor, Rusty Ripley, Rusty Leon, Rusty Wick, Rusty Corleone and Rusty Eastwood just to name six.  You can see more of Nico Di Mattia’s art here and here.

Meeting Sly Stallone!

On December 3, 2023, the first annual ROCKY DAY was held in Philadelphia.  Sylvester Stallone along with thousands from around the world arrived to celebrate the event.  Thanks to Mr. Stallone and the great folks at The Sly Stallone Shop some lucky fans were invited to get their photo with Sly at the Rocky statue.  Even luckier fans, were also invited to a private reception with Sylvester Stallone.  I was one of the luckier ones.

Since the event was scheduled for Sunday, the 3rd, my wife and I flew into Philly on Friday.  This allowed us to have a day buffer if there were any problems.  There weren’t.  So we got the lay of the land on Friday and did some touristy stuff on Saturday.  We saw the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, walked around a bit, then visited the Rocky Steps, the Rocky Statue, and the newly opened Sly Stallone Shop.  The weather was great.

On Sunday we arrived at the Rocky Steps at 9:30am.  The event was scheduled for 11:45am.  We checked in at the VIP tent where we were given our silver bracelets.  We learned that we would be in a special VIP section for the event.  After the ceremony we’d get our photo taken with Sly Stallone at the Rocky Statue and then attend the reception in the art museum.

The weather was cold and rainy, but that didn’t stop fans from showing up.  We were given admittance into the VIP section and ended up front and center.  As the time for Sly’s arrival grew closer and closer the crowds got bigger and bigger.  Fans were friendly and talking to each other.  Near us were people from Philly, Arizona and Chile!  I saw John Rivoli in attendance.  I was surprised that over the course of the day, three or four people recognized my name from StalloneZone.  That’s always cool.

The cold rain continued to come down, but everyone was in great spirits.  You can imagine the crowd’s surprise to see Chevy Chase.

Sly arrived.  He took the stage where he was given a key to the city, and Rocky Day was announced by city officials.  Sly spoke about the importance of Philly and the steps to him in his early days.  Sly was honored, humble and all of the things you’d hope he’d be.  It was cool seeing Jen and Nick on stage with him.

Sly thanked everyone for coming out.  Since it was still raining, Sly was given several options for indoor locations for the photos with fans.  Sly refused them all.  He said fans expected their picture with him to be at the Rocky statue.  That’s what they were told.  That’s what the wanted and that’s what they’d get.  How many celebrities would have done that?

It wasn’t clear where the folks getting the photo with Sly were to line up.  Soon we discovered that we were to be near the Rocky Shop.  There were two levels of “winners”.  Green got the VIP section of the event and a photo with Sly.  Silver got the VIP section, the photo and attendance at the reception with Sly.  Sadly, the people working the gate didn’t know that.

Most of the security personnel were polite.  There was one young guy who got a security vest and thought it made him Judge Dredd.  “Get back!  Move away! I said, ‘Get back!'” was the way he addressed the crowd.  While other security members took the, “Please take five steps back. We need the line to shift over here” approach. Judge Dredd was not allowing “silver VIPs” in for the photo.  I said to him, “Both colors get the photo. Silver also gets to attend the reception.” “No. Only the green get the photo,” he responded.  I said, “If you’ll check, you’ll see silver gets both.”  He came back with: “Green paid a different amount than you so they could get the photo.”  I told him, “Nobody paid anything.  We all were winners.”  “You’re not on the list” was his reply.  I looked at the people near me (also with silver bands) and said, “Nobody likes the list guy.” (Bonus points if you know in what movie Sly said that.)

There was a female security guard with the list.  I asked her to please check to see if our names were on it.  They were.  She told Dredd to let us in.  Boy, did he look pissed.

Sly posed with fans for the photos.  A professional photographer took the pictures. The line moved quickly and efficiently without being rushed.  As we were on deck for our photo, my wife and I were standing next to Jennifer.  We made eye contact and I said, “Hello Jennifer.”  She said, “Hello.”  I then said to my wife, “It feels weird calling someone by their first name who I’ve never met before.”  Jennifer heard me.  She smiled and said, “It’s okay.  That’s my name.”

As we were walking up for our photo, Nick (from the Sly Stallone Shop) saw me and told Sly, I was the guy who created StalloneZone in 1996 and updated it at least weekly for all these years.  Sly smiled as we shook hands and he said, “So you’re that guy.  Thanks for all you’ve done.”  Sly, my wife and I had small talk as we got our photo.  As we walked away, Sly said, “I appreciate you for all you’ve done over the years.”

We then headed into the museum for the reception.  This was a private event.  There were tables full of hors d’oeuvres and an open bar.  Everyone mingled as we waited for Sly to arrive.  I got a photo with John Rivoli.

I also was able to get a photo with Nick Cordasco (from the Sly Stallone Shop).

I was also interviewed by folks from the Sly Stallone Shop.  A few more fans recognized my name from StalloneZone.

Then Sly arrived.

Sly spoke about the importance of exposing children to art.  He said that he thought that Rocky Day might be a way to do that since it will bring people to the steps of the museum each year.  (It had been announced that Sly was giving back a portion of his profits from the Sly Stallone Shop to repair and upkeep of the museum steps.) Sly said that he was humbled that so many people run the steps because of Rocky that they need repair in some areas. He said he was humbled by the number of people who turned out to honor him/Rocky and that he hoped to be a part of the celebration each year.  Sly, Jen, Nick and their crew stuck around to speak to individuals before they had to leave.

Thanks to Sly Stallone for making the weekend a once-in-a-lifetime event for fans.  And a very special thanks to Nick from the Sly Stallone Shop for everything.