By Paul Post
Rocky Marciano is one heavyweight champion the world will never forget, not if folks in his native Brockton, Mass., have anything to say about it.
Finishing touches were recently made to Champions Park, adjacent to Rocky Marciano Stadium at Brockton High School, where a 20-foot statue of “The Rock” was unveiled on Sept. 23, 2012.
The date commemorated the 60th anniversary of his knockout of Jersey Joe Walcott to win the heavyweight title.
Now plans are in the works for a movie called “49-0: The Brockton Blockbuster.”
Marciano’s reign lasted from 1952 to 1956 when he retired as the only undefeated, undisputed heavyweight champion in boxing history.
“The name just never seems to die,” said Peter Marciano, Rocky’s youngest brother. “When a guy fought 49 times, won them all and 43 by knockout, that’s a record I’m especially proud of.”
“We’ve been asked many, many times to do a movie,” he said. “We wanted to go with people who would get the real story. We want people to know that when you talk about Rocky you’re talking about determination and will. He just never knew fear.
“He was just an honest man, a blue-collar guy.”
The bigger-than-life size statue is one of several places in Brockton that pay tribute to Marciano’s life and legacy as one of the 20th century’s greatest athletes.
No trip is complete without a visit to George’s Café, a historic Italian-American restaurant that doubles as a Marciano museum of sorts with hundreds of photos, posters and paintings lining the walls, depicting Rocky’s life both inside and outside the ring.
They reflect all phases of his life, from boyhood days playing baseball at a neighborhood diamond across the street from his house, to a blown-up photo that shows President Dwight D. Eisenhower admiring Marciano’s powerful right fist.
One of the most prized pieces, titled “Heavy Hitters,” shows Marciano holding a baseball bat as Red Sox great Ted Williams smiles in approval. The photo was taken at Fenway Park in 1955. It is autographed by both Hall of Fame athletes.
“George’s was the first pizza place in Brockton,” owner Charles Tartaglia said proudly. His uncle, George Tartaglia, founded the establishment in 1937.
“I grew up with Rocky,” Tartaglia said. “My uncle, ‘Snap’ Tartaglia, was Rocky’s corner man for his early fights in Providence.”
Many of the restaurant’s pictures came from the Brockton Enterprise newspaper. Others have been donated by local residents.
“My father had quite a few, too,” Tartaglia said.
Like many Marciano fans, his favorite photo shows the vicious “Suzie Q” knock-out punch Rocky landed to beat Walcott and become champion.
One cartoon-like sketch compares Rocky’s 49-0 record to another great Italian-American sports hero’s feat, which also will likely never be broken – Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak.
A similar drawing captures the action in Marciano’s title defense against Roland LaStarza, at the Polo Grounds in New York, on Sept. 24, 1953.
Visitors could literally spend hours at George’s absorbing all the fascinating artifacts. Of course, the restaurant also pays tribute to another great Brockton fighter, middleweight champion “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler, who won 63 of 67 career bouts against just three losses and two draws.
Through the years, George’s has hosted many famous guests including Muhammad Ali, who left behind one of the eatery’s most talked about pieces of memorabilia. On a placemat, Ali drew a boxing ring with small stick figures labeled Ali and Joe Frazier, doing battle in one of their legendary showdowns. The picture is signed and dated – Aug. 19, 1995.
Peter Marciano said Rocky and Ali shared a distinctive common trait.
“Both those guys knew they were the best; no human could beat them,” he said.
The difference was, during the turbulent 1960s, Ali proclaimed: “I am the greatest!”
In contrast, Marciano typified the quiet, conservative 1950s when athletes let actions speak for themselves.
Rocky’s conditioning and dedication to training is the stuff of legend. At least once he ran and walked all the way from Brockton to Providence, R.I., to build endurance and strengthen his legs. At the YMCA swimming pool, he would punch underwater for hours to build up power.
“His left was just as good as his right and he had a solid chin,” Peter Marciano said. “He knew he could take it if he got hit. It’s tough to get beat with that confidence in your arsenal.”
Peter believes Rocky’s tremendous work ethic came from their father.
“Dad worked in a shoe shop and took great pride in what he did,” Peter said.
“I think that was a lesson Rocky learned from him. As the oldest son, Rocky was kind of a father image to me, too. Both dad and Rocky taught me to be proud of your name and don’t do anything to disgrace it.”
The actual playing field at Brockton High School’s Marciano Stadium is named for Rocky’s brother-in-law, Armand C. Colombo, who married Marciano’s sister, Betty.
Colombo’s cousin, Allie Columbo, was Marciano’s trainer, who put Rocky through a brutal training regimen with up to seven miles of road work per day, wearing heavy shoes while running.
Over and over, Marciano would also run up steep Tower Hill in Brockton. To fend off punches from taller, longer-armed opponents, he practiced fast accurate football passes, using both hands.
Another must-see stop in Brockton is the fighter’s boyhood home on Dover Street, identified in typical Marciano fashion with a modest bronze plaque.
A circular logo depicts a pair of boxing gloves with the motto: “Brockton, Ma. – City of Champions.”
Other famous sports figures from Brockton include former Yankees slugger Steve Balboni, Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis and boxing referee Arthur Mercante.
A green-and-white street sign on the corner, near Rocky’s house, says Marciano Way.
Directly across is the neighborhood athletic field and baseball diamond where Rocky grew up playing all kinds of sports. A catcher, Marciano once tried out for the Chicago Cubs.
A gated monument and plaque at the park, says: “The most outstanding athlete ever to come from Brockton, who in his youth played all sports and spent countless hours here at James Edgar Playground.”
Thanks to the efforts of Tartaglia and other ardent fans, a Brockton post office is named for Marciano and a postage stamp was issued in his honor.
The 20-foot statue of Rocky at Brockton High School depicts the punch that KO’d Walcott in the 13th round of their epic 1952 title fight.
The sculpture, which cost $250,000, was donated by the World Boxing Council, whose commissioner Jose Sulaiman personally attended dedication ceremonies along with many other famous fighters including Thomas Hearns, Larry Holmes, Evander Holyfield, Mickey Ward and John Ruiz.
Most recently, the Andrade family, owners of Everett’s Auto Parts in Brockton, donated $50,000 to complete “Champions Park” around the statue. It’s another indication of the tremendous community-wide pride and love residents still have for Rocky.
The WBC sponsored Marciano’s statue, not just as a great champion, but as someone who symbolized the accomplishments of hard working, dedicated people around the world.
“He won them all because he refused to lose,” Tartaglia said.
Paul Post is a freelance contributor to SCD. He can be reached at email@example.com.