By DAN GELSTON
The Associated Press
Friday, September 8, 2006; 9:02 PM
PHILADELPHIA -- Flattened by critics and art aficionados, Rocky has rallied again to complete a long road back to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Only this time, Rocky Balboa landed triumphantly at the bottom of the museum's steps.
After nearly a quarter-century of squabbling and storage, the Rocky Balboa statue returned Friday night to the base of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, not far from the steps where the fictitious hard-luck fighter made movie history.
"Yo, Philly! How you doin'?" actor Sylvester Stallone said to a raucous crowd.
Thousands of fans erupted in chants of "Rocky! Rocky!" when Stallone took the stage for the statue's dedication. It hardly seemed like 30 years since Stallone and "Rocky" debuted, forever leaving an imprint on Philadelphia as the city of the underdog.
Since then, there have been five sequels, including (the final?) "Rocky Balboa" on Dec. 22. There's also been much debate during that time about what to do with the statue that had nearly as many locations as the movie had sequels.
Stallone commissioned the statue for a scene in 1982's "Rocky III" and donated it to the city afterward.
Rocky first was placed at the top of the museum steps, but was quickly moved to the city's sports stadium complex in South Philadelphia after art devotees panned the statue as a movie prop not suited for the renowned institution.
After 25 years, the statue's fate was on the ropes after it was moved again and left to cool its boots in a warehouse. But the city Art Commission voted 6-2 Wednesday to move the statue out of storage and put it on a street-level pedestal near the museum steps.
No surprise, really. Just ask Apollo Creed _ it's hard to keep Rocky down for the count.
"This leaves me absolutely even more speechless," Stallone said. "This is mind-bending to me that this could happen."
With its arms raised in triumph, the bronze statue is 9-foot-11 and weighs about 1,300 pounds. All the Adrians of the world couldn't weaken those legs.
Stallone skipped another run up the stairs _ you'll have to pay to see that again in December _ but some fans still made the run, raising their arms in triumph at the top like so many millions have over the years.
"It's about love, it's about passion, it's about having something inside of you that you know must be filled," Stallone said.
With the "Rocky" soundtrack blaring on a continuous loop, "Rocky" die-hards pressed against a railing trying to catch a glimpse of the fictional champ who has become a slice of Americana.
"Gonna Fly Now" is more than the Rocky theme to Joe Vaglica, of Edgewater, Fla. He spent $350 this week for a plane ticket ("the best $350 I ever spent") to catch the ceremony. Dressed in a black hat, gray sweat shirt and sweat pants and taped fists, Vaglica said the only disappointment was the statue's location.
"I think it should go back where it belongs _ at the top of the steps," Vaglica said. "Rocky is so many things to so many people. He's an inspiration because he shows you can always believe."
Joy Cooper, of Clearville, Pa., drove about 6 1/2 hours for the dedication because she was grateful for the impact the movie's message had on her life.
"My mom told me I couldn't be anything," she said. "When I watched 'Rocky,' I realized I could be somebody."
For Stallone _ whom Philadelphia mayor John Street called the city's favorite adopted son _ those feelings are exactly what the movie is about.