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Nostalgic Jaunt To 'Rocky' Steps

With a wide smile and unabashed enthusiasm, Annie Rodriguez climbed the 72nd step of the Philadelphia Art Museum, thrust her hands skyward and jumped up and down.

The only thing missing was the "Rocky" theme song.

The 38-year-old from Quebradillas, Puerto Rico, hadn't seen the movie in years, but while visiting the city recently she brought her family to the museum for the "Rocky Run."

"You gotta do it. It's a must," she said after re-enacting the fictional boxer's triumphant training scene. "I was explaining to my mother-in-law that this was the place, that after Rocky was running for so long, he ran up. You get the feeling of 'I did it. I made it."'

Rodriguez's husband agreed: "Si, si, you feel like him. You feel like him in the movie," Oscar Barreto said.

Decades after the 1976 debut of "Rocky," scores of tourists daily still seek out the Art Museum steps to emulate its iconic run.

"Everybody wants to see it. We get calls from all over," said Shirley Blum of the city's Independence Visitor Center. "The other day I was on the main floor and a couple from Korea, all they wanted to see was the Rocky steps. It's very popular."

In the first movie, an out-of-shape Rocky, played by Sylvester Stallone, first runs up the steps in a gloomy pre-dawn light. At the top, he's exhausted, gasping for breath. But in his next session he bounds up the steps. As the theme song, "Gonna Fly Now," trumpets in the background, he reaches the top, thrusts his white-taped hands skyward and jogs in place, gazing triumphantly over a sunrise-orange Philadelphia skyline.

On a typical summer day, only a few moments pass between copycat runs made by lone tourists, families with kids, and even entire tour buses.

In a span of five minutes on a recent evening, three 8-year-old boys struck the Rocky pose (and threw in an extra couple flexes). Then came the Rodriguez family. Then a father showed his son the two bronze shoeprints and the word Rocky stamped into the ground.

Susan Ohmer, a Notre Dame professor of film and American studies, said research has shown people in movie settings are moved to re-enact scenes. She said Notre Dame visitors seek out spots from the movie "Rudy," though there is no iconic scene easy to emulate.

Like Rudy, Ohmer noted, Rocky was an uplifting character.

"He sets himself a goal, he says, 'I'm going to do it,"' she said. "And when he's charging up those steps that's a moment of triumph, and I think people want to do it."

On Sunday, the city hosted an outdoor screening of "Rocky," which won three Academy Awards. About 600 viewers came to the steps on a cool, moonlit night. One movie-goer, 23-year-old Mike Peters of Philadelphia, said he's run the steps with all his out-of-town relatives, including his grandparents.

"It's funny because once they get here they're like, 'OK, I want to eat a cheesesteak and I want to run the steps,"' said Peters, a graduate student at Temple University. "They don't even know what this building is. It's just the steps, the Rocky steps."

Bill Moore, chief executive of the Independence Visitor Center, said many visitors want a "Rocky pose" photo.

"We try to encourage people to actually go inside the Art Museum, too," Moore said. "But a lot of people just want to run up the steps."

Tourists are often spotted in New York City recreating the Empire State Building scene from "Sleepless in Seattle" and the lake-rowing scene in "When Harry Met Sally," said Josh Stenger, assistant professor of film studies and English at Wheaton College.

"So much of the film world is not recognizable as a real space, so when we can go to that space and see what Rocky saw ... it gives us a unique opportunity to be in that space, whereas we can't go to Oz," Stenger said.

Matt Triolo, who attended the "Rocky" screening Sunday with Peters, said doing the Rocky Run is an adrenaline rush.

"I guess just growing up in Philadelphia, I can't really explain it. It just means something to me," he said. "It sounds silly when you talk about it out loud."

By Jason Straziuso