On Sept. 1, 1923 Mr. and Mrs. Pierino Marchegiano of Brockton, Massachusetts became the proud parents of an extraordinarily robust baby boy. The twelve pound child was christened Rocco Marchegiano, but the world would one day know him as the legendary boxer Rocky Marciano.
When "bambino Rocco" was 18 months of age, he contracted pneumonia. Even though the infection nearly killed him - his doctor claimed that his remarkably strong constitution enabled him to survive without impairment.
As a child, Rocky relished his mother's Italian cooking so much he often bordered on being a bit stocky, which was underscored by his relatively short but muscular arms and legs. However, even at this tender age, his overall bearing suggested he possessed unusual physical strength....
During his early teenage years, Rocky took great advantage of living across the street from Brockton's James Edgar Playground, where he especially enjoyed playing baseball. It was during this period that he began the habit of exercising to his limit. Spending countless hours hitting and chasing after baseballs, he would ultimately go home and do chin-ups and lift homemade weights until he "was totally fatigued."
After supper, he and his pals spent many happy hours pummeling a stuffed mail sack that hung from an oak tree in the Marchegiano's back yard. In hot weather, they usually finished off such workouts "by racing over to Saxton's Spring to get a drink of its sparkling cold water."
Unfortunately, Rocky's experience of growing up in a multi-ethnic, working-class setting contributed to his involvement in a number of "neighborhood altercations." Although they were usually minor territorial encounters that took place around James Edgar Field, a few notorious scuffles took place well beyond his home turf .... Consequently, his reputation for being a "really tough Italian kid" extended all the way over to Brockton's scrappy Irish section, called The Bush.
Fortunately, by the time he was 14, Rocky's reputation with his fists began to take second fiddle to his notoriety as a baseball slugger. In fact, the legend of his athletic prowess began at age 15 when - as the cleanup batter on the local American Legion team - he blasted a towering home run over the left field fence at James Edgar Playground. It landed over 325 feet away on the front porch of a surprised and slightly irate neighbor.
That following summer, Rocky entered Brockton High School, an institution with a nationally prestigious football tradition. Rocky's favorite subjects were Italian and Manual Training. And, except for an erratic scholastic record, all went reasonably well for him - at first.
In the fall of his sophomore year Rocky won the position of center on the varsity football team. Long after he became a great boxer, he liked to recall how one of the greatest thrills of his life was when - as a substitute linebacker - "I intercepted a pass and ran 60 yards to score a touchdown against New Bedford," which was Brockton's arch-rival,
The following spring, Rocky became the first string catcher on the varsity baseball team. It is said that "even though his throws were not always exactly on target, few runners ever managed to beat his 'rocket-like' pegs towards second base. That is, until that fateful day he threw his arm out.
Always rather heavy footed, Rocky was now relegated to playing right field and pinch hitting. Later, he was chastised for violating a long standing school policy that prohibited dual involvement in a local church league. Not surprisingly, he was finally cut from the varsity team. The incident upset him so much, he began cutting classes....
That Summer, Rocky spent a good deal of time with older pals, hanging around pool halls and local ten-cent movie theaters. He also liked swimming and hiking in Brockton's beautiful Field Park.
By the time Fall rolled around, he had pretty much decided not to return to Brockton High School.
When confronted with the realization that he had very few skills to offer an employer, he briefly considered a former teacher's plea that he enroll in Brockton High School's "old" Vocational School.
Ultimately, however, he decided to immediately find work so he could to help out his struggling family. Traditionally, in Brockton - the former men's shoe producing capitol of the world - this meant starting at the bottom rung in a local shoe factory as a floor sweeper.
But, in 1940, the New England shoe industry was in shambles. First, the "Great Depression" and competition from foreign imports had generated mass unemployment and fierce union rivalries. Second, several of Brockton's great factories had closed down and President Franklin Roosevelt regularly had to intervene to curb associated threats of worker violence....
Meanwhile, Rocky's father, Pierino - who was nowhere near as established as most of the unionized immigrants who had long preceded him to Brockton - was struggling to hold on to his non-union job at the local Stacey Adams Shoe Factory.
While he much appreciated having work, Pierino constantly worried about the future. He especially resented the prejudice he had to put up with each day from a number of his unionized co-workers. It should come as no surprise that Pierino abhorred the idea of his son pursuing a career in a Brockton shoe factory....
Meanwhile, after failing two attempts to get a truck driver's license, Rocky finally landed a job with the Brockton Ice and Coal Company as the "chute man" on a delivery truck. He utterly detested it.
Each night he came home covered with soot and grime and his lungs full of coal dust - all for 10 dollars per week. So it wasn't long before he again began searching for an "alternative" career.
Over the next few months, Rocky jumped from one grubby job to another. All the while, he was constantly begging hiis father to help him get any kind of work at all with Stacey Adams.
Since the onset of World War 2 was giving the Brockton Shoe industry a sudden - but temporary - boost. Pierino finally gave in and said "O.K."
With overtime pay - Rocky's income suddenly doubled. And for the first time in his working life, he began to feel that things were looking up. While he much enjoyed associating with fellow Italian shoeworkers, he literally cherished the opportunity of working elbow to elbow with his beloved father.
As a youngster, rocky had often delivered a hot lunch to his "papa," occasionally tossing it up into his waiting hands through the second story window where Pierino's workbench. faced Dover street.
Now, he looked forward each day to eating lunch with him. washing it down with an ice cold bottle of Coca-Cola, and "throwing the bull" with their small circle of fellow non-unionized paisanos.
Even though his first job at Stacey Adams was floor sweeping, he soon worked his way up to becoming a "last puller." With youthful pride, he took great pride in how this tedious and strenuous job -which he taught himself to perform with lightning speed with both hands - was beginning to beautifully pump up his arms and upper body. All of which gave him ever more confidence in kidding the female shoe workers who passed by his last pulling machine ...
"Of course, I also got a kick out of whistling out the shop windows at pretty girls passing by, the way the older workers did...." he said.
Unfortunately, within weeks Rocky began to experience bouts of violent nausea shortly after the beginning of each workday. As it turned out, he was highly allergic to leather dust and the vinegar-like stench from the shoe factory curing ovens.
It was at this time that he also began to struggle with periods of claustrophobia and despair, which he tried to relieve by constantly day dreaming about his after hours successes playing baseball.
Finally - with his father's blessing - Rocky gave up all hope of ever becoming a skilled Brockton shoemaker, and quit his job at Stacey Adams.
The next major step in Rocky's career was decided for him by the U.S. Government. At age 20, he was inducted into the Army and shipped overseas to England.
Just as he was beginning to find this experience enjoyable and broadening, the war on the European front began to draw to a close. And only eight months after landing there, he was flown back to the States, where he was promptly assigned to Ft. Lewis in the State of Washington to await transfer to the Pacific Theater.
By way of background, it should be noted, here, that the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in August of 1945, which precluded the nation's long anticipated encounter with Japan. Accordingly, Rocky now awaited the possibility of either a stint with General Mac Arthur's occupation and rehabilitation forces - or outright discharge...
During this "boring" time Rocky made a crucial decision to inject a little excitement and adventure into his life. He volunteered to represent his unit at Ft. Lewis in a series of amateur fights.... Shortly thereafter, he recalled that "Sparring partners were suddenly becoming short in supply... So I knew I was doing something right."
In April, Rocky was issued a two week furlough.... As soon as he arrived home in Brockton, he boasted - in fact exaggerated - to his uncle, Mike Piccento, about his boxing success at Fort Lewis. Piccento was so impressed he could hardly contain himself.
Immediately thereafter, he had a friend and small-time local promoter arrange a local fight between Rocky and a black New England amateur heavyweight named Henry Lester.
Typically, Rocky felt absolutely no uneasiness about the fact that Lester was a former Golden Gloves champ. In fact, he could hardly wait to get into the ring to demonstrate his new found prowess before his home town friends - and a few old adversaries....
The match took place on April 15, 1946 in the dingy, smoke-filled Ancient Order Of Hibernians Hall on Ward St. The purse was $30.00. From the opening bell, "things went pretty rough." He was so overweight and out of condition from smoking two packs of camels per day, he found himself utterly exhausted by the third round.
When he suddenly realized he was about to go down under a barrage of Lester's adroit punches, he instinctively reverted to street fighting and kneed him in the groin. Whereupon, the referee promptly presented him with the only disqualification he would ever receive throughout his boxing career.
The boos of the large and boisterous crowd and the local newspaper's subsequent off-hand account of his performance and disqualification very much embarrassed him. However, his closest friends convinced him that they were genuinely impressed.
He took great encouragement from their praise of how fearless he seemed while fighting a much more experienced boxer. Most of all, he appreciated their expressions of astonishment at the damage he had inflicted when he stung Lester with a few of his wild windmill-style uppercuts and overhand rights....
As soon as Rocky got back to Ft. Lewis, he cut out all smoking and beer drinking. He also went on a crash diet and an increased exercise program in preparation for entering the triple elimination heavyweight series for the AAU championships in Portland, Oregon.
Although he won these first two amateur fights - by dramatic first round knockouts - he seriously injured the knuckles on his left hand in the latter. Fighting the remainder of the fight with one hand against the tough 6 foot 3 inch Joe De Angelis from Chelsea, MA, he lost this final and decisive amateur bout.
Rocky now had to undergo delicate hand surgery and two months of rehabilitation. To make matters worse, a well meaning Japanese medical officer and friend in the boxing program, who was utterly dazzled by the tremendous velocity of Rocky's punches, told him that "because of the seriousness of the injury, it would now be impossible for him to make it as a heavyweight boxer...."
In the summer of 1946, Rocky received an honorable discharge and returned to Brockton. And like most other World War Two veterans he became a "full fledged member" of the "52/20 club," a government program wherein jobless veterans were provided $20.00 per week until they could find work - for up to one year.
It was during this bleak period that Rocky took up playing baseball in earnest for the regionally famed semi-pro Taunton Lumber Team.....
The following spring, Rocky and several fellow players from the greater Brockton area were invited by a scout from the Chicago Cubs to attend that team's annual "tryouts" in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Although his hitting was superb, a peculiar recurrent weakness in his usually powerful throwing arm - which in no way ever affected his ability to throw a punch - resulted in his rejection after only a three week trial....
But even after an official bluntly told them that "not one of them was good enough to ever become a professional baseball player," he and his comrades stubbornly continued to linger around Fayetteville. Finally, a few days later, they all decided to head back home to Brockton.
"On the way," he said "I curled up in the back seat and fell into a long sleep." With baseball pretty much out of my mind, I remember that I dreamed of starting a brand new career in boxing...."
Indeed, soon after returning home - in spite of his mothers relentless loathing of the thought - Rocky began to work on improving his overall physical condition in preparation for becoming a professional boxer. In fact, he spent countless hours during this time sparring with his brother Louis.
Interestingly, on some occasions, Rocky felt Louis was taking advantage of him and he would "over retaliate." Sometimes, the only thing that would get Rocky's attention and cool him down during these outbursts, was Louie's threat to tell their mother, Pasqualina, of Rocky's secret ambition of becoming a champion boxer....
In spite of Pasqualina's frequent admonitions, Rocky and his life-long friend and trainer Allie Colombo continued to pursue the arduous routine of fully preparing "The Rock" for his first professional fight.
This relatively brutal new regimen included a minimum of seven miles of roadwork per day, wearing very heavy training shoes that were specially designed for him by a local shoe magnate and admirer.
On their frequent sunrise excursions through Rocky's favorite trail in Field Park, Allie often encouraged Rocky to run as fast as he could up the park's steep Tower Hill. He then had him do slow back pedals down the hill. Whereupon, he would have him charge right back up, over and over again.
Rocky often said it was this type of intense training that was the key to the amazing endurance of his legs that he dramatically evinced in his "brawl" with Ezzard Charles. This fight represented the first time in his professional career that he went 15 rounds.
Countless local admirers from Brockton - and even from as far away as Boston and Providence - still have vivid memories of Rocky plodding through the region's streets and byways "in those cumbersome 'Lil Abner like' shoes, while passing a football with Allie...."Few realize that their initial purpose of carrying the football was to keep Rocky's real ambition from his mother....
As his workouts intensified and progressed, both men became highly skillful in throwing fast, accurate bullet-like passes at each other - with either hand. Some claim this may have enhanced Rocky's unique skill in fending off, or "picking off," the punches thrown by some of his relatively taller and longer-armed opponents.
This unique skill also may have also enhanced his ability to utilize split second opportunities to work his way in and deliver his notoriously quick and powerful jabs and uppercuts." In any case, everyone noticed that his arm strength and precision were remarkably effective.
Most of Rocky's "inside" workouts took place at the Brockton YMCA, where Allie placed great emphasis upon having Rocky tread water as long as he could while throwing underwater punches. To this day, awed onlookers can still recall that "No one ever got more of his body weight and leg strength into a punch when slugging that old YMCA training bag than Rocky Marciano..".
"It was obvious to all of us that if he ever hit an opponent's body or arms with the full impact of one those punches he was going to take the steam out of them... " They added. that "Even way back then, we were absolutely certain he would someday be the champion of the world ..."
In any case, within the year, The Brockton Blockbuster was trimmed down and ready to start his phenomenal boxing career as a professional.
Of course, the remainder of Rocky's life story has the quality of a classic Roman gladiator. After winning 37 fights by knockouts - including a momentous victory over Joe Louis - he finally got the answer to his dreams.
On Sept. 23, 1952, Rocky fought Jersey Joe Walcott for the world heavyweight championship. Although he was knocked down in the first round - and was behind in the scoring for the first 7 rounds - he finally won in the13th by knocking out Walcott with a desperately powerful - and extremely accurate - right punch. It was a right cross that traveled only six inches, which he always referred to, thereafter, as his "Susie Q."
Rocky defended his title six times, winning five fights by knockouts. As a professional, he won an unprecedented 49 straight fights of which 43 - almost 90 % - were by knockouts.
He was once asked if it was the hated memories of breathing coal dust and the putrid smell of shoe factory leather that fired him up with unrelenting determination to win and succeed as a boxer. "Not really," he replied, "Even after I was knocked down, or badly cut, and was losing a fight, "the one thing I thought about most was the hardship my father and mother faced throughout their lives...I well knew that, if I didn't overcome the challenge at hand, both I and they would certainly never get another chance to escape poverty and oblivion...."
Rocky also acknowledged that, in his earliest fights, he thought a lot about impressing his girl friend (and later wife) Barbara Cousins and her friends, pointing out that, "At that time, not many people were very positive about my prospects as a serious boyfriend...."
Rocky was often asked what was his toughest fight. Surprisingly, he always said it was his encounter with Joe Louis: "Because the aging 'Brown Bomber' was my childhood hero, I had to overcome a 'ton' of reservation before I finally knocked him out of the ring.
When that moment finally came, it seemed like everyone in the crowd had turned against me... Some of Louis's fierce admirers were actually crying; others were swearing at me.... As I went to his corner to console him, I saw that that the only people who were still wildly cheering for me - as always - were my faithful supporters from Brockton....
At age 46, on Aug. 31, 1969, Rocky was killed in a tragic plane crash. He is fondly remembered by all Brocktonians. There is absolutely no doubt that his memory will always be the centerpiece of this region's great sports history.