CANASTOTA, N.Y. -- The torrential downpour that lasted throughout the previous night and all morning Sunday ended around noon, offering conclusive proof that not even Mother Nature dared to rain on Sylvester Stallone's parade.
OK, so the actor/screenwriter who created fictional heavyweight champion Rocky Balboa didn't actually perch himself atop the back seat of one of the convertibles conveying real greats of the ring to the stage at the International Boxing Hall of Fame here, where the Class of 2011 was to be inducted. Perhaps Sly, 64, was concerned that the skies would suddenly open up again and drench his expensively tailored gray suit, which was nicely set off by a black dress shirt, matching black tie, yellow silk pocket square and black alligator shoes.
No matter. Even though Stallone was on the undercard for a change -- he was the third of six living inductees to be introduced, the last of whom was former heavyweight titlist Mike Tyson, the sort of devastating puncher Rocky purported to be on screen -- the reception a record crowd gave him was strictly main-event status. One Hall of Fame official estimated the turnout at 7,000 to 8,000, which if accurate would far exceed the previous high of 4,000-plus that came to this picturesque central New York village in 1997, when Sugar Ray Leonard led the list of inductees.
You'd have thought Rocky Balboa actually had knocked out fearsome opponents named Apollo Creed, Clubber Lang and Ivan Drago, the way legendary fighters crowded around him to shake his hand and have their pictures taken with him.
And if all that weren't enough, there was an especially telling scene inside a covered tent next to the concession stand that took place on Friday, the second of the IBHOF's four days of celebrating itself and the sport that is its reason for being.
A young mother, wearing a "Rocky" T-shirt, was trying to coax her daughter, who appeared to be around five, to eat her lunch. The little girl, also wearing a "Rocky" shirt, was having none of it.
"Eat your hamburger," the mother told the child. "Rocky wants you to eat your hamburger."
The little girl nodded and took a bite.
When Stallone was introduced -- he was enshrined in the "observer" category, not as a fighter, a distinction that should assuage indignant boxing purists -- the big crowd spontaneously broke into a chant of "Rocky! Rocky! Rocky!"
"Music to my ears," said a smiling Stallone, the Hollywood star playing to an audience of a different kind, but one whose acceptance he clearly wanted.
"I have never pretended to be a boxer. I don't possess those skills," Stallone continued. "But what I do think I have is an understanding of what goes on outside the ring. Outside the ring is sometimes maybe an even bigger struggle than what goes on inside the ring. If I was able to capture that, I believe (moviegoers) could identify more with (Rocky).
"But more than that, I realize that life is a constant battle. This may seem a little sentimental, but I truly believe it's not how hard you can hit. It's how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. That belief is what makes a difference in your life."
Another chant of "Rocky! Rocky!" went up from spectators, who reacted to the line lifted directly from 2006's "Rocky Balboa" as if they were hearing it for the first time.
What they definitely heard for the first time was a story about Stallone and Tyson, which might or might not have any basis in fact.
"About 10 years ago, I think, someone said, 'Mike Tyson is involved in a charity event,' " Stallone said. " 'He wants to have a boxing exhibition and the funds will go to a charitable cause. Would you mind boxing him?'
"I said, 'Sure, as long as the charity would be for my life-support.' "
But Stallone did seem genuinely in awe of some of the fighters on the stage, maybe even more so than they were of him. Looking over his shoulder and glancing around, Sly saw the legendary likes of Carmen Basilio, Jake La Motta, Ken Norton, Ricardo Lopez, Pipino Cuevas, Aaron Pryor, Gene Fullmer, Azumah Nelson and Ruben Olivares, among others.
"These men all have been held in a special reverence by me," Stallone said. "(They're the) greatest athletes in the world. But more than that, they are our connection to the past and our way to the future. They're the ones who go in there, take the blows and really put it on the line."
In closing his four-minute address, Stallone, not surprisingly, again channeled Rocky.
"Yo, Adrian!" he shouted. "I did it!"