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    Rocky's Road

    When all seemed dark, Sylvester Stallone's faith helped him go the distance. April 29, 2020 by Phil Callaway
    Filed Under:
    Faith & Friends
    Caracatures of Sylvester Stallone and Phil Callaway
    Caracatures of Sylvester Stallone and Phil Callaway
    I'm not a big fan of boxing, or any sport that requires two contestants to beat the stuffing out of each other. Oh wait. I like hockey, so forget that.

    Boxers are seldom known for their humility. After delivering a knock-out punch, Mike Tyson said, “It’s ludicrous these mortals even attempt to enter my realm.”

    “There’s not a man alive who can whup me,” said the great Muhammad Ali. “I’m too fast. I’m too smart. I’m too pretty. I should be a postage stamp. That’s the only way I’ll ever get licked.”

    But in his prime, Ali faced a relatively unknown boxer named Chuck Wepner. Nobody thought Wepner would last two rounds. But he took the world by surprise by knocking the champ down in the ninth round. Ali got back up and won the fight, but Wepner did the unthinkable, lasting 15 rounds against the greatest boxer in the world.

    Fateful Call
    A young man watched that match and was inspired. He, too, was an underdog. A troubled kid, he was expelled from school and spent time in foster homes. Moving to New York City to pursue an acting career, he scored only minor roles.

    He slept at a bus station, stayed at a flophouse, later joking that it had “hot and cold running roaches.” But when he watched the Ali/Wepner match, Sylvester Stallone had an idea. Back in his apartment, he began writing. In just three days, a finished script sat on his desk, the story of a down-and-out boxer without a chance, Rocky Balboa.

    Stallone sent his script to producers. Nobody wanted it. To complicate things, his wife was pregnant and they had $107 in the bank. Unable to feed his dog, Butkus, Stallone sold him for $40.

    Then came the call.

    Butkus, Come Home
    “We’ll give you $125,000 for the Rocky script.” Stallone was ecstatic. But Rocky was his story. He couldn’t just sell it and walk away.

    “Let me play the lead role in the film,” he said, “and you’ve got yourself a deal.”

    “No,” they said. A big-name actor would play the part.

    The producers offered him $250,000, then $360,000—a small fortune in the 1970s. When Stallone held his ground, they finally agreed, but gave him a small slice of their original offer. When they did, Stallone tracked down the man who purchased his dog and bought Butkus back for $15,000.

    Going the Distance
    Rocky went into production on a shoestring budget, using handheld cameras, and family and friends in the cast—including Stallone’s dog, Butkus. Rocky grossed $200 million, won three Academy Awards including Best Picture, became one of the most beloved underdog stories of our time and launched one of the most successful sports movie franchises, ever.

    But “Sly” Stallone’s personal life was a rocky road.

    “I was raised in a Christian home,” he says. “Then I was presented with temptation, lost my way and made a lot of bad choices. After 12 years of a downward spiral, I realized it had to stop. I had to get back to basics and take things out of my own hands and put them in God’s hands.”

    Following the release of the latest Rocky film, he said, “This is a story of faith, integrity and victory. Jesus is the inspiration for anyone to go the distance.”

    Sticking With It
    Few things inspire us more than an underdog story. Think of Moses, Esther and Joseph.

    When the prophet Samuel came looking for Israel’s next king, David the shepherd boy was overlooked by his father. But David was God’s choice to lead the people.

    And, of course, there’s Jesus, who became a man to deliver death the ultimate knock-out punch and reconcile us to God.

    Have you been knocked down? Think of those who have faced overwhelming odds with courage, persistence and faith. Romans 8:37 says, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”

    Let’s be a little more like a postage stamp. And stick with it until we reach our destination.

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