Gonna fly now?
No, thank you. Not Sylvester Stallone.
Even though his beloved Philadelphia Eagles are playing New England in Super Bowl LII, and “Rocky” embodies the spirit and grit of that city and team, Stallone plans to watch Sunday’s game at his home in Beverly Hills.
Back in 2003, when the Eagles were lifting the curtain on Lincoln Financial Field, they intermingled scenes from that classic movie with team highlights. The familiar “Rocky” theme song swelled to a crescendo, and the spotlights swung over to Stallone, pumping his fists from a perch at the stadium, and wearing the No. 22 Eagles jersey of his boyhood sports hero, running back Timmy Brown.
The surprised crowd went crazy.
Then watched the Eagles get shut out by Tampa Bay, 17-0.
“Oh, don’t bring that up,” the actor said by phone this week. “That’s why I’m not going. They lost. They got pounded, and [Buccaneers coach] Jon Gruden wouldn’t let the world forget it. So they were in the locker room going, ‘Rocky’s nothing. Rocky got knocked out. Eye of the potato.’ I felt so bad. It was Rocky day, and I thought, I’m going to be stoned to death here.
“I thought, you know, they’ve done so well this year,” he said, “that if I happened to be invited and sat in the owner’s box and they lose, you know every head’s going to swivel in my direction and they’ll say, ‘Who invited him?’ I’m serious. I’ll be burned in effigy in every neighborhood in Philadelphia. So I said, you know what, I’ll sit this dance out.”
One person who won’t be sitting out the game is Stallone’s brother-in-law, renowned sports surgeon Neal ElAttrache, who is among Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s closest friends. The two men met early in Brady’s career and became close in 2008 when ElAttrache rebuilt the shredded knee of the Patriots superstar.
It was ElAttrache, originally described as a “mystery doctor,” who used a creative application of black KT Tape to protect Brady’s injured hand in this year’s AFC championship game.
“I’ve known Neal for almost 17 years,” Brady said Tuesday. “He’s just been a great mentor in my life, a great friend. He obviously did my knee surgery. I always look for advice from him when I’m seeking a medical opinion because I have so much trust in him. He’s been a great influence in my life.”
Brady then slipped in a jab.
“I know his brother-in-law is rooting for the Eagles, rooting for the bad guys,” he said with a half-smile. “That’s the way it goes. I think the whole city of Philadelphia, I know Sly loves that city, and they love him.”
ElAttrache and Stallone have known each other since the early 1990s and married sisters, Tricia and Jennifer Flavin. ElAttrache married Tricia, Stallone married Jennifer. Neal and Tricia’s first time out together was a double date with Sylvester and Jennifer.
“We went to Mickey Rourke’s birthday party,” said ElAttrache, who boxed at Notre Dame and was born and raised in Mt. Pleasant, Pa., a small town south of Pittsburgh. “You can imagine what a crazy experience that was for me. That was pretty surreal. Mickey wound up being a patient of mine. I end up, this kid from the sticks, in one of the great cities on the planet, getting to meet all my heroes.”
So does that mean ElAttrache is sympathetic to his brother-in-law when it comes to Sunday’s matchup? Nope. New England has five Lombardi Trophies, and Philadelphia is still looking for its first, but the Eagles can wait.
“Look, I get it,” ElAttrache said. “He’s identified with that city so much. I understand it, and I understand why it’s important to the city. But from my perspective, the Eagles can do it another year — not while my Rocky candidate is still playing. I have a Rocky in this fight too.”
Truth be told, there are two Rocky statues. There’s the famous likeness of Stallone, with arms raised in triumph, that sits next to the Rocky steps — the ones he conquers in the movie — leading up to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Then, there’s the statue of legendary heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano in his hometown of Brockton, Mass.
“You know that wouldn’t last long, would it?” Stallone said with a laugh.
Although Stallone was born in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan, he attended high school in Philadelphia and his relationship with that city runs deep.
“What Rocky has represented to the city is really extraordinary, but also kind of understandable,” he said. “Philadelphia has always been an underdog city. It started out at the top of the food chain; at one point, it was the capital of the United States. Then that went out the window. Then they were the No. 1 seaport in the United States. Then that went out the window. Then, the jokes started.
“The Philadelphia fighters were known for a certain type of style. That’s why I use that style. They just go in there head first and they’re incredibly resilient.”
As for the team in the other corner?
“I think Tom Brady is the greatest of all time,” Stallone said. “The Pats are incredible. But I’m an underdog guy, what can I say? Enough!”
In addition to being his brother-in-law, Stallone is an ElAttrache patient.
But when it comes to a sympathetic shoulder, the doctor is out.
“So what? He’s not playing in the Super Bowl,” ElAttrache said. “Tommy is.”
Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer