Rocky Marciano Jr., the son of boxing legend Rocky Marciano, joined hundreds of people for the dedication of the Rocky Marciano Post Office Building in Brockton on Sunday.
Rocky Marciano Jr. looked up at the new lettering unveiled on the Rocky Marciano Post Office Building, and thought of the father he never knew.
“It came down to the emotion of seeing this sign unveiled, and I teared up when I saw my father’s name up here,” Marciano, 41, of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., said minutes after officials dedicated the main post office on Commercial Street after his father, boxing legend Rocky Marciano.
Marciano, adopted as an infant by the only heavyweight boxing champion to retire undefeated, was just 1 1/2 when his father died in 1969 in a plane crash in Iowa.
Over the years, he’s learned about his father through events honoring the legendary boxer, through family and through stories told to him by a legion of fans, he said.
One story is that before becoming famous, Rocky used to practice his punches on an old, and stuffed, mail sack in his backyard.
“I meet people that met my father maybe one time, and they would tell me a story, their impression of Rocky Marciano,” said Marciano, a married realtor. “Those have been the pieces of my puzzle that I put together: who my father was, the person I didn’t get to know.”
Marciano stood at a podium inside a makeshift boxing ring to speak to hundreds of people during a ceremony at 120 Commercial St. on Sunday afternoon.
“I feel like I’m coming home,” Marciano told the crowd. “There’s roots here. There’s history here.”
He joined hundreds of people who turned out for the dedication. Several people, including relatives and boyhood friends of Rocky, told their personal stories about Brockton’s native son.
Peter Marciano Sr. of Plymouth, Rocky’s brother, was just 11 when he sat ringside to see his brother knock out Jersey Joe Walcott in the 13th round to win the heavyweight championship of the world on Sept. 23, 1952.
Almost everything that could go wrong went wrong that night, including medication that had seeped into Marciano’s eyes, his brother said.
“For four rounds, Rocky fought blind,” he said, detailing the fight. Then, in the 13th round, Rocky struck Walcott with a punch “in the perfect spot.”
Walcott went down. The referee counted down. “You’re out,” he recalled hearing the referee shout.
“Out of the corner was a flash,” he recalled. Rocky’s trainer, Allie Colombo, shot into the ring and he and Marciano embraced his world win.
Venerable Brockton trainer Goody Petronelli, a friend of Rocky, said Rocky — who weighed in at 183 pounds and had no boxing experience — succeeded despite the odds.
“He’s the guy that a professional would ignore and say, step aside,” said Petronelli, of Bridgewater. “He did it because he had a heart as big as the city of Brockton. He had a punch that would put you to sleep with either hand.”
But Bob Langway, Rocky’s nephew, told of the softer side of Rocky, who would often write letters to his youngest sister, Concetta, while serving in the U.S. Army during World War II.
“Rocky loved to tease her. He made up many names for my mother,” said Langway, who bears a likeness to his famous uncle, as he recalled family dinners at the Marciano homestead at 168 Dover St.
As the eldest child of six children born to Italian immigrants, Rocky “was the one to extend his hand and lead the family into the American Dream,” Langway said.
“He was the one to learn English most comfortably,” Langway said.
State Sen. Thomas Kennedy, D-Brockton, recalled Rocky’s generosity when the champ would hand out quarters and half dollars to neighborhood children after they welcomed him to his Dover Street home.
“That was a small fortune to a young kid in the 1950s,” Kennedy said.
Sunday’s ceremony featured several speakers, including the Rev. Larry Wetterholm, a friend and former schoolmate of Rocky, who gave the invocation and benediction.
U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch said Rocky is a “shining example” of Brockton and also “of the American Dream, what is possible in this country.”
Robert Cintron, district manager for the U.S. Postal Service, served as master of ceremonies.
The Brockton Firefighters Pipes and Drums performed, and the Brockton police and fire honor guards presented colors.
Yara Cardoso, a member of the Brockton Women’s Commission, sang the national anthem.
Rocky Marciano received the 2009 Brockton Historical Society’s Historic Citizen Award posthumously on Sunday. Lawrence Siskind, president of the Brockton Historical Society, presented the award to Peter Marciano Sr.
Rocky Marciano grew up in the city and became the only heavyweight boxing champion to retire undefeated, with a record of 49-0.
Maria Papadopoulos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.