Skip to main content

The Scent Of Failure

June 2024
1min read

Rocky Marciano is the only heavyweight champion who ever retired .without losing a professional fight or even boxing to a draw. Time and again on his way up, Marciano was in danger of losing when his mighty right pulled it out. While a youth, in Brockton, Massachusetts, before becoming champion in Philadelphia on September 23,1952, he worked as a dishwasher, short-order cook, landscaper, and as a floor sweeper at the Stacy Adams men’s shoe factory.

In 1952 I was a men’s shoe salesman at Marshall Field’s in Chicago. That summer I took a busman’s holiday, visiting a number of men’s shoe suppliers in Massachusetts. While I was talking with Arthur Luce, Stacy Adams’s Brockton comptroller, Rocky Marciano walked in with his father, who had recently retired after working twenty-one years on a bedlast machine at the Stacy Adams factory.

Marciano gave Luce a plain paper grocery bag containing the pair of boxing gloves he had used the previous Saturday. Rocky said he thought Arthur might like to hang them on his office wall as a trophy. Then Rocky explained that this shoe factory was partially responsible for his continued success as a boxer. “When I worked here, I couldn’t stand the smell of wet leather—it nauseated me—but 1 had to have the job. Whenever a boxing match isn’t going my way, I can smell my sweat on my opponent’s leather gloves—continually hitting me in the face—and I think to myself, ‘If I don’t turn this fight around, I’ll have to go back to work in that shoe factory.’ I then give the fight that extra effort and I win.”

Arthur looked down at the shoes Rocky was wearing and asked where he got them. “Over at Sears,” he replied. Arthur said that Rocky was now a famous representative of Brockton, and it wouldn’t be right for him to go to press conferences without wearing Stacy Adams shoes—especially since it was possible his father had worked on that very footwear before his retirement.

Arthur turned to me as he said, “We have here a shoe fitter from Marshall Field’s in Chicago, and I want him to take you to our stockroom and fit you with several pairs.” Rocky agreed: He would proudly wear Stacy Adams, he said. Then he added, “The first thing to go on a fighter are his feet.” I still remember that Marciano wore size 9½D in the Savoy last, a broadtoed shoe.

Enjoy our work? Help us keep going.

Now in its 75th year, American Heritage relies on contributions from readers like you to survive. You can support this magazine of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it by donating today.