I never knew what would happen at the steps, or when. I think I was just as surprised as the bride-to-be when the proposal came. "Oh my God," I thought. "He's on one knee!" I watched quietly, along with all the tourists who had figured out what was going on, before I approached the newly engaged couple. -- Michael Vitez
Eric Williams fell in love with Julie Reeb in the summer of 2002 when she joined him working behind the bar at the Lyon Oaks Golf Club in suburban Detroit. It took Eric nearly a year to gather the nerve to ask Julie out, but after just one date, they became inseparable.
Eric, an elementary school teacher, has had a best friend since kindergarten, Alex Baker, who lived with his wife, Kristin, in Philadelphia. When Eric and Julie decided to visit Alex and Kristin there for New Year's, Eric had an ulterior motive: Six months before, he had decided he would propose marriage to Julie at the top of the Rocky Steps.
"We both love the Rocky movies," he said, "and I knew the scenery would be a great backdrop to a perfect moment." He also knew "she would never think that I would do it there." To make certain that Julie wouldn't see a proposal coming, Eric told her three weeks before Christmas not to expect a ring. He just didn't have the money.
On the last afternoon of the year, they "just happened" to be driving past the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The six in the car -- Eric and Julie, Alex and Kristin, and Alex's brother and sister-in-law, Max and Tammy -- were all in on the plan, except for Julie, of course.
"Let's run the steps!" suggested Eric.
Julie responded honestly: "Oh, we're not going to run, are we?" She had watched the Rocky movies countless times with Eric, but it was nearly two o'clock and they hadn't eaten all day. She was hungry.
They parked the car, and as everyone walked toward the steps, Eric began singing "Eye of the Tiger," the anthem from Rocky III. "We were singing to pump us up to run the steps, just like Rocky used the song to pump himself up for the fight against Clubber Lang," Eric recounted.
As he ran the steps, Eric had a lot on his mind. He was hoping he wouldn't fall or run out of breath. (Alex had even joked that he should bend down and act like he was short of breath after the run, to throw off any suspicions, but Eric rejected that idea.) He was also hoping with all his might for one more thing: that Julie would say "Yes."
The six of them ran up the steps in the brilliant sunshine. They looked like so many others, just having fun, enjoying the moment. Then Eric dropped to his knee, right near the Rocky footprints. He opened a small jewelry box to reveal a diamond ring glinting in the sun.
"Oh, my God!" was Julie's reaction. She was clutching her small pink purse.
"Will you marry me?" Eric asked.
Their friends were all pointing cameras, snapping away. Julie was confused, almost stunned. Eric slipped the ring on her finger, then tears rolled down her cheeks.
"I'm, like, so shocked right now," was all she could think to say.
Finally, Alex had to know: "So what is your answer?" he called out.
Julie, as you might expect, had been so blown away that she couldn't respond, but she regained her wits and let out an emphatic "Yes!"
Eric stood up and kissed his new fiancée. Everything had worked out perfectly -- the setting, the surprise, the answer. "I think Julie really brings out this compassion in him," Alex said later. "She hasn't changed him, but only brought out the best in him. You could say that Adrian brought out the best of Rocky."
You could say the Rocky Steps bring out the best in people. Let's hope they always will.
Excerpted from 'Rocky Stories: Tales of Love, Hope, and Happiness at America's Most Famous Steps' with permission from Paul Dry Books.