When we talk about sports, we tend to use the word “hero” when speaking of one sports star or the next, when you speak of former Pittsburgh Steeler running back Rocky Bleier it is true in every sense of the word. Bleier was not only a star on the football field, he was also a Vietnam veteran.
Rocky came to be a Steeler from Notre Dame University where he was a football standout. He was a teammate of quarterback Terry Hanratty. The two would again become teammates as members of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Rock was drafted in the sixteenth round by the Steelers in the 1968 draft. Rock played his Rookie season with the Steelers when he was drafted into the Army. He decided to volunteer to go to Vietnam. He left in the spring of 1969.
Bleier was shot in the leg and had a grenade explode near him causing damage to his leg and foot. In the hospital, he was told that his football days were over. He was recovering from his wounds in Japan when he got a postcard from the owner of the Steelers Art Rooney which basically said that the team was not doing well and they needed him. In my opinion this motivated Bleier to fight hard to get back into good enough shape to return to his life as a Pittsburgh Steeler.
Bleier was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for his time in combat. The Bronze Star is the one of the highest honors a soldier in the Army can win. These two honors show that Bleier had a lot of heart and a will to survive and overcome injuries that he was told were insurmountable. He did what “Heroes” do, he adapted, he overcame and he improvised and beat the odds. Intestinal fortitude drove Bleier to work harder to become more of a man and a player to be reckoned with on the football field.
Although in obvious pain Bleier returned to Steelers training camp just a year after being told he would never play football again. Bleier had to work so hard to get his playing life back that he was waived twice before getting a permanent spot on the active roster. His work ethic and not knowing how to quit propelled him to be one of the greatest Steelers ever.
Rock helped teammate Franco Harris gain a lot more yardage over many years by blocking for him throughout his career. Rock could run the ball, block and catch passes out of the backfield. In 1976 the tandem of Bleier and Harris both gained over 1000 yards rushing out of the backfield. The only other pair to that point to reach that feat was Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris of the 1972 Miami Dolphins.
Bleier distinguished himself as one of the toughest players in the NFL, playing in four Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Bleier could always be counted on to do whatever was asked of him on the field. Rock was never the focal point of the Steelers offense, but he was always an integral part of the backfield that made the Steelers one of the best running teams in the NFL. Rock caught a TD pass from Bradshaw in Super Bowl XIII to help the Steelers with their third of four Lombardi trophies during Bleier’s playing days.
During Bleier’s time as a player in Pittsburgh he epitomized what the Steel City has always been about, blue collar, hard work, and let’s get the job done. Rock came home from Vietnam a wounded war hero, who just happened to play football. He went into the phone booth and traded his military green uniform and came out wearing the Black & Gold of the Pittsburgh Steelers. In the eyes of most he is a hero in both uniforms.
If you had to use the word “hero”, Rocky Bleier is the picture that should come into your head. Whether in the green fatiques of the US Army or the Black & Gold of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Rock is a hero in anybody’s book. His life was made into a movie called Fighting Back: The Rocky Bleier Story. When you look back upon his life and career the only thing missing is a bust in Canton at the NFL Hall of Fame.
Mike Samuels is a Featured Journalist for TPF and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and http://www.facebook.com/TheSportsDude