Rocky Bleier (left) showing his Super Bowl rings, which are being worn by U.S. Army Captain Larsen
March 5, 1946 (age 75)|
|Awards||Purple Heart, Bronze Star|
Robert Patrick "Rocky" Bleier (born March 5, 1946) is a former National Football League halfback who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1968 and from 1971 to 1980.
Origin of nickname[edit | edit source]
He was nicknamed "Rocky" as a baby. Bleier said "As the first born of the family, my dad was proud, as all parents are." And the guys would come into the bar and say 'Bob, how's that new kid of yours?' And my dad would go 'Aw, you should see him, guys, looks like a little rock sitting in that crib. He's got all these muscles.' So they'd come back in the bar and they'd say 'Hey Bob, how's that little rock of yours?' So after that, that's how I got it. It stuck."
High school years[edit | edit source]
Bleier graduated from Xavier High School in Appleton, Wisconsin in 1964; while in high school, Bleier starred in football and basketball. In football, he was a three time All-State pick as running back, and also won All-Conference honors at both linebacker and defensive back.
College career[edit | edit source]
He graduated from University of Notre Dame in 1968 with a degree in business management, in addition to starring in football. He was a member of their 1966 National Championship team, captain of the 1967 squad, and was teammates & friends with quarterback Terry Hanratty, who would later be his teammate with the Steelers.
Service in Vietnam[edit | edit source]
After his 1968 rookie season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Bleier was drafted into the U.S. Army in December 1968. He volunteered for duty in the Vietnam War and shipped out in May 1969, serving with the 196th Light Infantry Brigade. On August 20, while on patrol in Heip Duc, Bleier was wounded in the left thigh by a rifle bullet when his platoon was ambushed in a rice paddy. While down, an enemy grenade landed nearby after bouncing off a fellow soldier, sending shrapnel into his lower right leg. He was later awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. His rank was Specialist 4.
While he was recovering in a hospital in Tokyo, doctors told him that he would not play football again. Soon after, he received a postcard from Steelers owner Art Rooney which just read "Rock - the team's not doing well. We need you. Art Rooney". Bleier later said "When you have somebody take the time and interest to send you a postcard, something that they didn't have to do, you have a special place for those kind of people".
Football career[edit | edit source]
One year after being wounded, Bleier reported to Steelers training camp. Upon his return, he couldn't walk without being in pain, and weighed only 180 pounds (82 kg). He spent two full years trying to regain a spot on the active roster, and was even waived on two occasions. But Bleier never gave up, and said that he worked hard so that "some time in the future you didn't have to ask yourself 'what if?'". An offseason training regimen brought Bleier back to 212 pounds in the summer of 1974. From that point in time, he would be in the Steelers' starting lineup.
Since Preston Pearson was wearing number 26 (the number Bleier wore his rookie season before he went to Vietnam), Bleier switched to number 20 when he returned to the team from Vietnam. After Pearson was traded to the Dallas Cowboys in 1975, Bleier kept the number 20, with which he had become associated.
In addition to being a great lead blocker, Bleier was the second of the Steelers' rushing weapons (Franco Harris was the primary back), but was effective nonetheless at both blocking and rushing. In 1976, both Harris and Bleier rushed for over 1,000 yards, making this the second NFL team to accomplish this feat, after Mercury Morris and Larry Csonka of the 1972 Miami Dolphins.
Bleier played in the first four Steeler Super Bowl victories, and caught the touchdown pass from Terry Bradshaw that gave Pittsburgh a lead it would never surrender in Super Bowl XIII.
Bleier retired after the 1980 season with 3,865 rushing yards, 136 receptions for 1,294 yards, and 25 touchdowns. At the time of his retirement he was the Steelers fourth all-time leading rusher.
Off the field[edit | edit source]
Bleier wrote a book of his struggle to recover from his war wounds called Fighting Back: The Rocky Bleier Story, and it was made into a television movie in 1980, with Robert Urich starring as Bleier, Richard Herd as Steelers coach Chuck Noll, Art Carney as team owner Art Rooney, and many of Bleier's teammates (including Matt Bahr and “Mean Joe” Greene) as themselves.
Bleier has four children. He has two children from his marriage with Aleta Giacobine Whitaker, from whom he was divorced in October 1996. He also has two adopted children with his second wife, Jan Gyurina. As of 2011, he lives in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania.
Bleier has become a notable author and speaker on retirement and financial management. He has authored the book "Don't fumble your retirement"  and is the co-host of a weekly radio show "The Rock on Retirement" on Pittsburgh radio station 104.7 FM WPGB. He runs Bleier Zagula Financial with his business partner Matt Zagula.
Honors[edit | edit source]
The football stadium at Xavier High School was renamed Rocky Bleier Stadium on October 12, 2007. Bleier tossed the coin to start the high school football game that day. Bleier spoke earlier in the day to students at an all school assembly. The entire student body wore t-shirts with his number 23, the only number retired in the school's history. On the following day, the third day of the three-day event, city mayor Tim Hanna unveiled a street named in his honor. The former Oneida Court was renamed Rocky Bleier Run.
References[edit | edit source]
- "Biography for Rocky Bleier". The Internet Movie Database. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0088195/bio. Retrieved 2009-08-21.
- Mike, Woods (2007-10-13). "Xavier teaches importance of history with Rocky Bleier". The Post Crescent.
- Hansen, Eric (2005). Notre Dame: Where Have You Gone?. Champaign, IL: Sports Publishing LLC. p. 7. ISBN 1-58261-151-3. http://books.google.com/books?id=FLQZWs1LulUC&lpg=PA7&dq=%22mt%20lebanon%2C%20pennsylvania%22&lr&as_brr=3&pg=PA7#v=onepage&q=%22mt%20lebanon,%20pennsylvania%22&f=false. Retrieved 2010-04-07.
- "Fighting Back (1980) (TV)". The Internet Movie Database. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0080733/. Retrieved 2009-08-21.
- Bleier, Rocky (2011). Don't Fumble Your Retirement. Charleston, SC: Advantage. ISBN 978-1-59932-290-2.
[edit | edit source]
- SI Article "A Good Soldier"
- Rocky Bleier website
- Xavier High School
- Rocky Bleier
- Bleier Zagula Financial
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