Rocky Bleier

Last updated

Rocky Bleier
Rocky Bleier - Super Bowl Rings - Jan 24 2009.jpg
Bleier (left) in 2009, showing his Super Bowl rings, which are being worn by U.S. Army Captain Larsen
No. 20, 26
Position: Halfback
Personal information
Born: (1946-03-05) March 5, 1946 (age 75)
Appleton, Wisconsin
Height:5 ft 11 in (1.80 m)
Weight:210 lb (95 kg)
Career information
High school: Appleton (WI) Xavier
College: Notre Dame
NFL Draft: 1968  / Round:  16  / Pick: 417
Career history
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Rushing yards:3,865
Average:4.2
Total touchdowns:23
Rushing attempts:980
Player stats at NFL.com  ·  PFR
Rocky Bleier
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Department of the Army Seal.svg United States Army
Years of service1968–1970
Rank Army-USA-OR-04b.svg Specialist 4
Unit 196InfBdeSSI.svg Company C, 4th Battalion (Light), 31st Infantry Regiment, 196th Light Infantry Brigade, Americal Division
Battles/wars Vietnam War
Awards Bronze Star Medal
Purple Heart
Combat Infantryman Badge
Other workauthor, actor, motivational speaker

Robert Patrick "Rocky" Bleier (ˈblaɪər, BLAI-yer, born March 5, 1946) is an American former professional American football player. He was a National Football League (NFL) halfback for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1968 and from 1970 to 1980. [1]

Contents

Origin of nickname

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." [2]

Early years

Born and raised in Appleton, Wisconsin, Bleier was the oldest of four children of Bob and Ellen Bleier, [3] who ran a tavern, Bleier's Bar, while the family of six lived above it. [4] He had a paper route as a youth, [5] and graduated from Xavier High School in 1964, where he starred in football and basketball. In football, Bleier was a three-time all-state selection as running back, [6] and won all-conference honors at both linebacker and defensive back. He was a team captain in football, basketball, and track. [7]

Bleier played college football at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, and graduated in 1968 with a degree in business management. During his junior season in 1966, the Fighting Irish won the national championship and he was a team captain as a senior in 1967. [7] He was selected in the 16th round of the 1968 NFL/AFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers, 417th overall.

Military service

Vietnam

After his rookie season with the Steelers, Bleier was drafted into the U.S. Army on December 4, 1968, during the Vietnam War. [8] He volunteered for duty in South Vietnam and shipped out for Vietnam in May 1969 assigned to Company C, 4th Battalion (Light), 31st Infantry, 196th Light Infantry Brigade and assigned as a squad grenadier operating a 40mm M79 grenade launcher. On August 20, while on patrol in Hiep Duc, Bleier was wounded in the left thigh by an enemy rifle bullet when his platoon was ambushed in a rice paddy. While he was down, an enemy grenade landed nearby after bouncing off a fellow soldier, sending shrapnel into his lower right leg. [9] He lost part of his right foot in the blast as well. [10] [11] He was later awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. His rank was Specialist 4.

While he was recovering in a hospital in Tokyo, doctors told him that he could not play football again. Soon after, he received a postcard from Steelers owner Art Rooney which simply 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 kinds of people". After several surgeries, he was discharged from the military in July 1970, [12] and began informal workouts with Steeler teammates. [13] [14] [15]

NFL career

Bleier rejoined the Steelers in camp in 1970. Upon his return, he couldn't walk without being in pain, and weighed only 180 pounds (82 kg). He was put on injured reserve for the season, but returned in 1971 and played on special teams. [15] He spent several seasons trying to get increased playing time, and was 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 lb (96 kg) in the summer of 1974, and he earned a spot 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. After Pearson was traded to the Dallas Cowboys in 1975, Bleier kept the number 20, with which he had become associated.

Bleier's military service is commemorated in the Pentagon's Wounded Warrior corridor Rocky Bleier Pentagon.jpg
Bleier's military service is commemorated in the Pentagon's Wounded Warrior corridor

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 relinquish in Super Bowl XIII. He also recovered Dallas's onside kick in the closing seconds, sealing the Steelers' victory.

Bleier retired after the 1980 season, [16] 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.


NFL career statistics

YearTeamGamesRushingReceiving
GPGSAttYdsAvgLngTDRecYdsAvgLngTD
1968 PIT 1006396.521036822.7540
1969 PIT 00Did not play due to service in Vietnam War
1970 PIT 00Did not play due to injury
1971 PIT 600000000000
1972 PIT 1401171717000000
1973 PIT 1203001000000
1974 PIT 127883734.218278712.4240
1975 PIT 11111405283.817215654.3130
1976 PIT 14142201,0364.72852429412.3320
1977 PIT 13131354653.4164181618.9300
1978 PIT 16161656333.8245171689.9321
1979 PIT 167924344.7704312778.9280
1980 PIT 166783404.4191211748.3171
Career [17] 140749283,8654.270231361,2949.5322

Off the field

Bleier signs an autograph at the North Dakota National Guard's 2009 Safety Conference in Bismarck. RockyBleierAutograph.jpg
Bleier signs an autograph at the North Dakota National Guard's 2009 Safety Conference in Bismarck.

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. [18] Bleier is featured in the 2014 feature documentary "Project 22", which chronicles the cross-country motorcycle journey of two young veterans exploring alternative treatments for PTSD and TBI. [19]

Bleier has four children. He has two children from his marriage with Aleta Giacobine Whitaker, from whom he was divorced in October 1996. [20] [21] [22] He also has two adopted children with his second wife, Jan Gyurina. [1] As of 2011, he lived in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania. [8]

Bleier has become an author and speaker on retirement and financial management. He has authored the book Don't fumble your retirement [23] and is the co-host of a weekly radio show The Rock on Retirement on Pittsburgh radio station 104.7 FM WPGB. [24] He runs Bleier Zagula Financial with his business partner Matt Zagula. [25]

Honors

The football stadium at Xavier High School was renamed Rocky Bleier Field on the Knights of Columbus Sports Complex [26] on October 12, 2007. [2] Bleier tossed the coin to start the high school football game that day. He had spoken earlier in the day to students at an 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 a three-day event, mayor Tim Hanna unveiled a street named in his honor. The former Oneida Court was renamed Rocky Bleier Run. [2]

Related Research Articles

Pittsburgh Steelers National Football League franchise in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The Pittsburgh Steelers are a professional American football team based in Pittsburgh. The Steelers compete in the National Football League (NFL) as a member club of the American Football Conference (AFC) North division. Founded in 1933, the Steelers are the seventh-oldest franchise in the NFL, and the oldest franchise in the AFC.

Super Bowl IX 1975 Edition of the Super Bowl

Super Bowl IX was an American football game played between the American Football Conference (AFC) champion Pittsburgh Steelers and the National Football Conference (NFC) champion Minnesota Vikings to decide the National Football League (NFL) champion for the 1974 season. The game was played on January 12, 1975, at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Steelers defeated the Vikings by the score of 16–6 to win their first Super Bowl championship.

Super Bowl XIII 1979 Edition of the Super Bowl

Super Bowl XIII was an American football game between the American Football Conference (AFC) champion Pittsburgh Steelers and the National Football Conference (NFC) champion Dallas Cowboys to decide the National Football League (NFL) champion for the 1978 season. The Steelers defeated the Cowboys by the score of 35–31. The game was played on January 21, 1979, at the Orange Bowl in Miami, the fifth and last time that the Super Bowl was played in that stadium.

Super Bowl XIV 1980 Edition of the Super Bowl

Super Bowl XIV was an American football game between the National Football Conference (NFC) champion Los Angeles Rams and the American Football Conference (AFC) champion Pittsburgh Steelers to decide the National Football League (NFL) champion for the 1979 season. The Steelers defeated the Rams by the score of 31–19, becoming the first team to win four Super Bowls. The game was played on January 20, 1980, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, and was attended by a Super Bowl record 103,985 spectators. It was also the first Super Bowl where the game was played in the home market of one of the participants, as Pasadena is 10 miles (16 km) northeast of Downtown Los Angeles. It was the last time the Rams made the Super Bowl while based in Los Angeles until LIII in 2018, where they lost to the New England Patriots 13–3.

Terry Bradshaw American football quarterback

Terry Paxton Bradshaw is an American former professional football player who was a quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the National Football League (NFL). Since 1994, he has been a television sports analyst and co-host of Fox NFL Sunday. Bradshaw is also an actor and singer, having participated in many television shows and films, most notably starring in the movie Failure to Launch and releasing several country music albums. He played for 14 seasons with Pittsburgh, won four Super Bowl titles in a six-year period, becoming the first quarterback to win three and four Super Bowls, and led the Steelers to eight AFC Central championships. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989, his first year of eligibility. Bradshaw was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1996.

Franco Harris Player of American football

Franco Harris is an American former professional football player who was a fullback in the National Football League (NFL) for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks. After playing college football for the Penn State Nittany Lions, he was selected by the Steelers in the first round of the 1972 NFL Draft, the 13th overall pick. He played his first 12 years in the NFL with the Steelers; his 13th and final year was spent with the Seahawks. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990.

Art Rooney American football player, executive, owner

Arthur Joseph Rooney Sr., often referred to as "The Chief", was the founding owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, an American football franchise in the National Football League (NFL), from 1933 until his death. Rooney is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was an Olympic qualifying boxer, and was part or whole owner in several track sport venues and Pittsburgh area pro teams. He was the first president of the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1933 to 1974, and the first chairman of the team from 1933 to 1988.

Chuck Noll American football player and coach

Charles Henry Noll was an American professional football player and head coach. Regarded as one of the greatest head coaches of all time, his sole head coaching position was for the Pittsburgh Steelers of the National Football League (NFL) from 1969 to 1991. When Noll retired after 23 years, only three other head coaches in NFL history had longer tenures with one team.

Joe Greene American football player and coach

Charles Edward Greene, better known as "Mean" Joe Greene, is an American former professional football player who was a defensive tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers of the National Football League (NFL) from 1969 to 1981. A recipient of two NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards, five first-team All-Pro selections, and ten Pro Bowl appearances, Greene is widely considered to be one of the greatest defensive linemen to play in the NFL. He was noted for his leadership, fierce competitiveness, and intimidating style of play for which he earned his nickname.

Terrence Hugh Hanratty is a former American football quarterback who played in college at Notre Dame and in the National Football League during the 1960s and 1970s. He earned two Super Bowl rings as the backup quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Hanratty's son Conor also played football at Notre Dame as an offensive guard.

John Henry Johnson American and Canadian football fullback and halfback

John Henry Johnson was a gridiron football running back known for his excellence at the fullback position as both a runner and a blocker. His first professional stint was in Canada in the Western Interprovincial Football Union for one season with the Calgary Stampeders. He then played in the National Football League (NFL) for the San Francisco 49ers, Detroit Lions, and Pittsburgh Steelers before spending his final season in the American Football League (AFL) with the Houston Oilers. Commonly referred to as simply John Henry, an allusion to the folk hero of the same name, Johnson was a tough and tenacious player who performed at a high level well into the tail end of his career.

Matthew David Bahr is a former professional American football placekicker in the National Football League, and professional soccer player in the North American Soccer League. He attended Neshaminy High School in Langhorne, Pennsylvania where he excelled in both football and soccer. He is the son of National Soccer Hall of Fame inductee Walter Bahr, and is the brother of NFL kicker Chris Bahr.

Steeler Nation NFL Steeler team fanbase

Steeler Nation is an unofficial name for the fan-base of the National Football League's Pittsburgh Steelers. The term was coined by NFL Films narrator John Facenda in the team's 1978 highlights film. Steelers Country is often used for the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, area where the fan base originates or for areas with a large Steelers fan base.

Russ Grimm American football player and coach

Russell Scott Grimm is an American former professional football player who was a guard for the Washington Redskins of the National Football League (NFL). He has also served as an assistant coach for the Redskins, Pittsburgh Steelers, Arizona Cardinals, and Tennessee Titans. As a professional, Grimm had multiple selections to both the All-Pro and Pro Bowl teams, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010. Grimm played 11 seasons for the Redskins and was a first-team selection to the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are an American football franchise representing Pittsburgh. They are the seventh-oldest club in the National Football League (NFL), which they joined in 1933. The only surviving NFL teams with a longer history are the Chicago Bears, Chicago Cardinals, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, New York Giants and Boston (Washington) Redskins. The Philadelphia Eagles joined the league concurrently with the Steelers in 1933.

Mike Tomlin American football coach

Michael Pettaway Tomlin is an American football coach who is the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers of the National Football League (NFL). He began his coaching career as a defensive assistant before becoming the Steelers' head coach in 2007. Never compiling a losing record during his 14 seasons with the Steelers, Tomlin has led the team to nine playoff runs, seven division titles, three American Football Conference (AFC) championship games, two Super Bowl appearances, and one title in Super Bowl XLIII. At age 36, he is the youngest head coach to win the Super Bowl.

Fighting Back: The Rocky Bleier Story is a 1980 made-for-television movie about the life of Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rocky Bleier, portrayed by Robert Urich.

The 1969 Pittsburgh Steelers season was the franchise's 37th in the National Football League. It would mark a turning point of the Steelers franchise. 1969 was the first season for Hall of Fame head coach Chuck Noll, the first season for defensive lineman "Mean Joe" Greene and L. C. Greenwood, the first season for longtime Steelers public relations director Joe Gordon, and the team's last season in Pitt Stadium before moving into then-state-of-the-art Three Rivers Stadium the following season.

The 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers season was the team's 44th in the National Football League. The Steelers started the season looking to become the first team in the Super Bowl era to win three-straight league championships. However, many thought that would be in doubt after the team started 1–4 and saw quarterback Terry Bradshaw injured in the week 5 loss to the Cleveland Browns after a vicious sack by Joe "Turkey" Jones that has since become immortalized in NFL Films as part of the Browns-Steelers rivalry. The 1976 Steelers' 9.9 points allowed per game in the regular season is the best in franchise history.

The 1978 Pittsburgh Steelers season was the franchise's 46th season in the National Football League (NFL). The season concluded with the team winning Super Bowl XIII to become the first franchise in the NFL to win three Super Bowl titles. The championship run was led by quarterback Terry Bradshaw and the team's vaunted Steel Curtain defense. This team is regarded as one of the greatest defensive teams of all time and one of the greatest teams in NFL history. Bradshaw put together the best year of his career to that point, becoming only the second Steeler to win the NFL MVP award. Ten Steelers players were named to the Pro Bowl team, and four were judged as first-team All-Pros by the AP. Head coach Chuck Noll returned for his tenth season—moving him ahead of Walt Kiesling as the longest tenured head coach in the team's history to that point.

References

  1. 1 2 "Biography for Rocky Bleier". The Internet Movie Database. Retrieved August 21, 2009.
  2. 1 2 3 Mike, Woods (October 13, 2007). "Xavier teaches importance of history with Rocky Bleier". The Post Crescent.
  3. "Bleier to hang 'em up? His mom hopes yea". Gadsden Times. Alabama. Associated Press. January 16, 1980. p. 18.
  4. Telander, Rick (August 11, 1986). "Local boy makes good". Sports Illustrated. p. 62.
  5. O'Brien, Jim (December 19, 1980). "Bleier delivers in any weather". Pittsburgh Press. p. B-14.
  6. "Bleier, Appleton Xavier star, top back for second year". Milwaukee Journal. December 3, 1963. p. 19, part 2.
  7. 1 2 "Captaincy is a habit with Irish star". Milwaukee Journal. September 8, 1967. p. 20.
  8. 1 2 Hansen, Eric (2005). Notre Dame: Where Have You Gone?. Champaign, IL: Sports Publishing LLC. p. 7. ISBN   1-58261-151-3 . Retrieved April 7, 2010.
  9. "Bleier wounded in Vietnam". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Associated Press. August 29, 1969. p. 16.
  10. Bleier, Rocky; O'Neil, Terry (June 9, 1975). "June 9, 1975". Sports Illustrated. p. 76.
  11. Interview with Rocky Bleier on Fox Sports April 30, 1975 -- http://www.foxsports.com/nfl/story/pittsburgh-steelers-rocky-bleier-recalls-vietnam-war-40-years-after-it-ended-043015
  12. Gifford, Frank (1977). Gifford on courage. Bantam Books. p. 35. ISBN   9780553106992.
  13. Donovan, Dan (July 26, 1970). "Bleier runs long road". Pittsburgh Press. p. 7, section 4.
  14. "Bleier not asking for any favors". Lewiston Daily Sun. Maine. Associated Press. August 3, 1970. p. 12.
  15. 1 2 Bechtel, Sam (July 25, 1973). "They got a piece of the Rock...but not enough". Beaver County Times. Pennsylvania. p. D-1.
  16. Smith, Pohla (December 27, 1980). "Steelers' Bleier steps out after heroic grid career". The Bulletin. (Bend, Oregon). UPI. p. 12.
  17. "Rocky Bleier". Football-Reference.com. Retrieved February 7, 2020.
  18. "Fighting Back (1980) (TV)". The Internet Movie Database. Retrieved August 21, 2009.
  19. "Tech Center: Phone Photo Filter App".
  20. Walsh, Lawrence (January 3, 1997). "Divorce leads Bleier to sell 4 Super Bowl rings in bankruptcy". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. p. A-1.
  21. Pitz, Marylynne (January 8, 1997). "Bleier lists debt figures to explain bankruptcy". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. p. C-1.
  22. Robinson, Alan (January 24, 1997). "Bleier: From bars to Super Bowls to bankruptcy". Daily Gazette. Schenectady, New York. Associated Press. p. 18, Super Bowl XXXI.
  23. Bleier, Rocky (2011). Don't Fumble Your Retirement. Charleston, SC: Advantage. ISBN   978-1-59932-290-2.
  24. {http://www.wpgb.com/cc-common/onair/}
  25. "Rocky Bleier and Son, Adri Bleier, Form Bleier Zagula Financial to Help Safeguard Pittsburgh Area Retirees". PR.com. Retrieved July 17, 2018.
  26. http://www.xavierhawkssports.com/rocky-bleier-field/