- Category : 1946-births
- Type : MGE
- Profile : 4/6 - Opportunistic / Role Model
- Definition : Split - Small (7,13,20)
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Consciousness 1
American football halfback who played in the National Football League (NFL) for the Pittsburgh Steelers (1968, 1970-1980), noted as one of the best running backs in football.
Fresh out of Notre Dame, he was drafted for pro-ball by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1968; unfortunately, he was also drafted by the U.S. Army that November. He was wounded in Vietnam on 20 August 1969 with shrapnel in both legs from a grenade. When the rescue helicopter picked him up, it also carried Thomas Murphy, wounded in the same explosion. Through the long flight, Bleier held on to Murphy tightly so that he would not fall out.
Told that he would never play ball again and discharged on 40% disability, Bleier began training tentatively with a right foot that felt with each step like all the bones were jagged and tearing into the skin. Every day he literally hobbled for several miles, continuing his grueling torture for three months. He then strapped ten-pound weights on each ankle and ran up and down the steps at the Kansas State University stadium. Eventually he could do the run five times without stopping.
With rehabilitation and determination, he brought himself back to the Steelers training camp in July 1970. Still badly wounded and handicapped, he persevered. During his first year, he played only one game. Another operation relieved some of the pain in his right foot and he kept driving himself, pounding up and down the fire escape of his building and at dawn, loping two or three miles through the silent streets.
By the time of the 1972 training camp, Bleier ran the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds. He needed to get shoulder pads two sizes larger than those he wore as a rookie. He started seeing some action in the season's 13th game where he made a run up the middle and gained 17 yards. Not until the 1974 season did Rocky start his first game, and then only because one of the regulars was laid up. In the first quarter, he scissored through the line and scored his first touchdown. Two weeks later, he ran the ball 78 yards and did a devastating blocking job.
Growing up in the heart of Green Bay Packer country, Bleier lived for football and basketball as a kid. By the sixth grade he weighed a husky 140 lbs (63.5 kg). He was big for his age, too big, with legs in constant pain, He had Osgood-Schlatter's disease, the growth of his bones was outstripping the growth of his muscles and ligaments. The boy sat out for one season, but by winter, he quietly rejoined the team.
Bleier earned 11 letters in three sports in high school, won a football scholarship to Notre Dame and was named team captain his senior year. However he was rated too small by the scouts, at 5'11" (1.8m). Not one to quit without trying, Bleier proved them wrong.
By the end of the 1974 season with the Steelers, Pittsburgh went to its first Super Bowl game, where Bleier threw a crucial block, helping the Steelers defeat the Minnesota Vikings. By 1976, he was moving through the opposition like a lawn mower. His biggest moment came in the 1979 Super Bowl, when the Steelers went up against the formidable Dallas Cowboys. With only seconds to go in the first half, Steeler quarterback Terry Bradshaw rifled a seven-yard pass to Bleier in the Dallas end zone, putting Pittsburgh ahead to stay. The team went on to win 35-31, becoming the first team to win three Super Bowls.
Bleier's dramatic comeback was the subject of a feature film for TV. He is the author of an autobiography entitled "Fighting Back."
Bleier has four children. He has two from his marriage with Aleta Giacobine Whitaker, whom he married in 1975 and divorced in October 1996. He also has two adopted children with his second wife, Jan Gyurina.
He finds time to help disabled kids, working with major organizations. An available speaker, he appears at boys' clubs, high school assemblies and other group activities.