On May 2, 2023, Pittsburgh Steeler and Vietnam Veteran Rocky Bleier joined the Veterans Breakfast Club to share his remarkable story of going to war, coming home, and fighting back to Super Bowl victory.
Rocky joins us courtesy of UPMC for Life to tell his awe-inspiring story.
You all know the outlines of that story: son of a Wisconsin tavern owner, all-state athlete in high school, National Champion at Notre Dame, and VERY late round draft pick (417th overall) for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1968.
Rocky makes the team, plays sparingly, then receives his draft notice.
Five months later, he’s in Vietnam, Company C, 4th Battalion (Light), 196th Light Infantry Brigade. On August 20, while on patrol about 60km southwest of Danang, his platoon gets ambushed. A enemy bullet rips into his left thigh. Then, an exploding grenade shreds his lower right leg and foot. Rocky’s war in Vietnam is over.
But his fight had just begun. Doctors reassured Rocky he’s be able to lead a normal life—except for football. Playing again was out of the question.
Out of the blue, he receives a postcard from legendary Steelers owner.
“Rock – the team’s not doing well. We need you. Art Rooney.”
That short note kickstarted a grueling rehabilitation that, in truth, took years. He couldn’t walk without pain and returned to the Steelers woefully underweight.
But he never gave up and ever so slowly climbed the ladder of football success.
1970: works out with the Steelers.
1971: makes the roster.
1972: plays every game.
1974: earns a starting position in the backfield, over five years after being wounded in a Vietnamese rice paddy.
Even without the four Super Bowls that followed, the Rocky Bleier story would be the most inspiring tale of grit in the history of sports.
But those championships made Rocky a household name and introduced millions of Americans to the qualities shaping a hero: commitment, determination, optimism, and humility.
Rocky Bleier has them all and shares what he’s learned from a hard life at war and in football with us.