Blue and Gold Illustrated

December 2022

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 17 of 47

18 DECEMBER 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY TODD D. BURLAGE G i v e n a l l t h a t R o b e r t "Rocky" Bleier has seen and survived in his life, it's no surprise that the Notre Dame graduate seizes every oppor- tunity to show his gratitude by giv- ing back to others. A former Irish team captain, a national championship winner at Notre Dame in 1966, a four-time Super Bowl champion with the Pittsburgh Steelers and a Purple Heart recipient after suffering a se- vere leg injury while fighting in the Vietnam War, Bleier's life story is as inspirational as it is remarkable. "Playing football is very much like the military," Bleier recalled. "Every summer, early fall, you're going to training camp. You have regimented things that you have to do, you're isolated, you've got somebody yell- ing at you at one time or another. And you have people who are rely- ing on you." Forever compelled to give back — es- pecially to military veteran causes — to- day Bleier works as an honorary board m e m b e r f o r t h e National Veterans Foundation (NVF). The organization serves as a counsel- ing and referral lifeline for U.S. military veterans dealing with myriad crises — homelessness, post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), depression, suicidal thoughts, substance abuse and alcohol- ism, among others. Help is always just a call away — the Lifeline for Vets is (888) 777-4443, and it operates 24/7 thanks to the NVF net- work ( NVF is a non-govern- mental organization and operates with a vet-to-vet service model. And Bleier, 76, is proud to be one of its most recognizable board members and spokespersons. "But like anything else, it takes support and it takes money to be able to have that available," said Bleier, who spent much of this fall and summer raising funds and awareness for the foundation. "It is so im- portant that somebody is there to answer that call and say, 'How can I help you?' "Often times, veterans in crisis just want somebody to talk to. Somebody that understands and has empathy to what they're going through." Bleier became drawn to the NVF mis- sion and other veteran initiatives be- cause of the platform and notoriety he gained playing football at Notre Dame and with the Pittsburgh Steelers. "The NVF is a lifeline that can be so very important for so many veterans that it needs more awareness," Bleier said. "It's so easy for the American people to just say 'Thank you for your service,' or 'We appreciate your service.' And they don't understand or have an appreciation of what a veteran goes through in terms of stress of combat and the mental anguish that they some- times can't get out from under." LOOKING BACK Bleier played running back and defensive back at Appleton (Wis.) High School, earning all-state honors three times on offense and all-conference recognition twice on defense. After his accomplished prep ca- reer, Bleier accepted a scholarship to Notre Dame. Bleier arrived on campus in 1964 as part of the first recruiting class for head coach Ara Parseghian. After two nondescript seasons, Bleier helped the Fighting Irish win a national championship as a junior in 1966 and became a senior team captain in 1967. After recording a modest 784 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns during his Notre Dame career, Ble- ier was selected in the 16th round of the 1968 NFL Draft (417th over- all) by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Life was good after Bleier bucked the odds and turned his late draft selection into a roster spot that sea- son. That was until everything changed in December of his rookie year when this NFL Draft pick became an Uncle Sam draft pick. Bleier was whisked away to U.S. Army b o o t c a m p t h e n shipped off to Viet- nam in the spring of 1969 where he served in the 196th Light Infantry Brigade. "My head was spinning but you get through the process, take it one day at a time, you get through what you need to do," Bleier said. "I felt like I had been there before. The military was just a re- inforcement of what I'd already experi- enced as a football player." On Aug. 20, 1969, Bleier was on a rou- tine patrol in Heip Duic in central Viet- nam when his platoon was ambushed in a rice paddy. He suffered severe shrapnel wounds to his right leg and was airlifted to Tokyo to ensure proper care. During his three weeks there, he was told by doctors that his football career was over. Bleier recalls being depressed and devastated. "Playing football was the only thing I knew how to do," he said. During his recovery overseas, Bleier Bleier helped Notre Dame to a national championship as a junior in 1966 and captained the Irish in 1967. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS 'GOD , COUNTRY , NOTRE DAME' Former Irish running back Rocky Bleier has served them all

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