Blue and Gold Illustrated

December 2022

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

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BLUEGOLDONLINE.COM DECEMBER 2022 19 said he received a postcard from Pitts- burgh Steelers owner Art Rooney, telling the young soldier that the team needed him and looked forward to his return. "For [Rooney] to take the time to send you a note, so far from home," Bleier said, "you keep a special place in your heart for people like that." The injury and subsequent surgeries kept Bleier off the battlefield and in the hospital for about 10 months. He was discharged from the mili- tary in July 1970, and he tried return to the Steelers about a month later, only a year after his serious injuries. Bleier had dropped about 35 pounds from his rookie playing weight and was down to only 170 pounds when he reported to training camp. And to no one's surprise, includ- ing Bleier's, he didn't make the Steelers roster and was put on injured reserve. Undeterred, Bleier kept working. A tough offseason training regimen brought Bleier back up to 212 pounds. He returned to the Steelers in 1971 and played on spe- cial teams, then steadily earned more reps, and by 1974 he had become a starter. "I didn't lose a leg. I didn't lose a foot. I was going to come back and play," Ble- ier said. "That was my desire. You take the time, you rehab, then you go out and play. Football and military life share a lot in common." Bleier tallied 373 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns in 1974 and won the first of his four Super Bowls with Pittsburgh that season, followed by another in 1975. His best season came in 1976 when at 30 years old, an age when most NFL run- ning backs had already retired, he rushed for 1,036 yards with 5 touchdowns as a backup. Along with Steelers starting tailback Franco Harris, these two became only the second set of teammates to rush for 1,000 yards in the same season. Bleier helped Pittsburgh win two more Super Bowls (1978 and '79) and retired in 1980 as the Steelers' fourth all-time leading rusher with 3,865 yards. All told, Bleier played in 11 NFL seasons and 14 postseason games, winning 13 of those. Bleier would eventually become a lo- cal legend not only for his contributions on the football field, but for the sacri- fices he made off it. "God, country, Notre Dame," Bleier said, "There's something to that." Bleier began to earn national recogni- tion for his injury comeback, appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated in June 1975, with the headline, "Rocky Bleier's War: A Pro Football Player in Vietnam." "Over time, it was my military service that got more attention, or longevity of attention, than my football career," Bleier said. A LIFE WELL LIVED Bleier still resides in Pittsburgh but tours the country sharing his stories with high school students as a moti- vational speaker, while also devoting much of his time to veteran causes. "Because of that success on the foot- ball field, it gave me a platform to go out and talk to and speak to veteran organi- zations," Bleier added. Still one of the most popular players in Steelers franchise history, Bleier wrote a book in 1975 called "Fighting Back: The Rocky Bleier Story," which was made into a television movie in 1980. From receiving the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for his military service, to winning four Super Bowls on the football field, Bleier still considers his time at Notre Dame the catalyst to ev- erywhere life has taken him. And he's forever appreciative. "In some degree Notre Dame provides a sense of comfort," shared Bleier, who recently returned to campus to receive the Foster Award from the Notre Dame Alumni Association for his outstanding service to school and country. "You can go back and sit at the Grotto, go back and walk the lakes, and remember those days. "But it also provides you a chance to reflect on how life has taken you from that point, and how important that ed- ucation was, and the people that you met that have become lifelong friends. That's what becomes so important." Bleier said that during his brief trip to campus he did not get a chance to meet first-year Irish head coach Marcus Freeman. But from a distance, Bleier appreciates what he sees. "Freeman is a first-year head coach. There was going to be a learning process," he said. "But you can see it falling into place. You can see the team turning. He's done a wonderful job getting this team back on track and in the position they are with all the changes that have taken place. "Seeing the reaction from the play- ers when he was announced as the new head coach, to watching how he handles his players, and then his philosophy on recruiting," Bleier added. "Obviously, it was 180 degrees from the previous coach, and I feel like that was important." ✦ Go to to see how you can help veterans in need. "Over time, it was my military service that got more attention, or longevity of attention, than my football career." BLEIER Today, Bleier serves as an honorary board member for the National Veterans Foundation, which operates a 24/7 Lifeline for Vets that provides counseling and referrals for U.S. military veterans dealing with myriad crises — homelessness, post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), depression, suicidal thoughts, sub- stance abuse and alcoholism, among others. PHOTO COURTESY NVF.ORG Bleier was picked by Pittsburgh in the 16th round of the 1968 NFL Draft. After serving in the U.S. Army in Vietnam, he recovered from a severe war injury to his leg and went on to help the Steelers win four Super Bowls between 1974 and 1979. PHOTO COURTESY PITTSBURGH STEELERS

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