View Full Version : ‘Never, never give up’

04-24-2010, 08:01 AM
‘Never, never give up’
By KATIE SCHWENDEMAN (kschwendeman@reviewonline.com)
POSTED: April 24, 2010

NEW CUMBERLAND - Attitude is everything. That was the point former Pittsburgh Steelers runningback Rocky Bleier made to Oak Glen Middle School students Friday.

Known as one of the most popular of the Steelers Super Bowl champions, Bleier remains very down to earth and genuine, which is why Leann Whitehill, of Horace Whitehill insurance, hoped to book him as a motivational speaker for the middle school.

Middle School Principal Donna Popovich had asked Whitehill to secure a speaker to "pump kids up" before their week of standardized testing.

Whitehill said she chose Bleier because she didn't want "just another speaker."

"I wanted someone special," she said. "I had decided on him because of his story. He is such a genuine person who cares and wants to see people succeed."

The hardships Bleier has faced throughout his life also played a part in why he was chosen to speak to the students.

Bleier, who is originally from Appleton, Wis., graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1968 and was immediately drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Only a year later the United States Army wanted him as well - he was drafted to serve in Vietnam during the war. It was there that his platoon was ambushed and his legs were wounded by a grenade that exploded nearby. He was in the hospital for nine months, and the doctors said he would never play football again.

"Sometimes outside sources give us hope," he said, explaining that it was a postcard he received from Pittsburgh Steelers Founding Owner Art Rooney that made him believe he could return to the game.

He told students the post card only had two lines, and it said the team needed him. After two years of serving in Vietnam, Bleier returned to the field - wounded legs and all - and helped carry the team to their first Super Bowl victory during the 1974 season.

"You never know where that hope will come from so that your dream doesn't die," he said.

Bleier encouraged students to find what it is they really love to do, and pursue that. He explained that a lot of the time people's interests are founded on their friends and relatives' interests. Providing a personal example, he said he decided to play the trumpet in the high school band because his cousin had done the same thing.

Later he realized his own dream was to play in the National Football League, and that dream came true. He now owns four Super Bowl rings. He said his favorite ring is the one from the Super Bowl XIII, which took place Jan. 21, 1979, at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Fla. The Steelers played the Dallas Cowboys and ended up with a 17-2 victory. Mainly, he likes the ring because, "It's the biggest and gaudiest one out of them all," he joked.

Before his speech, Popovich had asked him how he wears the rings - All four at a time? Interchangeably? During the speech he was wearing two, one on each hand. He had the other two in a pocket, but brought them out later for students to see.

The students were ecstatic. Several were wearing Pittsburgh Steelers jerseys and t-shirts. At one point Bleier asked who was a fan, and several hands shot up in the air.

But Bleier's speech wasn't always about the Steelers, or even himself. He said that during the hard times, or the times of doubt, he got by through remembering other people's stories of past successes, and that gave him hope.

Before Bleier made his appearance, Rocco Scalzi, founder and president of Beating the Odds Foundation (BTO), offered his own personal testimony.

"I learned at a young age to never give up," he said. "Dreams are very important because they give us hope. We all face challenges."

Scalzi told students that while he was working as a police officer in Altoona, Pa., in 1980, he accidentally paralyzed an individual during a hostage situation.The court ruled his actions as negligent, and he could no longer be a police officer. He added that at that time his marriage was crumbling, and being even more transparent, he said even considered suicide.

What brought him back from the edge was hope, he explained. He later earned his police badge back.

"This isn't just a one day assembly," he said. "The real quarterbacks in your life are your teachers."

The BTO Foundation focuses on bringing a message to students all across the nation about the importance of dreams, goals, overcoming obstacles and maintaining a positive attitude.

Bleier is one of the BTO Foundation's Quarterbacks for Life presenters, and he and Scalzi have been friends for the past 20 years. He said Scalzi's story and numerous others are what keep him motivated.

"These stories help you become the best that you can be," he said.