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|02-05-2010, 07:32 PM||#1|
A Son of Martha
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: Mesa, Arizona
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Rocky Bleier, A Super Boulder
Rocky Bleier, A Super Boulder
By MICHAEL MINK, FOR INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILYPosted 05:41 PM ET
Bleier, rushing in 1978, came through in that season's Super Bowl, catching the go-ahead touchdown pass in Pittsburgh's triumph over Dallas. AP
Bleier, rushing in 1978, came through in that season's Super Bowl, catching the go-ahead touchdown pass in Pittsburgh's triumph over Dallas. AP View Enlarged Image
Rocky Bleier's odds of making it in sports grew longer as he lay wounded in a Tokyo hospital.
He'd been a great high school athlete in Appleton, Wis., but many saw him as too small and slow to make it on the college football field.
Still, at 5 feet 10 inches and under 200 pounds, he earned a scholarship to Notre Dame, where he became captain of the Fighting Irish.
Then the Pittsburgh Steelers picked up the running back in the spring of 1968, making him one of the last players chosen in the National Football League draft.
He managed to make the team as a special teams player — and a decade later would help the Steelers win four Super Bowls.
But in December 1968 he was drafted again — this time by Uncle Sam — and sent to Vietnam the next year.
While on patrol in August 1969, Bleier was wounded in the left thigh by gunfire. Before the sun went down, his day got worse: An enemy grenade blew open the arch of his right foot and damaged its ligaments, nerves and toes.
Now as he lay in the U.S. military hospital in Tokyo, the doctor told him he was done playing football.
Bleier wasn't having any of that.
His sunny personality was forged in childhood when he woke up one day and realized it was his choice to be happy, and being optimistic made everything better.
While he tried to stay upbeat in Tokyo, he received a postcard from Steelers owner Art Rooney.
It read: "Rock, team not doing well. We need you."
Rooney's concern spurred him on. The Steelers paid for Bleier's operations and placed him on injured reserve so he could draw a paycheck while working to come back.
The two-year ordeal for Bleier included multiple surgeries, grueling rehabilitation and doubters.
As Pittsburgh teammates and front office personnel rooted for him, many couldn't see how he could return to NFL form.
Initially, he walked with a cane. He couldn't roll over the top of his foot and push off, so he had to learn to run off the side of it.
Some advised he forget playing. Become a scout. Go to law school. Those were a couple of suggestions.
Bleier said no. He kept aiming to play. And as he improved his speed, strength and explosiveness, that target came into focus.
By 1971, Bleier was back.
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