One of the great NFL Legends on and off the field came to the Pro Football Hall of Fame last week, Steelers great Rocky Bleier. Bleier is already a part of the Hall, not just with his player record, but with as part of the Hall’s “American Spirit” exhibit with his football gear and artifacts from his service in Vietnam.
Bleier played high school football in Appleton, Wisconsin and attended the University of Notre Dame, playing in one of college football's most storied games, the 10-10 tie with Michigan State. Both teams were crowned national co-champions, a designation that neither team was happy with.
Bleier was elected Notre Dame’s team captain in 1967 and when he graduated a year later, he was drafted in the 16th round of the NFL Draft, the 417th player selected. After his rookie season with the Steelers, Bleier was drafted into the U.S. Army in December 1968 during the Vietnam War. He volunteered for duty in South Vietnam and shipped out for Vietnam in May of 1969 and was assigned as a squad grenadier operating a 40mm M79 grenade launcher.
On August 20, while on patrol Bleier was wounded in the left thigh by an enemy rifle bullet when his platoon was ambushed. While he was down, an enemy grenade landed nearby after bouncing off a fellow soldier, sending shrapnel into his lower right leg. He lost part of his right foot in the blast as well. He was later awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. His rank was Specialist 4.
While he was recovering in a hospital in Tokyo, doctors told him that he could not play football again. Soon after, he received a postcard from Steelers owner Art Rooney which read:
"Rock - the team's not doing well. We need you. Art Rooney."
Bleier later said, "When you have somebody take the time and interest to send you a postcard, something that they didn't have to do, you have a special place for those kind of people."
He rejoined the Steelers in 1970, played ten years and was a part of four Super Bowl wins. Bleier wrote his autobiography in 1975 called “Fighting Back” - the struggle to recover from his war wounds. It was made into a television movie in 1980, with Robert Urich starring as Bleier.
In December 2016, with the backing of the minority owner of the Steelers, movie producer Thomas Tull, Rocky starred in a one man show called “The Play” about his life from Appleton to Notre Dame to the Steelers. The show sold out 14 straight nights.
Hall Executive Producer George Veras heard about the show and reached out to Rocky and his stage director, Scott Weiss to visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame and discuss bringing the show to Canton for its own run. Rocky raved about the Hall, Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village and A Game for Life.
Rocky was given a private tour of his archives and the “American Spirit” exhibit by the Hall's Director of Exhibits & Museum Services, Saleem Choudry. Bleier and Weiss visited the Olmsted Performing Arts Center and they thought it was a perfect fit to stage “The Play”. After the visit director Scott Weiss said, “Visiting the Hall, its people, and seeing A Game for Life has made this the best day I have ever had”.
Rocky Bleier, Scott Weiss and the Hall are actively pursuing to bring “The Play” during the OHSAA Football Championships being held at the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium from November 30 through December 2nd.
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