Rocky Bleier

 "Xavier Field Dedication"

Robert Patrick "Rocky" Bleier was the son of a tavern owner in Appleton, Wisconsin. Often leaving the baby in a crib by the bar, it was noted that he "laid there like a rock" and after numerous inquiries as to "how is that rock doing?" by bar patrons, Robert Bleier would be known around town by the obvious nickname of Rocky. Years prior his uncle Ted Bleier had traveled from Wisconsin to the warmer climate of Miami and was a member of Miami's football squad, before choosing to remain in the Miami area as an educator. Thus the genetics for athletic success were there but no one would have predicted the heights to which young Rocky would ascend at Appleton's Xavier High School. Taking the final stanza of the school's fight song to heart, Rocky lived the words " achieve our lasting destiny, this is our pledge today." He seemed destined for some type of greatness, even if it was limited to the athletic arena. Under the guidance of Xavier's legendary coach Gene "Torchy" Clark, Bleier was a two-time All State running back, the only junior on the 1962 squad, and as captain of the football, basketball, and track teams his senior year, led all of them to undefeated seasons. Rocky closed his 1961 through '63 varsity football career with 2985 rushing yards and a 9.4 yards-per-carry average, augmented by fifty-five touchdowns. All three of his varsity football teams finished with 9-0 records, making him a perfect recruit for Notre Dame despite being but 5'10" and 175 pounds. To this day, Rocky's number 23 jersey is the only one retired by the Xavier Hawks football program and it is safe to state that he is also the only former Hawk and Notre Dame gridder to have a street named for him in his home town.

At Notre Dame, he again fell under the tutelage of a coach who would become legendary. Joining new coach Ara Parseghian and the great recruiting classes he brought in to South Bend, Rocky spent his sophomore season behind halfback Bill Wolski and gained but 145 yards on only twenty-six carries. His contributions however, were much more than statistical as he had the ability to rally every teammate to a higher level of play. In 1966 he was part of the National Championship team that tied Michigan State 10-10 in The Game Of The Century and was an integral part of the backfield that included Terry Hanratty, Larry Conjar, and Nick Eddy. His 282 rushing yards, seventeen receptions, and niche as the team's most effective punter told but part of the story and the inspirational leader was elected team captain for his senior season of 1967. Completing his Notre Dame career with 357 yards on the ground and forty-two points, the statistics again displayed little of his character. After sustaining a serious knee injury and having surgery, Bleier entered the Irish locker room after an emotional victory over Miami and was presented with the game ball and cheers from his teammates, such was the level of his leadership.

The limited statistics made Rocky a sixteenth round draft choice of the Steelers, the 417th pick in the 1968 NFL draft. Against all odds he made the team as a back-up running back and special teamer as he dedicated himself to a severe weight training program that brought his weight closer to 190. Immediately after his rookie season Bleier was drafted into the U.S. Army and in May of 1969 he was sent to Viet Nam with an infantry unit. On August 20, 1969, Bleier was shot in the left thigh and had a grenade explode under his right foot and leg, doing extensive damage and leaving shrapnel inside of him. Told he would be fortunate to walk, Rocky made up his mind that he was going to take his Bronze Star and Purple Heart, perhaps use them as reminders and inspiration, and resume his football career. Two years of extensive rehabilitation and weight training found him up to a robust 210 pounds though his term with the '71 and 1972 Steeler teams that saw him amass but one carry from scrimmage, was deemed to be a token of appreciation for his service from Steeler owner Art Rooney. However, his indomitable spirit kept him going and continuing to move forward, he finally had a breakthrough in 1974, showing off devastating blocking ability and carrying the ball eighty-eight times. As the Steelers won the 1975 Super Bowl, Bleier was the blocking back for Franco Harris but also a dependable short yardage back. In 1976, another Super Bowl winning season, both Harris and Bleier topped 1000 rushing yards with Rocky putting up a great total of 1036. Remaining with the Steelers through the 1980 season, he totaled 3864 career rushing yards on 928 carries, had 136 pass receptions for another 675 yards, and scored twenty-three TD's. Right to the end of his pro career, Bleier remained a crowd favorite and a highly respected team player. His life story was the subject of an autobiography entitled "Fighting Back" which was later made into a movie starring former Florida State football player, the late Robert Urich. Rocky Bleier's patriotism and heroism in battle, his inspirational comeback from devastating injury, and his contributions to the great Steeler teams of their Super Bowl era have made him a sought-after motivational speaker and a wonderful example of courage to all.

With the invitation and honoring of all former players, Xavier high school dedicated their new field to Rocky Bleier.  Thank you Kathy for allowing Helmet Hut to be a small part of your week long event.