The NFL and USAA, the Official NFL Salute to Service Partner, have announced the 32 nominees for the eighth annual Salute to Service Award presented by USAA. The Salute to Service Award annually recognizes NFL players, coaches, personnel and alumni who demonstrate an exemplary commitment to honoring and supporting the military community, as nominated by NFL clubs.
Finalists for the Salute to Service Award presented by USAA will be announced in January, and the recipient will be recognized at NFL Honors, a two-hour primetime awards special to air nationally on Feb. 2, 2019 the night before Super Bowl LIII.
Robert Patrick Bleier, is known as ‘Rocky’ to the Steelers faithful and is the Steelers nominee. Bleier, like all of those who have served in the military and continue to serve, is a true American Hero.
Following his rookie season with the Steelers, Bleier was drafted into the United States Army during the Vietnam War. He was deployed to Vietnam in May of 1969, and assigned to Company C, 4th Battalion (Light), 31st Infantry, 196th Light Infantry Brigade, as a squad grenadier operating a 40mm M79 grenade launcher.
While on patrol that August, Bleier was wounded in the left thigh by enemy fire when his platoon was ambushed. An enemy grenade also landed, and he was hit in the right leg by shrapnel, and lost part of his right foot. Bleier, who was awarded a Bronze Star and Purple Heart, was later told by doctors he would never play football again. But when you talk about heart, that is something Bleier has so much of there was no way he would not return to football.
While he was recovering Art Rooney Sr., sent him a postcard delivering a message that spoke volumes. It read: “Rock – the team’s not doing well. We need you. Art Rooney.”
Bleier worked day and night in rehab, and miraculously made his way back to the Steelers in 1970, spending that season on injured reserve.
“It was Dan Rooney who gave me an opportunity to play this game,” said Bleier. “He put me on the injured reserve list and bought me a couple of years when I came back from Vietnam. It was Dan who was in my corner. He was that way in every player’s corner.”
Bleier returned to the field for the 1971 season, playing on special teams, and despite some ups and downs, Rocky always kept fighting.
“Rocky is a hero,” said Lynn Swann. “He saved lives in Vietnam. He overcame great obstacles just to be able to walk, let alone play football. He found himself in a key role as a starter on a Super Bowl championship football team and a great contributor, and a great contributor to the community.”
Bleier played for the Steelers until 1980 and was an integral part of four Super Bowl Championship teams. “One day Rocky was on the training table and I came through there one day and saw him lying on the table,” recalled Joe Greene. “His body was purple and blue up and down. I said he needs to be in the hospital. What I recall that same day he practiced. I said if Rocky can practice, nobody should miss practice. I don’t think I ever missed a practice, not only because of Chuck (Noll) but because of Rocky Bleier and that influence he had on me.” His inspiration on his teammates was widespread and grows with the passing of each day.
“The older I get the more I appreciate Rocky and his story and his triumphs,” said Mel Blount. “He showed us all about perseverance, commitment and hard work. That determination to accomplish the goals he set. He is a guy who showed us how to live and taught us about life’s challenges and how to overcome them.”
Bleier spends much of his time now supporting various veteran and community groups. He also serves as a motivational speaker providing career development advice for corporate executives, sales and marketing teams, young professionals and student athletes.
In 2017, Bleier began starring in his one-man play, titled “The Play” where he shares his story from the football field to the battlefield and back, where he helped the Steelers to four Super Bowl victories.
Bleier, who was just inducted into the Steelers Hall of Honor Class of 2018, released a special edition of his book Fighting Back as a part of the Fighting Back for Veterans campaign.
The first edition, written by Bleier and Terry O’Neil, was released in 1975 and chronicled Bleier’s story of being wounded in the Vietnam War in 1969 but beating the odds and returning to the Steelers. Proceeds from the new release, titled Fighting Back: The Inspirational Journey of American Hero Rocky Bleier, will benefit military veterans’ groups, including Veterans Leadership, Joint Training Facility, and Legacies Alive.
Above image of Rocky scoring a touchdown against Cleveland in 1978 courtesy of UPI.