Pittsburgh’s Heinz History Center is currently hosting an exhibition, “The Vietnam War: 1945-1975.”
As Steelers fans are aware, Rocky Bleier was drafted twice. First by the Steelers in January 1968 using their fourteenth pick in the NFL draft. Eleven months later he was drafted into the marines as the Unites States government used a lottery to select personnel to serve two years in military service.
In his rookie year with the Steelers, Bleier found it difficult to get playing time behind Dick Hoak and Don Shy. He carried only six times for 39 yards, caught three passes for 68 yards, returned six kickoffs for 199 yards and two punts for 13 yards.
As the 1968 season came to an end, instead of practicing with the Steelers, Bleier found himself in South Carolina with the marines doing his basic training.
Eight months later he was in Vietnam with the 31st Infantry. He was badly injured when his platoon was ambushed and he suffered a sniper bullet in his left thigh. While lying injured in a rice field, he was wounded in the foot by grenade shrapnel.
The story of his recovery and return to playing football winning four Super Bowl rings is something out of Hollywood. It was actually made into a TV movie named after his book, “Fighting Back.”
The exhibition at the History Center is on until September 22 and Rocky will make an appearance on July 8 to tell his story. He will be joined by the following guests:
- Larry Richert, host of KDKA Radio Morning News
- John Banaszak, U.S. Marine Corps veteran and three-time Super Bowl champion defensive end for Steelers
- Jon Kolb, former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman (1969-1981) and a personal trainer who works extensively with veterans injured in the line of duty
- Dr. Ben Stahl, president and chief executive officer of the Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania
- Samuel W. Black, director of the African American Program at the Heinz History Center and lead curator for The Vietnam War: 1945-1975 exhibit
Bleier’s story is unique. It covers a time when the United States was torn apart by a war the nation eventually turned against. Rocky was a member of the armed forces who dutifully carried out the instructions of their government.
Add four Lombardi trophies to the story and you certainly do have a blockbuster.
Guest list courtesy of the Almanac.
SteelersUK’s article on Rocky.