One-on-one with Rocky Bleier

<b>Q:</b> Tell me about going through the Vietnam War and after your injury, how to keep the attitude of not wanting to give up and pursue a career in football?

A: The attitude was that I wanted to play; there wasn't anything else in my life at that time. I had a taste of it as a rookie, so going into the service, not knowing what was going to happen, I was hoping to come back and be able to play...

Then I look back to tearing a ligament in my ankle when I was in the fourth grade and the bumps and bruises and a knee injury in college. As you get older, you learn some lessons and this one was that, "You gotta heal, then you back and play."

If you've never been injured, you're like, "this is never gonna heal." But once you've been through it once or twice, you realize, "OK, I just got to get through this."

But, okay, now I go to Vietnam and, I didn't lose a foot, you know? I didn't lose a leg, it was damaged, but I've been through this before. Eventually, it'll be over. So you work through the pain and ultimately, work yourself back into shape until you can play. It goes back to your belief system. What you believe you can achieve.

There's a lot of uncertainty with that, will it heal? Will the team take you back? Fortunately, I had a benevolent owner who gave me that chance.

Q: Tell me about coming back, then, playing for the Rooney's under Chuck Noll. Didn't he cut you that first year back?
A: Yeah, Chuck cut me. And rightly so, I mean, I wasn't able to play. They gave me all of training camp, but they cut me. Of course, I was devastated. Then the next day, Dan Rooney, the president of the club, called me and said he talked to Chuck and they weren't going to take anyone off his team, but they'd put me on injured reserve, have their doctors take a look at me and see what they can do. That's basically the kindness of the Rooney family.

Then the following year, I made the taxi squad. The development squad, or practice squad today. You can see how bad of shape the team was in if I'm making the taxi squad. (Laughs) And, almost made the regular team if not for getting strept throat after our last exhibition game.

Finally, in '72 I made the team.

Q: What about playing with those eight Hall of Famers and being a part of that first real dynasty in pro football?
A: Most successful organizations are trying to find those right people to work together. Talent doesn't mean a lot if you can't work together.

At the time, no one knew how this was going to play out. I mean, Joe Greene was a dominant player and (quarterback Terry) Bradshaw needed five years to prove himself. Franco Harris, had a good season in '72 as a rookie, but that was '72.

Then in 1974, there's a player strike, which allows 11 rookies to make the team that year. That then, becomes the core of the '74, '75, '78 and '79 Super Bowl teams. The bad news is the strike, but the good news is these guys get the opportunity to show what they can do and make the team had there not been a strike. Out of that, there are four Hall of Famers in that '74 draft class (Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Mike Webster).

Q: So what was it like playing with those guys?
A: To play with those guys, you see their talents. You look back and you say, "Wow, what a group that was."

But at the time, they're just guys.

Bradshaw's goofy; Jack Lambert's mean. Everyone has their own personality, "Fat" Holmes is crazy and Dwight White's got a motor mouth.

You play, you know you got something special and you hope you win, but we just had all the right people.

There was no real weakness. It was a mixture of guys who played well together.

I asked Chuck that one time, about how do you get the right people in the right positions to get the job done. He told me there's no magic formula; it's just trial and error. And he told me he didn't care if we socialized with each other, he didn't care if we liked each other or not. All he cared about is how you interfaced on the field.

A lot of that had to do with personal sacrifice. To give you an example, Jack Lambert comes in as a rookie and weighs 217 as a middle linebacker. Typically, a middle linebacker's 240, 250. Usually a middle linebacker's responsibility is to take on a blocker, a center or a guard and fill the hole.

He's tough physically, but he can't take that constant beating because of his size. Now, because of his size, he does a lot of other things that you want. He's smart, he's got range to drop back, lateral movement, but he can't take that beating the whole game.

So what do you do? You change defenses. We're going to sacrifice somebody.

So we move Joe Greene into the guard/center gap and angle him. Now, one guy can't block Joe Greene, so both the center and guard have to block him, occupying two people. Lambert is now the designated tackler. Funnel everything to Lambert, and keep everyone off of him.

You have to give up your individuality for the team, and allow another guy to become a Hall of Famer. Didn't necessarily sit well with everyone on the team, but ultimately, these guys still get recognized and appreciated.

I wasn't the leading ground-gainer, that was Franco's job. My job is to fulfill that blocking role like a fullback today, which is fine as long as you get recognized for it and are appreciated for it.

Q: Do you still enjoy watching the game today?
A: Yeah, I do. I'm a fan, I'm not obsessive, I don't know all the players. I like watching the execution.

I love games when it's third-and-one, or fourth-and-one, I want them to go for it; I want to see who rises to the occasion or who doesn't.

I follow the Steelers and go to games.

Q: What players do you enjoying watching?
A: Well, you watch your position and you watch the offense. But I think one of the more crucial elements of the game is the offensive line. Maybe it always depended on it, but I think it takes more of a focus today, is that, without an offensive line, nothing is accomplished.

Without the line, there is no running game, no running game then there's no passing game. You need to protect because defenses are bigger, faster and more complex.

What I don't like about the game is, sometimes, offensively, and maybe it's just because of the size of guys, they don't run trap plays like we used to, it's always a one-back running system, the fullback almost never touches the ball. It might be successful; it puts a lot of pressure on that one back.

And as we've seen through the first part of the NFL season, when the team's No. 1 back gets hurt, everyone's in a shitload of trouble.

I think that mix is gone, of having two backs, all that stuff we did is gone. Man, I feel like an old guy, "It's not the same ..."

Q: I see your point, you could put Duce and Jerome back there at the same time.
A: And why not? Jerome is 255, Duce is like 240 something. They don't need to knock anybody; they just need to get in their way.

Oh, but you've got to have a blocking fullback. No, you don't. You don't have to be fancy, just get their body in front of them.

I really think the offset of that is, "Who is going to carry the ball?" You know, you've got two threats now -- two big power backs who can run the ball and run it well. I think that would offset any advantage you would have with a blocking fullback.

Q: Did you know Pat Tillman?
A: I didn't know Pat Tillman, I know his story, of course.

Pat made a pretty gutsy choice, but it was his choice. What he did was admirable, just like I think anyone who is serving is admirable, especially the volunteer army, those who are called-up and the National Guard.

By comparison, Pat gave up a $3.5 million contract to do this. I guess my thought is, that makes it more admirable because, in the face of everyone else over there, I don't know how many would give up $3.5 million to join the National Guard. That's the reality of it and that puts Pat on a bit higher pedestal.

Q: What is your favorite memory from your career?
A: The most memorable moment was scoring my last touchdown at Three Rivers Stadium. The thing about that is it wasn't a glamour year, it was 1980, we weren't going to the playoffs and we're losing the game.

I guess it wasn't the touchdown so much as the lead-up to it. It wasn't two big passes and we're down at the one-yard line and I get to go in and score like Jerome did.

We were down by four points and no one was into the game, the enthusiasm of all those winning years was this (golf claps). You know, no one is up waving the towels or anything.

But those last three minutes, we had the ball at our 20, with 80 yards to go and I always tell people, the way we were playing, I'm not sure we could've scored if we only had eight yards to go.

But all of a sudden, for whatever reason it was like the old warhorse, or the old fighter pulling himself off the mat, saying "We're not going out this way, we've got one punch left," and we started moving the ball.

Franco ripped one for six yards on the first play, I picked up three and Franco got four more. There's a quick screen to John Stallworth and he picks up eight yards; I get a first down off tackle. There's the two-minute time out, then drop back and hit Kelvin Sweeney, the wide receiver at the 45, hit Benny Cunningham and bring it up over the 50 down to the 44.

Suddenly, you hear pockets of the fans, going "Offense, offense," you know, trying to get that enthusiasm going. You can hear them around the stadium, but they haven't brought it all together yet.

So, we're at the 44, and at that time, Bradshaw decides to give me the ball six times in a row. You gotta understand, he doesn't give me the ball six times a game, now, six times in a row.

I'm old, the shit beaten out of me at the end of the season and he wants to give me the ball. I just wanna ride this baby out, give it to Franco, throw the ball, do something. But no, he gives it to me six times.

But then everything starts to work again.

I get six here, four yards there, catch a screen on the left side for a first down, four here, three then another six and we're moving the ball. We're coming back into the huddle, and those pockets going "offense, offense," start coming together going "Rocky, Rocky!"

He hits Benny Cunningham again down to the 11-yard line and we rush to huddle up and I look at the clock, it's 32 seconds. He calls a trap. We break the huddle, quick glance, 25 seconds, 24, 23, 22.

Ball's snapped, now its 20, 19 ... guard pulls out and it's a crushing blow on the defensive end and the other guy's pushing and, honest to God, the biggest hole I've ever seen in 12 years that I played.

I'm through the hole, the linebacker scrapes, I beat my guy. I've got 10 black jerseys pushing me to the goal line. I'm running to the goal line, clock's going down 17, 16, 15.

I get to the goal line, the defensive back comes rushing up, I leave my feet, he leaves his -- two bodies hurling, we collide, come down, ball crosses the goal line. We win the game.

Q: Wow.
A: That's my favorite play. It was Rocky Bleier day, it was apropo. It wasn't a Super Bowl, it didn't put us in the playoffs, but it was still a game-winning touchdown.

Q: I don't know how to top that, so I'll stop there and I'll just thank you for your time.
A: Thank you.

High School: Xavier High School

1968: Graduated from Notre Dame Degree in Business Management

1968: Drafted in the 16th round by the NFL Pittsburgh Steelers

December 1968: Drafted by the U.S. Army

May 1969: Sent to Vietnam
Served with the 4th/31st of the 196th LIB of the Americal Division
Stationed in Chu Lai, South Vietnam located in I Corp

August 1969: Wounded in Heip Duc
Awarded Purple Heart
Awarded Bronze Star

1970: Pittsburgh Steelers Injured Reserve

1971: Pittsburgh Steelers Taxi Squad

1972: Made the active roster for the Pittsburgh Steelers

1974 : Earned a spot in the starting backfield

1975: Enjoyed one of the best games of his career against the Green Bay Packers…he rushed for 163 yards for the day.

1976: Rocky Bleier & Franco Harris became the second pair of running backs from the same team to gain 1000 yards in the same season.

1977: Scored the "go-ahead" touchdown in Super Bowl XIII

1980: Retired from the Pittsburgh Steelers at the end of the 1980 season.


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