Welcoming ‘Rocky’

Former Pittsburgh Steeler great to speak at Sunrise Rotary gala

By CHRISTY ARMSTRONG  Banner Staff Writer
Posted 2/21/17

A four-time NFL Super Bowl champion and Purple Heart-holding U.S. Army veteran will soon be visiting Cleveland to tell his unequaled comeback story.

Famed running back Robert “Rocky” Bleier, …

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Welcoming ‘Rocky’

Former Pittsburgh Steeler great to speak at Sunrise Rotary gala

Posted

A four-time NFL Super Bowl champion and Purple Heart-holding U.S. Army veteran will soon be visiting Cleveland to tell his unequaled comeback story.

Famed running back Robert “Rocky” Bleier, known for excelling with the Pittsburgh Steelers after being injured at war, will be the featured speaker at the Bradley Sunrise Rotary Club’s annual fundraising gala.

Plans are underway for the event, which will take place the evening of Aug. 12 at the Cleveland Country Club.

“It’s a pretty amazing story,” said Kevin Mendel, president of the club. “We think his story will be inspirational to anyone who hears it.” 

Originally from Appleton, Wisc., Bleier got his start in football playing for Xavier High School in 1964. He played both football and basketball but was particularly successful in football. In high school, he was a three time All-State pick at running back.

Bleier later attended Notre Dame, where he played on the 1966 National Championship Football Team.

After graduating from Notre Dame in 1968, he went on to be drafted to the NFL, with the Pittsburgh Steelers taking him in the 16th round.

While he did begin training and playing with the Steelers, his plans were put on hold due to the Vietnam War. Bleier had been drafted once again, but his second draft was as a U.S. Army soldier.

He was sent to Vietnam in May 1969, where he served in the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 196th Light Infantry Brigade, Americal Division.

His military career would end in August of the same year. While with fellow soldiers in the Heip Duc Valley of Vietnam, he received a leg wound in combat, thanks to an enemy grenade.

While he received the honors of a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star following his military service, Bleier still desired to have another special piece of regalia — a Super Bowl ring.

“His hopes of ever playing in the NFL again seemed pretty slim,” Mendel said. “But he worked hard and went on to win the Super Bowl with his team four times.” 

Bleier’s comeback story began with time spent on the Pittsburgh Steelers Injured Reserve and the Steelers’ “Taxi Squad.” His injuries left him unable to walk without pain, and it took two hard years of physical therapy and training to regain his spot on the Steelers’ roster.

In 1972, he was once again placed on the team’s active roster. In 1974, he earned a spot in the Steelers’ starting backfield. During his first year as a starting running back, the Steelers won the Super Bowl.

He would later become a four-time Super Bowl champion (IX, X, XIII and XIV). His NFL career highlights include 3,865 rushing yards, 136 receptions for 1,294 yards and 25 touchdowns.

“The story of his hard work and determination to get back into the NFL is almost unbelievable. There has not been a story like it since,” Mendel said.

Retiring from the NFL in 1980, Bleier went on to use his business degree from Notre Dame to help found RB VetCo, a Pittsburgh-based construction company. He has also spent years contributing to a variety of charitable causes.

Bleier now travels sharing his story with people, and Mendel said his story aligns with the local club’s mission to inspire and promote community service.

“With Rocky Bleier, you have someone who has lived our motto of ‘Service Above Self’ and is also a sports champion,” said Mendel.

Past gala events have featured both sports and military heroes, and the club president added Bleier is sure to be in good company. Planning is still underway for the Aug. 12 event, but people can begin reserving seats now.

People can sponsor the event by reserving tables, with sponsorship levels ranging from $2,500 to $10,000. Individual tickets are also expected to be available closer to the event.

The club is also accepting donations of products and services to be auctioned off during the gala.

Profits from the table sales will all go to the Bradley Sunrise Rotary Club Foundation, which annually gives thousands of dollars worth of grants to local charitable causes. These have included Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland, the Salvation Army of Cleveland, The Caring Place, The Refuge, Court Appointed Special Advocates and more.

Profits from the auction will go toward charitable efforts the club is undertaking. Mendel said these funds were most recently used to fund a trip to Honduras to help a community in need of a clean water system.

“Bradley Sunrise Rotary is a service club, and we promote ‘Service Above Self,’” Mendel said. “We have one fundraiser each year, the gala, and those dollars are invested back into the community.” 

For more information on the club or the upcoming gala, visit http://www.bradleysunriserotary.com or call 423-432-0347.

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