|FORMER FOOTBALL PLAYER, SOLDIER SHARES MESSAGE OF HOPE
By Kelley Stirling
NAS Oceana Public Affairs Officer
(January 17, 2014) –
Rocky Bleier is best known for his time playing football for the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 1970s when the team was on a winning streak. But it wasn't always like that.
On Jan. 8, Bleier visited the Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana Officer's Club and shared his philosophy on how he was successful with the team and ultimately, how the team was successful. Bleier drew many laughs from the audience, consisting mostly of aviators and football fans, as he talked about both his individual and the team's successes and setbacks. The audience was in awe when he pulled three Super Bowl rings from his pocket and added them to his fingers, next to the Super Bowl XIII ring he wears all the time.
"Rocky's theme of 'Leadership through Teamwork, Perseverance and Integrity' was a spot-on topic for any fighter squadron," said John Burch, director of operations for the Airborne Tactical Advantage Company, or ATAC.
ATAC, which invited Bleier to speak is based in Newport News but was at NAS Oceana for training.
"His ability to frame that message through his personal story as a wounded Vietnam War Veteran and a highly successful football player in the NFL was immensely interesting and motivational,"
Burch specifically asked Bleier to address the military audience because of his inspiring life story. "He was a warrior on the battlefield and the football field," said Burch.
Bleier had been selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1968 and near the end of that season, he was drafted into the Army, where he volunteered to serve in Vietnam. Just a few months after arriving in Vietnam in 1969, Bleier was injuredby a rifle bullet in the left leg and later in the same day, a grenade exploded nearby, sending shrapnel into his right leg.
While recovering in the hospital, doctors said he would never play football again and Bleier started to lose hope. But another soldier, who was a triple amputee with a very positive outlook on life, helped Bleier realize that "you can be bitter or choose to have a positive outlook."
While in the same hospital, Bleier received a postcard from the owner of the Steelers, Art Rooney, saying the team needed him. This, along with the amputee's motivation, was enough to make Bleier want to return to football. With his new positive outlook, Bleier regained his "hope" and he went on to play with the Steelers through the 1970s when they were winning.
"The key to whatever we do is that one word called 'hope,'" said Bleier.
On the football field, Bleier described how hope changed players' outlook on their future after a 1972 playoff game. It was during this game that teammate Franco Harris scooped up the ball and ran for a touchdown, making the famous play known as the "immaculate reception," that allowed them to win. According to Bleier, after 40 years of failure, this one play gave them hope and they started winning, ultimately leading to four Super Bowl rings later in the 1970s. He attributes much of the team's success to the great leadership, from the owner down to the quarterback at the time, Terry Bradshaw.
Bleier shared many of his past leadership experiences, where he picked up bits and pieces of what makes a good leader. One specific memory is of a drill sergeant who said, "'When put in charge, you take charge.'" That phrase really stuck with Bleier, as well as what the drill sergeant added: "'You do what's right; what's right for the situation; what you think is right, not necessarily what a superior thinks is right, but what's right for the men.'"
Bleier said there were many times throughout his life where leadership played a role in his personal decisions. One such time is when he returned from Vietnam and was not on the Steelers' starting lineup because he was still regaining his strength through training. But a couple of years later when he still wasn't playing, Bleier wanted to give up. Another teammate convinced him to come back because the team needed him, similar to Rooney's postcard while he was in the hospital. Bleier returned and after several other players were injured, he was once again playing. The Steelers also began winning. So not only did Bleier have hope as an individual that he would continue playing, but the team started having hope that they might make the playoffs, which led to the divisional championship and finally, a Super Bowl.
Burch was grateful for Bleier's willingness to come to Oceana and talk to the officers, as well as the ATAC team.
"Not only is he a legend in the NFL, he also has established an outstanding reputation as a motivational speaker," said Burch. "He is a great American who continues to support the military whenever possible."
Source: Jet Observer