On Thursday, at my alma mater of Carlisle High School, former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rocky Bleier spoke to a crowd during the Carlisle Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting, and he recollected tales of not only his playing days and being drafted by the Steelers but also being drafted into the U.S. Army, whom he fought for in the Vietnam War. However, the mood was light as Bleier added a bit of humor to most of his stories.
A banner player coming out of Notre Dame in 1968, he was the 417th overall pick.
“People said, ‘How did you make it onto the team back then?’” Bleier said, according to Joshua Vaughn of The Sentinel. “Remember who played for the Steelers in ’60s? That’s how come I made it on the team.” However, it was evident as the presentation went on that the 69-year old’s escapades in life had began taking a toll on his body, as he sat slowly at a table in the cafeteria, posing for photos and autograph seekers.
He elaborated on his wound suffered in the war, an exit wound that tore through his left quad but amazingly avoided contact with the bone. Not only that, Bleier was the recipient of some pretty sever shrapnel, courtesy of a grenade that went off inches from him. Obviously, injuries of this magnitude are severe enough for an ordinary person like you or I, but for an athlete like Bleier, who overcame them to perform on the NFL level, it’s an incredible testament to his perseverance.
Despite the negative things doctors told him, in regards to what he could do going forward on the football field, Bleier didn’t let the naysayers hold him back, and he proudly displayed his four Super Bowl rings Thursday, one on his finger and the other three in his pocket. He even let some of the youngsters in the crowd try on some of his hardware, albeit much too large to fit their tiny fingers. Despite his on-field glory and defying adversity, those rings aren’t what he said he cherishes most in life however. That would be his two adopted daughters, whom he and his wife, Jan Gyurina, adopted from Ukraine.
“They are my daughters,” he said, according to Vaughn. “They aren’t my adopted daughters. They are your kids or they are not your kids … They are terrific, and they are great girls.”
As many mega-athletes of today like LeBron James or Peyton Manning seem untouchable, as if they’re almost not even human, Bleier noted that’s not the case, as they’re just regular people like you or I, who put their pants on the same way.
“I’m just a guy,” he said. “Because perceptions that we have of one another or other people, that their lives are whatever we think they may be … when it boils all down they’re just a guy,” he said, according to Vaughn.
Now the owner of a construction company and an insurance agency in Pittsburgh, Bleier conveyed his main message, that after the primetime spotlight dims, he’s just a working man, like the rest of us.
“Life’s busy,” Bleier said. “I’m just trying to make ends meet, you know what I mean?”