Memorable Games from 25 Steelers Legends: No. 24 -- Rocky Bleier

bleier

I promise, we'll get back to the Pittsburgh Steelers' 2011 season for the remainder of Tuesday, but while we wait for news on the right tackle front, not to mention try to count the minutes down to when the Steelers can avenge their Kickoff Weekend debacle against the Baltimore Ravens, I thought it made sense to squeeze in the next entry in Michael Ulhorn's countdown of the most memorable games posted by 25 of the greatest Steelers of all-time.

To be clear, this is not just a list of the Top 25 Steelers players of all-time, though that list is a component of the series. Really though, Ulhorn hoped to not just gloss over the careers of well-known Steelers legends, but instead harken back to one of the career games of each that he included in his list.

- Michael B. -

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24) Rocky Bleier - Running Back (1968-1980)

We all know the story of Rocky Bleier; it is the stuff movies are made of (or in his case, should be made of).  For those of you unaware of Rocky Bleier's inspirational past, I will recount some of his greater triumphs briefly. (Editor's note: You'd be smart to read Tim Gleason's interview with Bleier back in 2009 for more context.)

Rocky Bleier was drafted in the 16th round (417th overall) in the 1968 NFL draft out of Notre Dame.  After playing an unremarkable '68 season (5 rush attempts for 38 yards, no TD's) Bleier was selected in a different kind of draft: one ran by Uncle Sam that took him away from Three Rivers and into the middle of Vietnam.  While on patrol in 1969, Bleier took a bullet in the leg during a firefight.  While he was on the ground, a grenade was tossed close to him, detonating shrapnel into his right leg, wounding but not killing "Rock."  His recovery was long, and doctors assured Bleier he would never walk again, let alone play football. 

Always one to prove people wrong, Rock showed up a year later to Steelers training camp a mere 180 pounds, and unable to walk without excruciating pain, forget about scoring touchdowns.  It would take Bleier two years to make the active roster again, and it wouldn't be until 1974 that Rocky Bleier was able to suit up in the Black and Gold full-time, helping the Steelers win their first football championship in team history.  Bleier is a class-act, a great patriot, and one of my all-time favorite athletes.  If he had been healthier throughout his career, his stats might have been more impressive, but I guarantee no one motivated his teammates to play through injuries and win no matter the cost, more than number 20.

Bleier won four Super Bowls, recorded the game-winning touchdown catch in Super Bowl XIII, and was the man throwing blocks for Franco Harris during the first Steeler dynasty.

Career Game:

Statistics: 163 rush yards, 35 carries (4.66 yd/carry).  Both were career highs.

In week 6 of the 1975 season the Pittsburgh Steelers (4-1) were defending World Champions and taking on a Green Bay Packers team that would finish the year 4-10.  The Packers were a bad team, and the Steelers were on a 3-game winning streak - this streak would become 11-games before a week 14 loss to Los Angeles - and Pittsburgh was having a dominant year.  The Steelers finished the season 12-2 with the top seed and, of course, eventually won their second championship in a row.  However, the Steelers only won this game 16-13, and without Bleier, there is a good chance the Steelers would have lost that day. 

Before I break into the game, I will talk about some of the implications of losing that day.  The Steelers finished a game ahead of the Bengals in the AFC Central, as well as a game up on the Oakland Raiders for home-field throughout the playoffs.  If the Steelers had lost that day, they would still have the tie breaker for the Central title due to winning both games against the Bengals, however the Raiders might have been able to take home-field advantage from the Steelers.  If the Steelers were to have lost to the lowly Packers, the rhythm that brought this team 11-straight wins, may have been broken, and another loss may have occurred. Thankfully, the Steelers would retain home-field and win their second Super Bowl; but the outcome of the 1975 season could have been very different, if not for Rock.

(*Note: the tie-breaker in the ‘70's was based on points scored and points allowed.  Given this formula, the Steelers would have retained home-field, unless this loss predated another loss.  Thankfully, we can only speculate on the outcome of this season). 

The Steelers had allowed a combined 18 points in their previous three games heading into the match with Green Bay, and were still riding high from the first Championship in team history.  A let down game seemed inevitable.  The Steelers' defense was laying a curtain over the Packers' offense, but no one on the Steelers' offense was rising to the occasion.  Bradshaw finished the game 12 for 22 with 84 yards, 0 touchdowns and 0 interceptions.  Franco Harris rushed 8 times for 16 yards.  It took a 94-yard kick return by Mike Collier to score the lone Pittsburgh touchdown of the day.  With a stagnant offense, Rock took over for by far the best game of his career. 

Without scoring a touchdown, Rocky Bleier had a magical day.  The longest run he had was only 11 yards, but it was his shorter runs that ran down the clock and ran up the yards.  Watching each run that day is nostalgically beautiful, with Rock earning every yard the way a Steeler ‘back should.  In this game, Bleier displayed his full potential, and a soldier's running-style.  Rock's performance was equal parts dominant and uplifting.  What this man overcame in his life would have broken many of us, but Bleier turned that pain and hardship into 4 World Championships and a 163 yard performance of hard-nosed football more beautiful to a Steeler fan than Yo-Yo Ma playing Bach.

 

No. 25 - Casey Hampton (12/10.2010)

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