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Giving thanks to Rocky Bleier and to all veterans on Memorial Day

Memorial Day is an opportunity to thank Rocky Bleier and the rest of America's true heroes, our veterans.

During the Vietnam War, the United States needed men and women like Rocky Bleier.

The Steelers needed Rock, too.

While rehabbing in Tokyo from shrapnel and bullet wounds while serving in Vietnam, Steelers founder Art Rooney sent his running back a letter .

"Rock- the team's not doing well. We need you. Art Rooney."

The Chief's short but sweet note was fuel Rocky used as motivation in his comeback to the Steelers.

After helping Notre Dame win a national championship, Bleier was drafted by the Steelers in 1968. But in December of that year, after just 10 games in Pittsburgh, Bleier was drafted into the United States Army, and then volunteered to fight in the Vietnam War. In a matter of months, Rocky went from a NFL running back to a Specialist 4 in the 196th Light Infantry Brigade.

On a mission in Vietnam on August 20, 1969, Rocky was searching for wounded comrades in a jungle when his platoon was ambushed. Bleier was hit during the ambush, suffering a bullet wound in his left leg and shrapnel from a grenade in his left leg.

Bleier was pulled to safety by a comrade, and later earned a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for his service and bravery.

"Fox hole prayers, you hear those a lot; those times where our backs are up against the wall,"  Bleier said. "From every conflict, there’s always been that one moment in time where you take a look at yourself, and you ask for the grace of God to be able to get you out of this situation."

Bleier survived that near fateful situation and returned to Pittsburgh a year after suffering his leg injuries in Vietnam. Aided by a cane and still in pain, Rocky began a grueling rehabilitation process that lasted two years. Despite not seeing any action for two more seasons and even being waived twice, Bleier continued to fight and improve, and by 1971, he resumed his NFL career.

"I never wanted to get to a place in my life where I’d look back and say ‘What if’. And I wanted to erase all of those ‘what ifs’, and especially in my case, coming back to play professional football," Bleier said.

By 1974, Bleier had earned a permanent place in the Steelers' starting backfield alongside Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris. Rocky played a pivotal role in Pittsburgh's first Super Bowl run, catching a touchdown pass in the Steelers' first playoff win over Buffalo, and then rushing for 98 yards a week later in Oakland. Along with helping Franco rumble for 158 yards, Rocky totaled 76 all-purpose yards in Super Bowl IX that included a key 17-yard run that set up the game-sealing touchdown in Pittsburgh's 16-6 triumph over Minnesota.

Harris and Bleier, the most successful running back-fullback combo in NFL history, became the second pair of teammates in NFL history to each rush for over 1,000 yards in a season in 1976. But it was a catch, not a run, that Bleier made in Super Bowl XIII that still lives on in Steelers' lore.

With the score tied late in the first half against Dallas, Bradshaw rolled right and found Bleier in the back of the end zone. Bleier's leaping catch over Dallas' D.D. Lewis not only graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, it was an inspirational play and one that gave the Steelers the lead for good in an eventual 35-31 victory.

By the end of his career, Rocky Bleier was regarded as one of the cornerstones of Pittsurgh's Super Bowl championship teams. More importantly, Bleier was revered and respected for his service to this country, and is still an example of what the military sacrifices on a daily basis to ensure our freedom to do things like play a football game.

"Like thousands of other young men during that conflict, there was no choice," Bleier said. "There was an obligation and a responsibility. As I reflect back, it was a turning part in my life. It was an important part in my life. I’m very proud to be a Vietnam veteran and I’m proud to have served in my military."

For BTSC and for all Steelers fans, thank you Mr. Bleier and to every member - past and present - of our United States military. And being that today is Memorial Day, we think of those that have given the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Today, and every day, is dedicated to you.