The following article tells
about the dedication of an exhibit at the Pro Football Hall of Fame
called "Football and America: The NFL Responds During Times of
makes room for war heroes
By JOE FROLLO JR. Repository assistant sports editor
CANTON -- Rocky
Bleier is an American hero. Not for what he did on the football field
at the University of Notre Dame and with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but
for the 3 1/2 years that interrupted his career from December 1969 to
the fall of 1972. Just four months into his tour in Vietnam, Bleier
was wounded in both legs, hit with both rifle fire and grenade
fragments when his platoon was ambushed. He was told he would never
Two years and
countless hours of rehabilitation followed before he not only walked
but ran, rejoining the Steelers. In 1976, just six years after earning
the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star, he joined teammate Franco Harris
in becoming the first NFL backfield with two 1,000-yard runners.
On Wednesday at the
Pro Football Hall of Fame, Bleier spoke to about 100 people at a
luncheon before helping to open "Football and America: The NFL
Responds During Times of National Crisis," an exhibit that honors
the men of the National Football League who served their country in
the military and helped bring the nation through its toughest days.
Bleier played 10
seasons with the Steelers, retiring as the team's fourth-leading
rusher and a member of all four Super Bowl teams. Now 56, he still
lives in Pittsburgh, working as a motivational speaker. A hero? He
wears the label quietly. He knows what that word implies.
"A hero is
someone who does what is needed to be done and doesn't ask about the
consequences," Bleier said.
Bleier is among the more than 1,200 NFL players who were members of
the armed forces during either World War II, Korea or Vietnam.
Of them, 36 are Hall
of Famers, including Roger Staubach, Chuck Bednarik and Lou Groza.
Three -- Maurice Britt, Joe Foss and Jack Lummus -- were
awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Some, including Massillon''s
Lin Houston, are simply men who answered a call to duty.
"I don't think
anybody realizes how many pro athletes contributed to the armed
services," said former Cleveland Brown and Hall of Famer Dante
Lavelli, a member of the infantry during World War II who attended
Wednesday's ceremony. "Sometimes, people don't think about things
unless it happens to them. I think this does a real good job showing
what some of us went through."
A room filled with
photos, stories and lists honor those men, as well as how the league
used its resources during such times as the Iranian hostage situation,
the Gulf War and most recently, the months following the Sept. 11
One collection tells
the sacrifice of Lt. Bob Kelso, a former Buffalo Bills lineman who
died in Vietnam. Kelso and Bleier were drafted following their rookie
years. Bleier came home. Kelso didn't.
"Bob had a wife,
a child and a career. He had a future. He had a tomorrow," Bleier
said. "He also had a commitment. It was not an easy decision, but
opposition. In the trenches. Battle tested. All these terms to
describe war have become common in football. Bleier said much has been
done to assimilate the two, and in a very basic way, there is a
"Look over the
history of the NFL since World War II, Korea and Vietnam, lots of
things have changed," Bleier said. "In the world, in
football, there has also been change.
"But football as
a game is still the same at its essence. From its inception to today,
the fundamentals are the same: Block, tackle, run and throw. Passion,
commitment to a common goal.
"Now take that
over to the armed forces, and you have the same ideas. The same
passion and commitment to beliefs. Boys who have a dream to do
The big difference is
football remains a game, while war is anything but. And for Bleier,
this exhibit helps find a way to bring it into perspective.
"I read that in
war, some people die, some come home and the rest is details,"
Bleier said. "But it is the details that are important and give
us our memories. And we need to remember those details and the people
who committed themselves in a time of need to serve their country.
athlete of today with the money and the fame may not understand mine
or Bob Kelso''s decision. We who served know the price of tomorrow,
but we did what had to be done despite the consequences."