FORMER SUBWAY ALUMNI LEADER REFLECTS ON HIS "NOTRE DAME ODYSSEY"


Herb Juliano
(1922-1998)

Herb's Archive features an article called "Irish Lore -- and Leahy," by Ray Fitzgerald from the September 14, 1975 edition of the Boston Globe.

FOOTBALL AND AMERICA. Rocky Bleier, a Vietnam veteran and former Pittsburgh Steelers running back,

FOOTBALL AND AMERICA. Rocky Bleier, a Vietnam veteran and former Pittsburgh Steelers running back,
looks over the display, Football and America: The NFL Responds During Times of National Crisis, which opened to the public Wednesday at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton. Bleier''s Silver Helmet Rehabilitation Award from the AMVETS is shown in the upper left portion of the photo.
Photo credit: Scott Heckel

 

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 National Crisis,"

Football HOF 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 walk again.

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 terrorist attacks.

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 he went."

Outflanking the 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 connection.

"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 something." 

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. 

"The young 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."

 

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