With Veterans Day upon us this Sunday, November 11, Talk of Fame Network reached out to one of the most decorated former NFL players to serve in the military, Rocky Bleier, to talk about what that day means to him and how what he learned during his time in Vietnam impacted his years as a fullback on the Steelers’ first four Super Bowl champions.
“It’s an interesting thing how human beings react in time of need…crisis…because that is the thing that gets us through life and you don’t know until you are faced with that situation,’’ Bleier told Talk of Fame this week.
Bleier faced such a situation on August 20, 1969, only nine months after having been drafted into the Army following his rookie season with the Steelers. He was no longer a fullback trying to open holes for Franco Harris. He was operating an M79 grenade launcher in a rice paddy in the midst of Vietnam when his squad was ambushed in a rice paddy and he was shot in the leg.
Moments later an enemy grenade bounced off another soldier and exploded, sending shrapnel into his right leg. While recovering in a Tokyo hospital he was told he would receive both a Bronze Star for bravery and a Purple Heart. He was also told he would never play football again because of injuries to his foot.
Around that time he received a brief card from Steelers’ owner Art Rooney, saying “Rock – the team’s not doing well. We need you. Art Rooney.’’ It was the inspiration to begin a comeback that would eventually lead him to winning four Super Bowl rings, a starting fullback job mostly blocking for future Hall of Famer Franco Harris offering but also a 1,000 yard rushing season in 1976.
“No, I did not keep that card,’’ Bleier admits, saying it simply was lost at some point in time. “The important thing is how important it was when I got that card. I was really feeling down at the time. All of a sudden there was this little light of hope that came in…It was that somebody cared and took the time. That became very important to me.’’
All these years later, Rocky Bleier continues to show how much he cares about veterans like himself. He is active in a number of veterans causes including the Wounded Warrior Project, Operation Strong Vet, the National Veterans Owned Business Association the Homeless Vet Run and many others. Who better to talk with as Veterans Day approached this week than someone like Rocky Bleier?
“Everyone wasn’t running patriotically to enlist,’’ Bleier recalled of the Vietnam War years. “People were doing the opposite…but when I look back I’m very thankful I had that experience…to serve our country for all the things it stands for.’’
Talk of Fame Network also called upon long-time Sports Illustrated and NBC Sports football maven Peter King to recall a guy who was one of the greatest football writers of all-time. Paul Zimmerman, known widely as Dr. Z during his lengthy career at the New York Post and then Sports Illustrated, passed away this week at 86. King grew close to the curmudgeonly Zimmerman during their years working together and spent many hours with him after Zimmerman suffered three strokes a decade ago that took away his ability to speak and write but never took his heart.
“He was so brilliant, so interesting, such an incredible character,’’ King recalled. “Paul had 76 incredible years and 10 difficult years on this planet.’’
King recalled how Zimmerman loved arguing about Hall of Fame candidates, when he could be at times harsh in his assessments but most often right. A former offensive lineman at Stanford, Columbia and later in semi-pro football, Dr. Z also loved the technical side of the game and gravitated toward linemen, who he always professed were the smartest players on the team.
“He loved rugby for its brutishness and football for its complexity,’’ King said of Dr. Z. “He loved Marion Motley and Jack Lambert. That’s the kind of football he loved. That football doesn’t exist much anymore. Paul was the only (writer) players looked at and could talk to in their own language but if you look at Paul just talking about Xs and Os you’re missing a big part of Paul. He was a brilliant writer.’’
Our own Dr. Data, Hall of Famer Rick Gosselin, this week shreds the recent points explosion in the NFL and makes clear how it may become a danger to the game itself if it continues unabated. Co-host Clark Judge states the Hall of Fame case for a guy you may never have heard of, Vince Lombardi’s personnel man, Jack Vainisi. And Rick and Clark join co-host Ron Borges in a string of spirited arguments and debates over what coach is on the hot seat, whether the points explosion is good or bad for pro football and how legalized gambling and the NFL’s sudden willingness to join forces with that effort may pose a long-term threat to the game.
To hear that and the rest of Talk of Fame Network’s weekly radio show tune in to your local SB Nation Radio Network station or get our free podcast at iTunes or on the TuneIn app. You can also access this and any of our past shows by going to our website, talkoffamenetwork.com.