By Terry Dickson
JACKSON – A champion on the football field and a hero on the battlefield, former Pittsburgh Steelers star and decorated Vietnam War veteran Rocky Bleier imparted valuable life lessons during a recent visit to Jackson.
Bleier, a Pennsylvania native who was the keynote speaker during the Catholic Charities “Journey of Hope” luncheon Oct. 8 at the Jackson Convention Complex, told his audience that they possess “the power to make a difference, the power to change, the power to have an impact.”
“There are three things we can never get back,” Bleier told the audience. “One is time, one are words and the other are opportunities. What a wonderful time it is for all of us to be here and share in what Catholic Charities is all about, to be a part of this community and being able to change people’s lives. Opportunities are very important, but we have to take advantage of those opportunities as they come around. The one thing I’ve learned in all the time that I’ve been on this earth is that the one business we’re all in is truly the hope business.”
“If you truly think about it, no man is an island,” he said. “We didn’t get to where we are today by ourselves. We got here because of someone, something, an opportunity. We got here because of a coach, a teacher or a mentor. We got here because of a parent. We got here because of a drill sergeant. We got here because somebody took an interest, gave us a push, a nudge, gave us a job, opened a door, kicked us in the rear end. We got here because somebody cared.”
Bleier regaled listeners with stories about his own journey and the people who helped him along the way.
A product of Catholic schools, Bleier was a gridiron standout at the University of Notre Dame who was later drafted by the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers in 1968. However, his football career was almost immediately put on hold that same year when he was drafted into the United States Army.
Bleier earned a Combat Infantryman Badge, Bronze Star and Purple Heart during his tour of duty in Vietnam, the latter award a result of an injury he suffered when a grenade exploded near him, taking part of his foot.
Despite the severity of his injury, Bleier persevered and defied the odds, returned to the Steelers in 1970, winning four Super Bowl rings as part of a dynasty led by NFL Hall of Fame Coach Chuck Noll and Hall of Fame players Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris and Lynn Swann. In Super Bowl 13, Bleier, who played at halfback and on special teams, caught the go ahead fumble and recovered a late onside kick to seal the win against the Cowboys. He retired after the 1980 season. His blocking ability was a valuable contribution to the success of the vaunted Steelers running game.
Bleier’s life story is the focus of his best-selling book, Fighting Back: The Rocky Bleier Story. Today, Bleier is in high demand as a motivational speaker.
“No matter how hard we work, how talented we may be, how passionate we are about what we do in our community, there are times in our lives when we carry the weight of the world on our shoulders,” Bleier said. “There are times in our lives when we beat our head against the wall. There are times in our lives when we question our own ability and the choices that we make. There are times in our lives when the grass looks greener on the other side. You want to quit, move on and can’t carry the load.”
“I suppose the whole moral of this story is that, if I would quit all those many years ago, I’d never have the opportunity to play those 12 years, play in those Super Bowls or have all those memories. The reason I got a chance to play wasn’t because of my size and speed, but ultimately because of one talent (blocking). We have to understand that each and every one of us possess a singular talent that is our own, different than anybody else’s. It’s really our responsibility to be able to find out what that talent is, and what we bring to our communities and our families and our cities and to be able to use it.”
Approximately 750 people attended this year’s luncheon, which was preceded the previous night by a meet-and-greet with Bleier at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. Journey of Hope is one of Catholic Charities’ signature events and a major source of revenue.
“As our state’s population continues to increase, so does the need. Because of the dedication, passion and commitment of the team, we continue to seek out ways daily to be innovative and creative, insuring that we provide effective and quality services to the individuals and families that we serve. This allows us to be better poised to continue with the mission that began so many years ago,” said Wanda Thomas, executive director of Catholic Charities.
“Thanks to the supporters of Catholic Charities, those without housing have been housed, those in domestic violence situations have been kept safe, children have been placed in homes and able to find their forever families. It is the promise of bringing hope to many lives that drives us to keep pressing forward, and to say we can, and we will, give focus to the specific needs of our neighbors, we can and we will be advocates for those who suffer, we can and we will be the vessel to change lives.”