To millions of football fans, Rocky Bleier is the legendary running back who helped propel the Pittsburgh Steelers to four Super Bowl victories in the 1970s. Vietnam veterans remember him as the Army infantryman who earned a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, beat the odds by overcoming his combat injuries and returning to the gridiron, and won the recognition that made them proud they’d served.
I was drafted twice. The first time was by the Pittsburgh Steelers in February 1968. The second was by the U.S. Army the following December. I had no trouble making the cut with the Army, which sent me to Vietnam as an infantryman. I didn’t put on a Steelers uniform again until after I had served as a soldier. Both experiences shaped my life.
I didn’t spend much time with the Steelers on the first go-round. When you’re near the tail-end on the list of NFL draft choices, all you want to think about is making the team. My draft board had classified me as 1-A, but Bill Austin, the head coach, had assured me that the Steelers would be able to “take care of that.” So I didn’t think much about the war.