Rocky & Rooney

Jan and Rocky Bleier

Rocky Bleier, who shares a home with his wife, Jan, in Virginia Manor, remains a Pittsburgh treasure.

I spoke with him over breakfast as I was putting the finishing touches on my book, Franco, Rocky & Friends—It Pays to be a Good Guy.

I have known these guys since I came on the Steelers’ beat for the Pittsburgh Press 40 years ago. But I really got to know them this past year and they really are good guys.

Everyone seemed to recognize Rocky and offer a greeting, a handshake, a sentence that started with “Sorry to bother you, Rocky, but…” For the record, no one bothered Rocky Bleier.

He genuinely enjoys people. He has a smile and a kind word for everyone. One woman stood and nearly genuflected in front of him, as if he were a religious icon. “I love you, Rocky. I still love you,” she said in a prayer-like manner.

When we left the restaurant, I heard people calling out to him in the parking lot as he went to his car.

“I like everyone to like me,” he has told me more than once through the years. “I never learned to say no.”

Rocky Bleier and Franco Harris

He maintains a busy schedule of motivational speaking, has business interests with Jan’s family and is involved in several fund-raising activities. On July 8, he will be a guest speaker at the John Heinz History Center’s exhibit, The Vietnam War: 1945-1975. A Bronze Star and Purple Heart recipient from that war, he is the NFL’s poster boy for all things relating to veterans.

He went back to Vietnam this year to film a TV show about his experience that will be aired this fall. He has done a one-person show, The Play, about his engaging life story, at Heinz Hall and the O’Reilly Theatre.

One of Rocky Bleier’s biggest boosters is Art Rooney Jr., the second of five sons of Steelers founder Art Rooney Sr. and his wife, Kathleen. Art Jr. has lived in Mt. Lebanon for many years.

“You know, Rocky worked for me one year in our scouting department,” Rooney says. “He had just come back from Vietnam, and needed crutches and then a cane to get around.”

Art Sr. wanted to keep Rocky around. He wanted to give him time to recover so he could play again.

“Rocky was good at scouting,” says Rooney. “I told him he could be a general manager someday. I wanted him to stay with me. ‘Stick with me and you’ll be a general manager,’ I told him more than once. When he was taken off the physically-unable-to-perform list, I told him not to do it. I didn’t think he could ever play again.

“Rocky was upset and he said, ‘I don’t want to be a scout! I don’t want to be a general manager! I want to play in the NFL!’ And he ran down the hall, hollering at me like that. I guess I was wrong.”

He was as wrong as the doctors who told Rocky he’d be lucky enough to walk again, let alone play football.

Photos by Jim O’Brien