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Bleier, from Vietnam War to winning four NFL titles with Pittsburgh Steelers

Rocky Bleier was supposed to be finalising details for his second season with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL on 20 August 1969. Instead, he was hiding with his platoon in a field of rice paddies in South Vietnam when a gunshot pierced his left thigh.

Bleier’s speciality on the gridiron was running the ball, but the bullet left him unable to do what he did best. Downed, members of the National Front for the Liberation of Vietnam threw a grenade that landed just yards away from him, causing him to injure his right leg, too.

Robert Patrick Bleier had been drafted a year earlier by the Steelers in the 16th round of the NFL Draft, becoming the 417th overall selection. But his rookie season was a disaster, with just six carries for 39 yards and three passes caught for 68 yards, including a 54-yard screen pass.

It was then that after being drafted by the US Army in December 1968, he joined the 196th Light Infantry Brigade. This battalion was ambushed by Vietnamese rebels on the day Bleier was nearly killed, some 14,000 miles from home.

“Part of the story is that I was in the hole, I didn’t know what my future would be and the doctor told me, when I asked him the question about what he thought about my future or my ability to play again with my injuries at the time, he said, ‘don’t worry, don’t worry about playing, because you’re not going to play again,’ that I wouldn’t have the strength to play or the flexibility to play,” the 73-year-old former player recalled.

Rocky was in a hospital in Tokyo, Japan, when the doctor gave him the bad news. Immediately, a deep depression took hold of him. He would walk the streets late at night, crying because, as he once said, “playing American football was the only thing I knew how to do”.

A few days later I got a letter in my post, there were two lines written, ‘we need you, Art Rooney.’  The sport that has become so popular needs him. At least that is what it said in the letter, although The Steelers did not really need him.

After reading that brief letter signed by the Steelers’ owner, Bleier reported to Pittsburgh’s training camp a year after he was injured. He could not even walk without pain and, unsurprisingly, did not earn a roster spot. But he never gave up.

“I can’t, I don’t remember,” Bleier says when asked what went through his mind when he finally made it back to the gridiron. “When I came back in that year to training camp at St Vincent’s College, it was a long year, it was a tough year and they gave me a chance, they gave me an opportunity and I was like ‘maybe I came back too soon’, they pushed me but maybe I wasn’t ready to play, but it felt good to be part of the organization, it felt good to be somebody and be back there and that helped me a lot.”

He spent two full seasons trying to earn a spot on the roster, working five to six hours a day to get himself physically up to speed. Until 1971 when he earned a roster spot, though he played only six games on special teams.

Despite the Vietnamese history involving Rocky Bleier, the population is a big sports fan. Right now, the World Cup in Qatar is about to take place and they can safely place their bets through football World Cup betting sites in Vietnam known as trang cá cược bóng đá. Here they can bet on the winner of the tournament or the top scorer with the best odds available. However, another sporting event that is in high demand worldwide is the Super Bowl. The American football event is watched all over the world.

It was there in 1974, when Rocky finally received more minutes. He carried the ball 88 times for 373 yards (4.2 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. The Steelers won Super Bowl IX with Bleier as a key player. He carried the ball for 65 yards against one of the best defensive lines in NFL history, the Purple People Eaters of the Minnesota Vikings.

The following season, he rushed for 528 yards and two touchdowns while helping the Steelers to a second straight Super Bowl victory. This time the victory was over the Dallas Cowboys in a game in which he rushed for 51 yards. But the best was yet to come.

The best season of Rocky’s career came in 1976. The University of Notre Dame graduate totalled 1,036 yards (4.7 yards per carry) and five touchdowns. He achieved those numbers without starting once, complementing starter Franco Harris.

Despite his declining performance, his mental toughness helped the Steelers to a third Super Bowl XIII victory in 1978. His reception inside the diagonals clinched a 35-31 win over the Dallas Cowboys.

Pittsburgh still won one more championship ring the following year and by 1980 Rocky Bleier announced his retirement at age 34. From winning the Purple Heart and a Bronze Star to racking up four Super Bowl rings, Rocky Bleier reinvented the definition of the word overcoming. Despite the vast differences in the game, he believes he could certainly have the same success in this era.

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