Rocky Bleier, who overcame devastating war injuries to help lead the Pittsburgh Steeler to four Super Bowl Championships in the 1970s, was the guest speaker for the Florida Rising Stars Foundation’s fundraiser held at Spurrier’s Gridiron Grille in Gainesville, Fla.  (Nov. 15).


Bleier, who is also an Ambassador for the Foundation, enthralled an audience of about 100 with his incredible life story of being a long-shot to make the Pittsburgh Steelers after being selected in the 16th round, to having his dreams cut short when he was drafted into the Vietnam War.  After being both shot and severely injured in a grenade explosion, Bleier was told he would be lucky to walk again and that his football career was over.


But he came back from rehab and after a couple of years of rehab became a starter with Franco Harris in the Steeler backfield.


Throughout his talk, Bleier stressed the importance of “one,” explaining how one person, one action or one suggestion could change the trajectory on a person’s life.  He talked about how power of one not only saved his life but saved his career. 


“Shot up and bloody, they were dragging me out of the jungle of Vietnam until they couldn’t drag me any further.  They told me that someone would try to come back and get me,” Bleier said.  “Sometime later, I remember a black soldier picked me up and carried me a great distance to a helicopter.  One man, who didn’t know me, cared enough to save my life.”


Bleier then talked about how after two frustrating years of trying to get back to NFL resulted in being placed on the taxi squad and seeing little action, he had decided to quit.  “I was selling insurance in Chicago and there was an NFL thing going on in that city,” the Purple Heart recipient recalled.  “Andy Russell, who I played with in Pittsburgh, called and wanted me to show up.  He kept asking and I kept declining and finally he asked me why and I told him I wasn’t a player anymore and would feel out of place.  We talked some more and he asked me why I quit and I told him I just didn’t think I would ever be good enough to play again.  Andy just looked at me and said ‘You need to make them tell you that.  Don’t make the decision for them, come back and make them cut you.’   Again it was one person that changed my life with a couple of words.”


Again bringing the talk back to the power on one, Bleier told the audience how everything you do can have a positive effect on someone else.  “The Rising Stars Foundation is a great example,” Bleier said.  “The message Rising Stars is getting out can change the lives of kids.   Again, it is the power of one person, one voice, one thought.”


George Ahtoi, the athletics director at Buchholz High School, brought his state championship cross country team and several members of his football team, to listen to Bleier.  He briefly addressed the crowd, noting how he would have benefitted from  the Florida Rising Stars program had it existed when he was in high school.  “I always loved sports, but there was no way I was ever talented enough to play professionally.  I just wanted to be involved,” Ahtoi said.  “I was fortunate to stumble into coaching and later administration.  Florida Rising Stars has an incredible concept of showing a path to a career in athletics.”