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Jim O’Brien: Rocky Bleier remains a great comeback story

April 14, 2013

Rocky Bleier remains a great comeback story

By Jim O’Brien From Pittsburgh Business Times

When Rocky Bleier was a standout running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers when they won four Super Bowls in six seasons in the ‘70s, he recalls Coach Chuck Noll advising the players to prepare themselves for their post-football careers or, as Noll called it, “their life’s work.”

Bleier didn’t realize it at the time but his life, or at least his life story, would become his “life’s work.”

He played 12 seasons with the Steelers and got into the investment business with teammate Andy Russell while still employed by the Steelers.  He retired after the 1980 season, and became a sports broadcaster with WPXI-TV, but he wasn’t very good at it.

So he started spending more time telling his comeback story from being wounded by bullets and shrapnel from an exploding grenade in a rice paddy in Vietnam, and being told he might not walk again, to becoming a star running back with Franco Harris for one of the greatest football teams in National Football League history.

Bleier’s comeback story is one of the best in sports annals and remains a compelling story of how determination and persistence can win out in the end over overwhelming odds.  Bleier wasn’t big or fast, at 5-10, 210 pounds, but he found a way to be part of a winning team.  “They don’t measure the size of the heart at these player evaluation camps,” Coach Noll liked to say.

It surprises even Bleier that he is still as successful as a motivational speaker, making about 60 to 70 appearances around the country annually.  Gloria Ashcraft is his assistant and runs Rocky Bleier, Inc., and sets his speaking schedule and travel arrangements.  “She has been with me for 26 years,” says Bleier, “and she’s the best in the business.”

The challenge of being on the road so much has gotten greater as he approaches his 67th birthday on March 5.  “You can’t get a direct flight to most cities out of Pittsburgh these days,” he says.

His theme is “Be the Best You Can Be,” and it’s a 70-minute program aimed at inspiring his audience to realize their potential.  He’s good at it, and he’s even better before and after the way he works the room.

“It’s what you do before and after that really makes the difference,” says Bleier.  He confesses that he has always wanted everyone to like him, and he has always worked hard at realizing that goal.  “My parents ran a restaurant and bar back home in Appleton, Wisconsin,” he says, “and I learned early how to take care of the customers and keep them happy and coming back for more.”

He has expanded his business activities in recent years.  He is a managing member of RBVetCo LLC; a service disabled veteran- owned small business, a general contractor that bids work in both the private sector as well as federal government.  Rocky is responsible for overall direction and business development.

His brothers-in-law, Jim and John Gyurina, sit on the board of directors.  They are also involved with a sister company, Natural Office Solutions LLC, a company that sells commercial office furniture.  There’s also Bleier/Zagula Financial, so Bleier is as busy as he wants to be.

He says that Chuck Noll remains in his mind and is still with him.  “I find myself quoting Chuck and his philosophies,” says Bleier, while looking after his two teenage daughters at their home in Mt.Lebanon when his wife, Jan, was away in London with a niece who was doing college study abroad.

“Things Chuck always said come back to you; they help you in other tasks besides football.  It’s amazing the impact your coaches and teachers have on you throughout your life.  I was fortunate that I had important people in my life who made a difference.”

Bleier offers these suggestions for success:

Set goals and form a game plan that will help accomplish them.  Do things with great passion.  Overcome adversity.  Maximize strengths and minimize weaknesses.  Work as a team.  Learn from winners and mentors.  Do community work; it will not only make you feel good, it will show you to be a person worth hiring.  Prepare early for your life’s work.”

And, of course, be the best you can be.


Jim O’Brien’s book “Immaculate Reflections” is available at all area book stores, and on his website

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