MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- He served his country during the Vietnam conflict, and despite suffering career-threatening injuries, he fought his way back to the top and became a champion on the football field. Recently, Army veteran and Super Bowl champion Rocky Bleier returned to his home state of Wisconsin.
"'72 for us or the Steelers becomes a magical year. It's during the playoffs in the last 28 seconds. It's a deflected pass. Franco Harris scoops it up and we score to win the game. And it becomes the 'immaculate reception,'" Bleier remembers.
It was that iconic play that symbolized what the Steelers of the 1970s really were: a team of destiny, and later, the team of the decade.
"Boom -- and it's like 'wow, maybe we can do something!' It was kind of like a hope and a belief," Bleier said.
It was having hope and a belief that put Bleier on those Super Bowl championship teams.
"I think that becomes important. No matter what we may do in life -- having that goal of some nature, or an idea, or a vision of how you see yourself and what you want to become," Bleier said.
Bleier grew up in Appleton, Wisconsin -- graduating from Xavier High School in 1964. It was there, watching Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers where Bleier learned what the closeness of a team could mean.
"That was really the first family, the first strong family in my mind -- an image of people coming together and making things happen over a period of time," Bleier said.
He would go on to Notre Dame, where he was part of the 1966 national championship team before going to the Steelers in 1968.
"I got a taste of playing professional football and I liked playing professional football or what went with playing professional football," Bleier said.
In December of 1968, his world changed. He was drafted into the Army and was in Vietnam by May of 1969.
"So the Army and serving our country was an interruption that had taken place. I didn't know what the end result would be. But it didn't take away from the fact that it became a goal to get back and I always thought about getting back," Bleier said.
However, that became much more difficult in August of 1969, when Bleier was shot in the left thigh and shrapnel injured his lower right leg.
"The fact was, okay, I didn't lose a leg. I didn't lose an arm. I mean functionally, I could go back and play. It wasn't within my hands whether that decision ever became fruitful," Bleier said.
But it was in the hands of Steelers' owner Art Rooney, who sent Bleier a postcard while he was recovering in a Tokyo hospital -- saying he needed Bleier back.
"I had an opportunity when the Steelers invited me back to camp that first year. And basically they bought me a year. I was on injured reserve that year," Bleier said.
The following year, Bleier made the practice squad, and then in 1972, he got his break.
"I come back in 1972 bigger, faster, stronger and I make the team. I was the leading ground gainer during the exhibition season, thank you very much," Bleier said.
Four Super Bowl championships and more than 40 years later, Bleier, a guest of the Milwaukee Admirals on "Military Appreciation Day" shared the mindset that brought him success.
"Whether it be in the backyard or a neighborhood game or pick up games, you skin your knee, oh it hurts for awhile, then you get yourself back up and you go out and play," Bleier said.
Bleier was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his service in Vietnam. Today, he's an author and speaker on retirement and financial management while living outside Pittsburgh.