JANUARY 29, 1979
After 23 years of traveling to two or three cities a week and giving more than 90 speeches a year, Rocky Bleier has just one gripe about his job: audiences who want him to amuse them with football yarns from his four Super Bowl years with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Bleier, a motivational speaker and a partner in two wireless companies based in Pittsburgh, has not lost any passion for sharing his story, made famous by his book, Fighting Back, and a TV movie, but he wants his talks to remain focused on particular themes. "I don't have light football stories about what happened in the huddle or some stock sports story that fits into my repertoire," says Bleier, 57. "My stories [about football] are more evolved and wrapped around a point."
Bleier is well-known for his improbable comeback tale and never-say-die attitude. A Vietnam veteran who was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star, he overcame extensive leg injuries suffered from sniper fire and a grenade to earn a spot in the starting backfield of one of the NFL's greatest dynasties. Bleier began making speaking appearances in 1970, when the team volunteered him to schools looking for one of the Steelers to give a talk. (He was on injured reserve at the time.) After he retired in 1980, having gained 3,865 rushing yards over 11 seasons, he started Rocky Bleier Inc. to manage his speaking engagements. Today he addresses all sorts of groups, from the Boy Scouts to FORTUNE 500 companies. "I tailor my talks to their needs," says Bleier. "Often I talk about what makes a company successful, and I talk about it in relationship to football. I address how you win, how you stay on top and the changes that took place in football when free agency came into the marketplace and all the parallels that can be drawn to that in business."
Bleier speaks from experience on both ends, having also been active in the business world. After spending four years as a sportscaster for Pittsburgh's NBC affiliate, ending in 1985, he worked in several small ventures in addition to his speaking engagements. Five years ago he and five business partners started Wireless Development Group LLC, which works with carriers to develop their networks. Six months ago he founded Nationwide Wireless LLC, a company that integrates wireless technology.
While Bleier maintains a busy work schedule, his priority remains his two young daughters, Elly, 5, and Rosie, 4, both of whom he and his wife of eight years, Jan, adopted from Ukraine. (Bleier also has a daughter, Samantha, 29, and a son, Adri, 27, from his first marriage.) His speaking schedule is taxing, but Bleier is driven by the hope that his story will continue motivating others. "I look back and say I got a chance to fulfill a dream," he says. "I wasn't the tallest or the fastest player, but I didn't give up. I persevered and the dream became a reality."