Rocky's fee for his motivational speech is $5,000 these days, and he estimates that he speaks 80 or 90 times a year. Groups of businessmen love to listen to Rocky talk, and what he talks about is himself. His life is his message: the start in Appleton; the ail-American Catholic upbringing; the high school stardom; the 1966 national championship at Notre Dame; the battle to make the Steelers as a 16th-round draft pick in 1968; the rookie year, culminating in Army induction and followed by heroism in Vietnam; the fight back to the NFL against huge odds; the four Super Bowl victories; the successful business enterprises; the charity work; and the tranquil home life.
"I am a breathing example of what you can do if you want to," he says without arrogance. "I just thought I could play in the NFL. There are parameters, of course, and a certain self-knowledge that's needed. I knew I would never be over 5'10" or run the 40 in 4.4. But I could be stronger than the other players, and in better shape, and I could block better and be more consistent. Goodness, they want consistency in the NFL, somebody they can depend on. I didn't know back then how important that was.
"So when I speak to groups now, I tailor what I say to their needs. What does it take to be a successful executive or a successful salesman? If a salesman doesn't have his M.B.A. or doesn't look just right or doesn't fit this or that image, well, I try to let them know that it doesn't matter, as long as they believe they can do the job."
So the letter to Art Rooney sprang from a profound belief in his own abilities? Bleier clears his throat. He fishes for a cigarette. He is a warm and considerate man, but there is also an uneasiness to him, a sensitivity seldom seen in a rugged athlete. Nerves.
"Well, yes," he says. "Mostly from believing in myself."
But not entirely?
"No, I guess not" he smiles. "Not entirely."
There was, he will explain, the element of fear.
Things have changed in Appleton since Rocky Bleier was a boy. For one thing, there probably are not many kids being raised here anymore with the nickname Rocky. Bleier earned his handle when father, Bob, brought customers from his saloon back to look at his newborn son and said to the regulars, "Look at this kid. The sonofabitch looks like a little rock."
Rocky's given name is Robert Patrick. At St. Joseph's grammar school he always signed "Robert P. Bleier, JMJ," the additional letters standing for Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Bleier wrestled with himself for a long time before deciding on a name for his own son. "I thought about Robert Patrick Jr., because I was so proud of him, but I wanted him to have his own identity, too," he says. The infant was three days old before Rocky and Aleta, flipping through a baby-name book decided on Adri, "a Hebrew word meaning from the rock," the Rock says. Now the nine-year-old's nickname is Whiz, taken from a stuffed animal he carried with him as a toddler.