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Rick Telander
August 11, 1986
Even before he was an NFL and Vietnam hero, Rocky Bleier was the apple of Appleton's eye
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August 11, 1986

Local Boy Makes Good

Even before he was an NFL and Vietnam hero, Rocky Bleier was the apple of Appleton's eye

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"Many a night I'd hear one of those guys coming up the stairs, drunk, and I'd get out of bed to help him," says Rocky.

"When Hammerhead died, I got his room," recalls Patty. "He died right in that room, in the bed I got, and I used to have nightmares about him."

They laugh, and the Rechner children seem spellbound by these tales that might as well have occurred in another century.

Paul comes home on a break from his executive job at an Appleton graphics company. He and Rocky swap tales from their days together at Xavier High School. It was a charmed time: The football team won 31 games in a row; the basketball team won 49 games in a row; and the band, in which Bleier played trumpet, won two national Catholic school titles in a row.

"We were just in the right place at the right time, Rock," says Paul. Later, in an aside to a visitor, Paul says, "You can't believe what it was like playing with him. He wasn't tall, but our whole basketball press was built around him. He just had a way of making everybody on his team play better."

Of course, there was also a wild-man coach through it all, a red-haired taskmaster named Eugene (Torchy) Clark, who pushed his football and basketball players as far as he could. Torchy's most memorable speech, Rocky and Paul agree, came when he burst into the locker room during the last moment of halftime at a game Xavier was losing to a weaker opponent and shrieked, "You're nothing but a bunch of chickenbleep mother-bleepers!" before storming out.

"I don't know, Rock, kids now don't seem to play baseball and basketball all summer long like we did," Paul says. "They've got these other sports—tennis, windsurfing, golf, soccer."

"We had fun because we didn't have organized sports," agrees Bleier. "We had to get our own guys together. And that helped us settle fights and make decisions."

The group walks outside. A gentle wind is blowing, and Patty screeches when she discovers that her brother's hair looks nice because he is wearing a tiny hairpiece. Bleier started losing his hair in high school, and it's only fair that he have a little now. "It's even got gray in it," Patty marvels.

"It ought to," says Rocky. "It cost enough."

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