Pittsburgh Steelers great Rocky Bleier related his classic story of heroism and perseverance in his 1975 memoir, “Fighting Back.” Written with noted journalist Terry O’Neil, it was acclaimed not for its account of a football player, but of a soldier during wartime.
“Fighting Back” has been reissued, with proceeds from sales of the book benefiting a new campaign, Fighting Back for Veterans, and three military-oriented charities: Veterans Leadership, Joint Training Facility and Legacies Alive.
“It’s such an unlikely success story,” said Jim Lachimia, who has helped in the promotion of the new edition. “It’s inspiring. It’s uplifting. It’s all of that.”
He spoke of how Bleier overcame being wounded in Vietnam to become a four-time Super Bowl champion and 1,000-yard rusher.
The reissue includes two new chapters. One documents the adoption of Bleier’s daughters, Elly and Rosie, from Ukraine, and the other is written by award-winning sports columnist and comedian Gene Collier, who wrote Bleier’s one-man show, “The Play.” It also includes a forward by Alejandro Villanueva, Steelers offensive tackle and former Army Ranger who served in Afghanistan.
Bleier said that he began to think about a reissue of the book after his encounters with fans across the country. Many of the people who originally bought “Fighting Back,” he noted, are now parents and grandparents, and many younger people are not familiar with his story.
But even more important, Bleier said, is the need to bring attention to the needs of veterans. It is something that he will do for as long as he can.
Bleier said it is easy to pay “lip service” to the 1 percent of the population that serves in the military, but as a former athlete with a military background, he is in a position to bring attention to the problems that exist.
“You touch a lot of different lives,” he said.
The same attention, Bleier added, must be given to first responders who experience many of the same problems, such as a higher divorce rate and post-traumatic stress disorder.
He noted Villanueva’s participation in the reissue, adding, “It was nice for him to be able to do it.”
Bleier spoke of how his faith has impacted his journey. As a cradle Catholic growing up in Wisconsin in the 1950s, he noted, his experiences of living a half-block from the church and attending a Catholic school helped to give him a strong foundation to overcome the challenges he faced.
“If you don’t have that foundation to fall back on, it makes it all that much more difficult to move forward,” he said.
Bleier related a story that took place while he was recuperating from his wounds in Tokyo. When he pressed doctors about his chances of playing in the NFL again, they told him that while he would be able to live a normal life, there was little hope that he would be strong enough to play football.
He was at a low point when he received a message from Steelers owner Art Rooney Sr. The note said that the team was not doing well and it needed his help. Bleier said that it gave him the hope he needed to come back.
“We better be aware of the effect we do have on people, positively and negatively,” Bleier said.
The new edition has already had a second printing. Autographed copies are available. For information, visit www.fightingbackforveterans.com or call 412-621-2351. Information is also available at https://www.fightingback.shop.