Community Spotlight: 1974 Steelers Still Active

**During the weekend of Nov. 29-30, the Steelers will celebrate the 40th anniversary of Super Bowl IX in conjunction with their game against the New Orleans Saints at Heinz Field. In Super Bowl IX, which was played at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans, the Steelers won the first championship in franchise history by defeating the Minnesota Vikings, 16-6. Throughout this week, will be focusing on that championship team.

**It's something that was instilled in them when they played for the Steelers, and something they carry with them until this day, the importance of giving back to the community.

Steelers' players from the 1974 Super Bowl IX team saw the commitment the organization had to the Pittsburgh community, starting with founder Art Rooney Sr. and his involvement with the United Way of Allegheny County and countless other organizations.

It resonated with them then, as they would attend charity events and make appearances for good causes all through their playing days. And it has stuck with them, as those same players still are committed to the Pittsburgh community.

Rocky Bleier knows what it means to be a part of Pittsburgh. Like others who played in the 1970s, the former running back has made the city his home. And because of that, he knows giving back is a key.

His list of charitable involvement could go on and on, but is highlighted by being involved with the Beating the Odds Foundation-Quarterbacks of Life for 25 years, serving on the board of the BairFind Foundation, and helping with St. Barnabus Present for Patients Campaign, the Flight 93 Memorial and Tickets for Kids.

"I have always felt there is a certain responsibility to give back to the community," said Bleier. "It was a privilege to play in this league. The success of what we do has a far reaching impact in the community. The fans are the ones who support us and cheer us on. It's wrong to take and leave and not give anything back. If I look back at the guys I played with, people got involved. You live here, make your home here and hopefully have some sense of an impact that can make a difference. It's part of the responsibility."

What hits closest to home for Bleier, though, are programs that involve the military and veterans. Bleier was drafted by the Steelers in 1968, but after his rookie season was drafted into the United States Army in December, 1968. In August of 1969 his platoon was ambushed and he was hit in the left thigh and while he was down an enemy grenade sent shrapnel in his lower right leg. Bleier was awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star, but was likely not expected to return to the football field. He beat the odds, returning and playing for the Steelers from 1971-80 and winning four Super Bowl rings along the way.

It's that background that has Bleier working with organizations such as Warrior 2 Citizens, Checkpoint, Boulder Crest Retreat for Military and Veteran Wellness, and Mt. Lebanon Community Veterans Memorial.

"It's an example of the impact that a player might have, including the young players today," said Bleier. "Their actions, reactions have an effect on people. In my case when I came back from Vietnam there was a story of being in the military, in the service. For the Vietnam Veterans there was no identity for that soldier coming back. It was a time he was shunned by the American people. There was no pride in being that soldier. I became a story, especially here about this kid trying to make the team. Then I got some feedback from veterans that said you gave us hope, pride and were an inspiration for what we went through. I didn't know that and then it became part of a responsibility to make a difference and awareness during a period of time when it was needed. I became attached with military charities and functions and I continue to be."

Another staple in the Pittsburgh community is former linebacker Andy Russell. Russell, who played for the Steelers from 1963-76, started the Andy Russell Charitable Foundation in 1999 to fund health care and human services. The program has supported numerous charities since its inception and continues to do so.

Photos of Super Bowl IX. The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Minnesota Vikings 16-6 to capture the team's first Super Bowl victory in New Orleans' Tulane Stadium.

Among the events Russell is involved with is the Andy Russell Celebrity Classic golf tournament, which will be in its 39th year in 2015 and has raised over $5 million for charitable programs. The charities it has benefitted include UMPC's Sports Medicine Concussion Program at the Center for Sports Medicine and UMPC's Department of Urology.

"I think concussions are a huge issue right now in the NFL and for kids playing in all sports," said Russell "I had my first concussion in high school. It's a complex issue. It's a violent game. The fans love to see good offense, but want to see it against good defense. But you have to make sure everyone is protected."

Russell also represents the Steelers at "Taste of the NFL" Party with a Purpose each year during Super Bowl week, working to raise money for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. Russell is also the honorary chairman of the Ray Mansfield Steelers Smoker that benefits the Boys & Girls Club of Western Pa.

"I consider it very important," said Russell. "I always have. It's something the Steelers taught us early on in our football career. They would invite us to various charitable efforts and we would get involved with United Way or Salvation Army.

"I thought it was always important to give back to the community and the Steelers organization does that very well."

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