Beating The Odds: Steelers’ Rocky Bleier to share his story in ‘The Play’

Courtesy photo Former Steeler Rocky Bleier performs "The Play," an intimate portrait where Bleier tels teh stories people don't know.

Rocky Bleier — a celebrated war hero, national sports figure, motivational speaker, author and philanthropist — brings his one-man show “The Play with Rocky Bleier” to the historic Mishler Theatre Dec. 17 and 18 to benefit The Beating The Odds Foundation.

“Everyone who goes will love it,” said foundation founder Rocco Scalzi, who like Bleier overcame adversity albeit of a different kind. Bleier is co-chair of the foundation.

“He’s sold out several times in Pittsburgh and brings in a different audience. You get Steelers fans, Notre Dame fans (Bleier’s college alma mater), Beating The Odds supporters — and all have a lot in common. For 90 minutes he gives a great performance and takes the audience back into the past through the setting and music from the jukebox. It’s powerful and impactful.”

“The Play,” was written by Gene Collier, a sports journalist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and co-author of “The Chief,” a play about Art Rooney Sr.

“The Play” was is directed by Scott C. Wise. The goal, Bleier said, is an intimate portrait where he “tries to tell the stories people don’t know.

“I use the analogy of the Last Supper — we all know the story that’s been told about the last supper — but what’s really going on behind it and let’s be human about it. Was Judas sitting there thinking that Peter hadn’t bathed in two weeks and he smelled?”

Performing on stage — alone — for 90 minutes creates significant challenges and opportunities, Bleier said. Ones he didn’t encounter on the football field or even during his extensive motivational speaking tours.

“I’ve had to develop stage presence and learn to handle the audience’s reaction, hit stage spots, lighting cues and continuity,” he said, emphasizing he’s alone on stage where no other actor can throw him a line if he loses his place and no other offensive players (and defensive players) on the field to support him.

Bleier’s been performing “The Play” across the country for the past two years. “The Play” debuted at a packed Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh before a diverse audience of city-elite, Steelers royalty, theater-goers and sports fans.

“The Play” has also sold out back-to-back shows at Pittsburgh Public Theater’s O’Reilly Theater stage.

The first night, he recalled, he took the stage to a thunderous and extended ovation.

The second night — dead silence. Another show, one fan “solo-clapped at everything.”

“These experiences make it exciting,” he said. “You’re up there alone and anything can happen.”

The Steelers drafted Bleier in 1968 in the 16th round and the Vietnam War drafted him in December. Eight months later, rifle fire and an exploding grenade severely injured his right leg and foot. But the Steelers organization demonstrated faith and patience while Bleier endured arduous physical therapy and returned to the team in 1970 and earned a starting spot two years later. Bleier played a significant role in the team’s winning four Super Bowls.

A former police officer, Scalzi, 64, founded The Beating The Odds Foundation as an outgrowth of his youth education efforts through Pittsburgh law enforcement agencies. As Scalzi planned the first “beating the odds” event at Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh, he knocked on Bleier’s door and during lunch asked him to share his inspirational story to 15,000 high school students.

“He joined on the spot,” Scalzi said. “For the past 30 years we’ve been very close friends. He’s one of a kind because of his heroism on the battlefield and overcoming so much to come back into the sport. It speaks volumes about how big his heart is and how he is such a giving person. He’s helped open a lot of doors for the foundation because his fan base is everywhere.”

The Beating The Odds Foundation will receive post-expense-proceeds from Bleier’s upcoming performance. The money will support the organization’s school programs offered throughout the nation.

Bleier said he hopes the community will come out not just to hear him, but to support “a great organization … it’s more about the community getting behind this local organization that has grown and gone across the country. It will be cool.”

If you go

What: “The Play,” features Rocky Bleier in his one-man play offering an introspective glimpse of a multi-faceted life as a Super Bowl champion, wounded warrior, family man and community activist. Written by Gene Collier and directed by Scott C. Wise.

When: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 17 and 18

Where: Mishler Theatre, 1212 12th Ave., Altoona

Cost: $40 per seat; appropriate for children age 10 and older; proceeds benefit Beating the Odds Foundation, which is co-chaired by Bleier and Altoona resident Rocco Scalzi.