Rocky Bleier has a unique connection to both Super Bowl teams, although there's no doubt which one he'll be rooting for Sunday.
"Oh, the Steelers," Bleier said. "I'm a Steeler ... so I'm pulling for my boys to pull out a victory."
Bleier won four Super Bowls as a running back with the Steelers in the 1970s, but before that he grew up a Packer fan living just outside Green Bay in Appleton, Wis. He was a cheesehead back in the '60s, when the Packers won two Super Bowls and three more NFL titles under legendary coach Vince Lombardi.
Bleier recalls seeing how Lombardi and the Packer franchise changed so many lives during that era.
"[I watched] the Packers emerge as a constant winner," Bleier said, "and how it changed the course of the landscape. How it changed the culture of the people and how they got on board and the impact that a team had in how people perceived small markets, how they perceived Green Bay and how they perceived Wisconsin. So all of a sudden it became title town."
Bleier, who later helped Pittsburgh become title town, had an opportunity to meet and talk with Lombardi on a couple of occasions at sports banquets. Lombardi, he added, was always accessible around town.
Bleier to speak in Altoona
Former Pittsburgh Steelers great Rocky Bleier will be the featured speaker at the Central Blair Recreation and Park Commission's annual Community Classic Dinner and Benefit Auction Feb. 26 at the Bavarian Hall.
Tickets are $30 per person and can be obtained by calling the Central Blair Recreation and Park Commission at 949-2231 or visiting www.cbrcparks.org.
The commission will present its Respected Citizen Award to Thomas M. Bradley, public relations director for the Altoona Area School District.
Proceeds from the event will benefit the Booker T. Washington Revitalization Project and the CBRC Scholarship Fund.
"That area is not a big metropolitan area, so people got to know him," Bleier said. "He lived in their neighborhood and so on. So he became part of what the community was all about."
Bleier has an interesting perspective on just how big the Packers were - or surprisingly, were not - back then. They may have been the most successful franchise in American sports, but professional football wasn't close then to what it is now.
With no ESPN or around-the-clock coverage of the NFL, Bleier said following the Packers in the '60s was a different experience than today.
"They played, you understood, you watched, but there wasn't a lot of marketing hype about the game on a retail basis," Bleier said. "They weren't wearing Packer shirts - as they are today wearing Steeler shirts - on every street corner in Pittsburgh. That just didn't happen.
"But as the game has evolved, so has the marketing, so has the exposure, thus you have the game today."
He watched his favorite franchise become the team of the '60s, then Bleier was a key member of the team of the '70s.
"Coming to the Steelers in the '70s, I got a chance to understand that from a player's perspective," he said. "I knew how important a team winning was and how important it was to the fans to have some contact with those they cheered for on Sunday."
Bleier's personal story has been well documented. He came back to play in the NFL after serving in the Vietnam War, where he was seriously injured. He was shot in the left thigh and took grenade shrapnel in his right foot, knee and thigh in 1969.
He not only was able to play again, he returned to a franchise on the rise in the Steelers.
"You look back and you go, 'Why? How did that happen?" Bleier said of his unique Green Bay and Pittsburgh experiences. "Through the good fortunate or whatever - being in the right place, right time - getting an opportunity to play and to be able to experience it there in Wisconsin ... I don't know why, but I'm glad it happened in my life."
Bleier is in Dallas for the Super Bowl, and though he has no official role with the Steelers, he is undoubtedly one of the franchises all-time great ambassadors.
"I see these two strong franchises, two evenly matched teams," he said before adding, "It's going to be exciting to be able to watch it."
Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. He can be reached at 949-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.