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Throwback Thursday: Notre Dame’s Rocky Bleier

The Return

University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish Photo by Notre Dame/Collegiate Images via Getty Images

I don’t know if you saw the ESPN short film, ‘The Return,’ this week on former Notre Dame Fighting Irish football player Rocky Bleier, but if not, go find it right now and set your DVR. It is 100% worth the watch. Yes, you know Rocky Bleier’s story, but this goes just a bit further, and is worth 30 minutes of your time. One other interesting fact, the special aired (Tuesday, August 20th) on the 50th anniversary of Bleier’s wounding in Vietnam.

In a press release from ESPN, Andy Hall details the following about the SC Featured special.

“The summer of 1969 was one of the most transformational periods in U.S. history with events such as Apollo 11, Woodstock and the Vietnam War. And August 20, 1969, is a date that Pittsburgh Steelers legend and Vietnam veteran Rocky Bleier will never forget: the day he was wounded in combat.”

“In an emotional prime time ESPN SC Featured special airing on the 50th anniversary of his wounding, Bleier returns to the valley where he was wounded in Vietnam for the first time since that day in 1969. ‘The Return’ debuts Tuesday, August 20, at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2 with a shorter version airing as the weekly SC Featured segment on SportsCenter Aug. 17-18.”

“Fifty years ago, Bleier had helped Notre Dame win a college football national championship and was in his rookie season with the Steelers when he received notice that he had been drafted into the U.S. Army. Three months into his deployment to Vietnam, Bleier was shot through the thigh and suffered a grenade blast to his foot. Doctors told him that he’d never play football again.”

“Steelers owner Art Rooney supported Bleier by placing him on injured reserve rather than cutting him from the team. Bleier then defied the odds, returning to football as a star running back on the ‘Steel Curtain’ Steelers teams of the 1970’s and becoming the only war veteran to have four Super Bowl rings.”

“In ‘The Return,’ Bleier joins ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi to go back to Vietnam. In the Hiep Duc Valley, Bleier walks on the same grounds where he and other members of ‘Charlie Company’ were ambushed. ‘The Return’ was the result of nearly 10 years of discussions between Bleier and ESPN features producer Jon Fish.”

“‘The Return’ was selected as ‘Best Documentary’ at the recent LA Shorts International Film Festival.”

“Bleier will be at ESPN on August 20 and will appear on multiple shows and platforms to discuss ‘The Return.’ In addition to the television pieces, a companion written piece by Jeremy Fowler will appear on”

I had the absolute privilege to meet and interview Rocky Bleier down on the field at the spring game this year, and he was every bit as kind and courteous as you’d expect. He is most certainly a Notre Dame man. If you haven’t read his book, you can grab your (signed) copy from his website, and the proceeds benefit the Fighting Back For Veterans Campaign.

Cheers & GO IRISH!

Rocky Bleier and Lisa Kelly at the 2019 Notre Dame Blue and Gold Game