Former Notre Dame Captain Rocky Bleier Remembers Coach Ara Parseghian

Aug 2, 2017

Ara Parseghian and captain Rocky Bleier discuss strategy at a Notre Dame practice in 1967.
Credit University of Notre Dame Archives

Legendary Notre Dame football coach Ara Parseghian, died on Wednesday at age 94. When Parseghian took over at Notre Dame, the Irish were coming off a 2-7 record. In his first season, they finished 9-1 with their only loss to Southern Cal. The program would go on to win two national championships in his 11-year tenure.

One of his more well-known players was Rocky Bleier who was a part of the 1966 National Champion team at Notre Dame. 

"Notre Dame was a wonderful experience. It was one of those periods that you come out of losing seasons at Notre Dame and there's a person that comes and changes the course and direction, a guy by the name of Ara Parseghian who molds a team together because of his leadership...all of sudden they reach a potential and by 1966, his third season, we win a national championship.  You're a part of that and I get to contribute to it.  I'm not the star, I'm not an All-American, I'm just a player on the team, but it elevated my position at Notre Dame."

Bleier, who would go on to win four Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers, says those years with Parseghian at Notre Dame helped his prepare for what the future had to offer.

"It taught me a lot about who I am.  It strengthened my faith and belief in my system so that when you went out later on you had a foundation that you could fall on.  That's what Notre Dame.  It taught me things that made me a better professional football player and it me things that taught how to overcome things in Vietnam."

While serving in Vietnam, Bleier was wounded by enemy grenade that landed near him, sending shrapnel into his lower right leg.  He also lost part of his right foot in the blast.  He would eventually regain his role with the Steelers and become a sports legend in Pittsburgh.

The "Era of Ara" at Notre Dame was filled with victories and class, joining Frank Leahy (four) and Knute Rockne (three) as the only coaches in school history to win multiple titles.

Click above to hear more from Rocky Bleier on WBGO's award-winning podcast SportsJam with Doug Doyle.