Review: Bleier scores a touchdown with one-man show
The Steelers dynasty may have found its Homer.
Unlike his famous teammates, Rocky Bleier was never an All Pro. Yet he may be a Hall of Fame storyteller, judging by the debut of Rocky the Raconteur.
The official title is “The Play: With Rocky Bleier” — and the title was the only slightly clunky thing about a polished one-man show.
Heinz Hall, Downtown, was the scene for this “one-night-only” production on Sept. 15. With the likes of his old running mate Franco Harris and other Steelers greats in the crowd, Bleier rose to the occasion — he hit it out of the park, to jump-cut to another sport.
Yet what makes this show almost certain to continue elsewhere is that many of its best moments have nothing to do with sports. The theatricality — minimal but extremely effective — of the show may have been a pleasant surprise to cynics expecting a fading jock lumbering through locker-room gags.
Conversely, those hungry for behind-the-scenes tales might have left with appetites unsated, as Bleier merely teased out bits about the likes of ferocious linebacker Jack Lambert and inscrutable coach Chuck Noll.
Fit and spry, the silver-haired Bleier walked on stage to a rousing welcome. The setting was a workingman's pub, illustrating how Rocky grew up in and above his father's bar in Wisconsin. Bleier seemed at ease throughout the night, speaking to the crowd as if he were chatting with a friend in the bar.
Bleier's co-writer is Gene Collier, who scored with “The Chief,” a one-man show about Steelers founder Art Rooney Sr. Here, Collier wisely had Rocky spinning family/bar stories.
Bleier landed jokes early and often, with impeccable timing and a self-deprecating knack honed by years as an inspirational speaker. As in his speaking engagements, Bleier talked about how the Vietnam War draft interrupted his football career — and the grenade blast that nearly ended it.
In this section, Bleier ditched his light, comical touch, with a hard-hitting view that combat veteran suicides are really an exploitative nation's homicides.
The dark, somber moments faded out, and the telling of his supporting role in the Steelers glory years revved up the crowd.
Check out YouTube for Bleier's leaping Super Bowl XIII touchdown grab, and you'll hear the national announcers marvelling about how someone who is “not that good of an athlete” — Bleier was a lowly 16th-round draft pick who was cut from the team several times — willed himself to make the catch.
In the Super Bowl end zone, it was Lynn Swann picking him up and other star teammates congratulating him. On Tuesday night, Rocky Bleier was the star, carried off stage by a hero's standing ovation.
The overachiever has scored again
Tom Scanlon is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.