What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is not on my list of essential films.
NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is being done as part of something called the The Eleanor Parker Blog-A-Thon being hosted by Maddy Loves Her Classic Films. Through the great topics she always selects, she has been exposed to so much of my nonsense she must be close to developing complete immunity to it 🙂
You can see all the contributors to this blog-a-thon here:
“Pride of the Marines” is a classic three-act film which is in a solid class of movies released near the end of the Second World War and in it’s aftermath addressing the struggles of servicemen returning from combat to civilian life.
The first act is set in the days prior to the war. The central character is a Philadelphia steel worker with a decided swagger named Al Schmid (played by John Garfield). Ai is determined to avoid marriage at all costs; he would rather be the essential “playing the field” bachelor. That all changes when he crosses paths with a head-strong stunner named Ruth Hartley (played by Eleanor Parker).
Ruth’s “no non-sense” approach to life quickly breaks down Al’s disdain for marriage. They go on a hunting trip together during which it’s pretty obvious the seeds of love are being sown.
Then comes December 7th, 1941. In the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, like millions of other Americans Al enlists in the military. At the train station just as he is about to depart to join the Marine Corps, Al asks Ruth to marry him.
The plot then moves to the Battle of the Tenaru River on the Pacific island of Guadalcanal on August 21, 1942. Al is part of a Browning machine gun crew in “H” Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st First Marines along with Lee Diamond (played by Dane Clark) and Johnny Rivers (played by Anthony Caruso).
In what proves to be a brutal battle, Lee, Johnny, and Al kill over 200 enemy soldiers, but then face an onslaught all their own during which Johnny is killed by a gunshot to the head, Lee suffers an injury to his arm, and Al is rendered blind by a grenade explosion.
The plot jumps ahead again, this time to Al’s rehabilitation, which to say the least humbles the once cock-sure steel worker turned U.S. Marine. Al struggles with his new-found dependence upon others. Originally, there is hope that his sight can be restored with surgery, but the attempt proves to be unsuccessful. To conceal his blindness from Ruth, he breaks off their engagement.
However, during Al’s time in the hospital, he is reunited with Lee. Along with hospital rehabilitation officer Virginia Pfeiffer (played by Rosemary DeCamp), they take on the difficult task aiding Al’s recovery.
In the meantime, Al discovers two things. First, he is going to be awarded the Navy Cross. He also learns he is going to be permanently transferred to the Philadelphia Naval Hospital…which puts him right back in his hometown, where he will no longer be able to avoid Ruth.
Once he finds out that his award ceremony will also take place in Philadelphia, Al becomes both angry and afraid he will be confronted by Ruth…and he’s not wrong. What Al is really afraid is being pitied by Ruth; that’s a blow he can’t take coupled with his loss of independence. Instead, Al tries to convince himself he will regain his sight and until will not depend on others.
As al fears, Ruth re-enters the picture. She goes to the hospital to enlist Lee’s assistance in a plot to get Al to come back home before he moves to his new hospital in Philadelphia. As such, Lee tells Al there’s a Navy car with a WAVE (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service — a division of the U.S. Naval Reserve) driver waiting for him. But instead of taking him to the Philadelphia Naval Hospital, the driver takes Al home where Ruth and his family are waiting.
With no ability to escape, Al has no choice but to listen to Ruth and how she wants to be with him regardless of what has happened. The movie ends with Al telling Ruth he may never see again, to which she responds “Whichever way it is, we’ll do it together.”
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
Today’s analogy isn’t so much about a particular injury; it’s all about returning to life as one knew it before being wounded in combat. In the sports world, there’s no better example of that than Rocky Bleier.
The Robert Patrick “Rocky” Bleier story begins right about the time “Pride of the Marines” ends when he is born in 1946 in Appleton, Wisconsin. The story really begins in earnest at Xavier High School, where Bleier established himself as a star in three sports being a team captain in football, basketball, and track. But it would be the gridiron game which would pave the way for Bleier’s next steps. On the football field, Bleier was a three-time all-state selection as a running back. and won all-conference honors on the other side of the ball at both linebacker and defensive back.
Upon graduating from Xavier in 1964, Bleier went on to play college football for Notre Dame. During his junior season in 1966, the Fighting Irish won the national championship. Bleier was named a team captain as a senior in 1967, and graduated the following spring with a degree in business management.
1968 turns out to have more than one reason to be a transformative time in the life of Rocky Bleier. Not only did he become a college graduate, he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 16th round of the 1968 NFL/AFL Draft, the 417th overall player selected. However, the Steelers weren’t the only organization wanting Bleier. On December 4th, 1968, Bleier was drafted into the U.S. Army.
Now SPC4 Bleier, he was trained as squad grenadier operating a 40mm M79 grenade launcher. He volunteered for duty in South Vietnam and was assigned to the 196th Light Infantry Brigade. Arriving in Vietnam in May 1969 assumed the duties of a typical soldier.
While on patrol in the Hiep Duc Valley on August 20, 1969, Bleier’s platoon was ambushed. Forced to take cover in a rice paddy, Bleier was shot in the in the left thigh, and while he was down, a grenade sent shrapnel into his lower right leg and blew off part of his right foot.
Doctors told Bleier he would never play football again. But not long after that. he received a postcard from Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney which read “Rock – the team’s not doing well. We need you. Art Rooney.” Bleier later credited that postcard as being an inspiration to return to football. After many surgeries, Bleier was discharged from the Army in July 1970, at which time he returned to Pittsburgh and began having informal workout sessions with several Steeler teammates.
Fresh out of the Army in 1970, Bleier couldn’t even walk without pain and had dropped from his playing weight of 210 pounds down to 180. The Steelers placed him on injured reserve for the 1970 season, which meant he could stay on the team’s roster, but could not play in any games.
He found his way on to the the field in the 1971 season, albeit his duties were limited to the kick coverage team. After this, Bleier spent three more seasons trying to get more playing time with no success. In fact, he was released by the Steelers twice. But he never quit, and by 1974 his intense training regimen got him back up to 212 pounds. This would also be the year Bleier finally earned as spot as the team’s starting fullback.
In no time, the man missing part of his right foot became one of the best fullbacks in the National Football League. First and foremost, he may very well have been the best lead blocker coming out of the backfield in the game. He was also a gifted pass receiver, and he certainly could carry the ball for those hard yards between the tackles. In fact, he and primary running back Franco Harris both rushed for over 1,000 yards in 1976, which made them only the second backfield duo to do so along with Mercury Morris and Larry Csonka of the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins.
You can’t tell the story of the Pittsburgh Steelers without telling the story of Rocky Bleier. He was a key cog in the Steeler machine which defined dominant as it churned out four Super Bowl victories in six seasons in the 1970s. Bleier’s brightest moments likely came in Super Bowl XIII when he caught a touchdown pass from Terry Bradshaw that gave Pittsburgh a lead it would never surrender and recovered the Dallas Cowboys’ on-side kick attempt in the closing seconds which sealed the Steelers’ victory.
Rocky Bleier retired from football after the 1980 season. All tolled, Bleier ended with 3,865 rushing yards, 136 receptions for 1,294 yards, and 25 touchdowns. At the time he retired, Bleier ranked as the Steelers’ fourth all-time leading rusher. But what can’t be measured in the numbers is how many of Hall-of-Famer Franco Harris’ 12,120 rushing yards or 91 career touchdowns had their trail blazed by Bleier.
The Moral of the Story:
The root word in “disability” is “ability.”
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