BLEIER'S SONG: EX-STEELER IS BANKRUPT.
He has a career most would envy, his health and a still-recognizable name. He was an overachiever as a player and, even today, friends say he remains a fighter.
Rocky Bleier claims to be broke.
A man who went from possessing nothing as the son of a small-town tavern owner to having it all as one of America's best-known athletes, the man who was Rocky long before Sylvester Stallone has lost so much.
Gone are his million-dollar home, two sports cars, his lifestyle, even his four Super Bowl rings.
Tuesday, five days before the latest Super Bowl, one of the best-known players from the Steelers' four NFL championship teams will ask a federal court in Pittsburgh to declare him bankrupt.
How did a worldly ex-Notre Dame player and Vietnam war vet whose improbable life story was made into a movie wind up so desperate that a federal court must sort out his finances?
``I was robbing Peter to pay Paul,'' Bleier said earlier this month, before turning down interview requests in advance of his court appearance. ``It is embarrassing, and, quite frankly, I would prefer that the public not know about it.''
In Pittsburgh, everybody knows. Everybody is talking about it, too.
Memo, dated May 9, 1995, and signed by Bleier:
``I, Rocky Bleier, as having given my word previously, promise that after the issues of A: Interest. B. Taxes. C. & schedule of payments are resolved, my wife, Aleta, will have a total of one and one-half million dollars. Except in primary medical emergencies, this money will be kept for the inheritance of (daughter) Samantha and (son) Adri Bleier.''
Bleier blames the whole mess on the legal-pad memo, signed several months before divorcing his wife of 20 years. The couple had already put their fashionable home in Pittsburgh's most desirable suburb on the market, and Bleier agreed to turn over most of the proceeds to his wife.
But the sale dragged on for two years before an offer of $900,000 - half the listing price - was made. Desperate to put the sale and divorce behind him, Bleier accepted. His ex-wife, who had married for a third time only a month after the divorce became final, blamed him for selling too low and demanded all of her money.
After that, Bleier argues it became impossible to fulfill the agreement, even though he makes more than $300,000 a year as a motivational speaker and businessman. The one-time 1,000-yard running back began borrowing money to pay real estate taxes, expenses and $7,500 in monthly payments due his wife.
Among the debts listed on Bleier's bankruptcy petition: $926,000 to ex-wife, $30,000 to son's trust fund, $150,000 to Aleta Bleier's parents, $10,000 to his mother and $25,000 to his current brother- and sister-in-law.
He sold his Super Bowl rings for $10,000 apiece to pay federal income taxes, but still owes $72,000 to the IRS and $8,750 in state income taxes.
His ex-wife, who now lives in San Diego, agreed to cut $300,000 from the debt, but no more; Bleier offered a flat payment of $250,000. When no settlement was reached, Bleier filed for bankruptcy.
``It is not something I wished to do,'' he said.
Even now, Bleier isn't destitute. He still has an enviable income and eager audiences for his motivational talks, which relate the inspiring tale of the 16th-round draft pick with grenade shrapnel in his foot who became an NFL star.
He also has remarried and lives with his new wife, Jan, a former stockbroker, in a nice but not elaborate townhouse she purchased two years ago.
But it is not Fox Chapel, where Rocky and his first wife resided for years in an elaborately furnished home that became a social hub for the Steelers of the 1970s. And many of the Bleiers' friends are upset the financial mess has spilled from that home onto the front pages, and are urging them to patch up their disagreement and get on with their lives.
Bleier is being viewed in Pittsburgh more with sympathy than pity or disgust. His ex-wife was ridiculed by talk-show hosts and columnists after arguing that she also cut back on her lifestyle by pumping her own gas, laundering her own clothes and selling several of her eight furs.
When he co-wrote ``Fighting Back,'' the 1970s book of his life story that inspired the TV movie of the same name, Bleier probably never guessed the enemy might come from within.
``I'll be all right,'' he said. ``I've been through tougher times.''
Photo: Running back Rocky Bleier, an inspirational figure during his NFL career, had to sell his four Super Bowl rings to pay off debts.
Daily News File Photo
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Jan 19, 1997|
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