How Gary Steele changed West Point football forever - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY SPORTS

How Gary Steele changed West Point football forever

Tight End Gary Steele became the first Black player for the United State Military Academy’s Black Knights football team in 1966 and went on to a 23-year Army career after graduation.

His daughter Sage Steele has become a successful sportscaster at ESPN and currently anchors the 6 p.m. ET edition of the network’s flagship show “SportsCenter.”

Sage is working with USAA for the Army-Navy House sweepstakes to let fans of each team celebrate their fandom since they can’t attend this year’s game in person.

Visit www.ArmyNavyHouse.com and upload a photo that shows off your fandom. You’ll be entered into a sweepstakes for a chance to win a fully paid trip to the 2021 Army-Navy Game in New York City with airfare, hotels and game tickets included. There’s one winner from the Army side and one from the Navy fan base. There will also be 2,000 souvenir commemorative tickets awarded to entrants.

Gary Steele’s first season in an Army football uniform in 1966 was also President Donald Trump’s first year as a student at the Wharton School of Business and President-elect Joe Biden’s second year of law school at Syracuse.

Navy’s first Black football player was Calvin Huey, who suited up two years earlier in 1964. It’s sometimes easy to forget how much America has changed over the past few decades and how our leaders were adults at a time of so much resistance and turmoil.

Huey and Steele’s playing careers coincided with the most turbulent years of the civil rights movement and the mere fact of their presence on the field was a force for change in a divided country.

Steele recognized the impact when she saw pictures of her father’s playing career. “When you look at that black and white team photo from 1966 and it’s pretty easy to spot my dad, right in the middle of this sea of his white teammates, and it’s just crazy. That’s just not what football teams at any level look like anymore.”

Sage says her dad always downplayed the importance of his role.”My dad didn’t ever really talk about it. Because to him, it didn’t matter. And his answer always was, ‘Well, somebody has to be first. It just turned out that it was me.’ All he ever wanted to do was play football and specifically play at the United States Military Academy. He was heavily recruited by Joe Paterno at Penn State, which was obviously an incredible program at the time. He chose to go to the right program for him and represent the Steele family and represent West Point and then represent his country.”

Gary Steele graduated from West Point in 1970, married in 1971 and Sage was born at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas in 1972. Steele retired a full colonel in 1993 but, before then, the family lived the peripatetic military life. By the time she was 11, Sage had lived in four different countries and spoke several languages.

She loved that military childhood. “It was the best possible upbringing,” she remembers. “The most difficult part came after I moved out of that protected world. I call the military the most diverse, yet sheltered, upbringing possible.vIt doesn’t matter what you look like. My parents are in an interracial marriage. My dad’s black, my mom’s Irish and Italian and nobody cared.”

“The military was diverse, but everybody accepted and took care of each other. When I got out in the civilian world, I learned about a lot of issues because I was biracial, or not being black enough or white enough for some people. So it was kind of scary to go out where people aren’t as accepting and tolerant as they are in the United States military.”

How Gary Steele changed West Point football forever
Gary Steele in football gear with his father, Frank Steele, and his brother, fellow cadet Michael Steele.

Steele thinks part of the reason that her dad underplays his pioneering role was that he also grew up as an Army brat. “My dad’s father was a Buffalo Soldier. He knew about the race issues in the ’30s and ’40s and during World War Two,” she said.

“Dad thought that others had already been through so much more than him. As he’s gotten older, he has so many people reaching out to him to say thank you for being that brave face of change. But he raised us in the spirit of the West Point cadet prayer: ‘Help me to choose the harder right, instead of the easier wrong, and to never tell a half truth when the whole can be won.'”

We’re lucky that Gary Steele is still with us and that he has a daughter who’s so determined to champion the values that made him. Here’s hoping we’re all back to normal next year and that the Army-Navy game will be played before a packed house in New York City.

If you see Steele at the game, make sure to thank him for his service in the U.S. Army and his contribution to all the progress we’ve made over the last 50 years.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY SPORTS

This Chief’s quarterback helps build houses for vets

The biggest new star quarterback of NFL doesn’t get a lot of free time. Practicing is as important as game time, so when the time comes to relax, it’s understandable that a young football star might actually rest. But it turns out Patrick Mahomes, the Kansas City Chiefs’ young QB, is a star both on and off the field.


How Gary Steele changed West Point football forever

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes works with volunteers to put the finishing touches on the interior of a small, transitional home designed for veterans.

(Matt McMullen via Twitter)

The second-year QB spent his day off helping build transitional housing for veterans in the Kansas City area with The Veterans Community Project, a non-profit that’s building a specialized community network of tiny homes and services dedicated to supporting every man and woman who served — also known as Tiny Houses for Homeless Vets.

The founder of the Veterans Community Project, Chris Stout, is a former U.S. Army corporal who was wounded in Afghanistan. His own transition into civilian life was marked by trouble with PTSD and employment issues. Though not homeless himself, he told CNN he was shocked at the inefficiencies he witnessed in the programs designed to help vets escape homelessness.

When Stout discovered homeless vets shunned shelters because they were unsafe and lacked privacy, he paid for hotel rooms out of his own pocket to keep these heroes off the street — but that too was inefficient. Eventually, he and his friends left their jobs to start the VCP, helping veterans first and asking questions later.

How Gary Steele changed West Point football forever

A cluster of VCP’s tiny housing in the Kansas City, Mo. area.

(Matt McMullen via Twitter)

Clusters of tiny houses made perfect sense. That’s what VCP builds for veterans. They offer privacy, dignity, and a chance at recovery for those who need a hand up.

“We are the place that says ‘yes’ first and figures everything else out later,” Stout said. “We serve anybody who’s ever raised their hand to defend our Constitution.”

Chris Stout is currently one of CNN’s Heroes, an annual event where the cable news network honors ordinary people who make big changes in the world at large. Stout is up for CNN’s 2018 Hero of the Year Award. You can vote for him here.

How Gary Steele changed West Point football forever

The community of tiny homes is known as “Veterans Village”

(VFW)

The Veterans Community Project has built 13 homes in the Kansas City area and plans to double that number by Nov. 8, 2018. Some veterans housed there have been there since January 2018 while some have already made their way into more permanent housing. The goal for the VCP is to have 49 homes and a 4800-square foot community center built by the end of 2019.

For Mahomes, it was an important part of being welcomed into the Kansas City community. The Chiefs star quarterback wasn’t able to risk a lot in terms of heavy lifting, but someone has to paint the houses.

MIGHTY SPORTS

This badass chair allows paralyzed vets to ski

TetraSki, a new technology was integrated into the 33rd National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, held in Snowmass Colorado from March 31 to April 5, 2019. The technology was integrated in the clinic for the second year in a row to help promote independence in skiing and life. The Tetradapt Initiative began over 10 years ago when founder and visionary, Jeffrey Rosenbluth, MD, of Tetradapt Community dreamed of helping people living with paralysis.

As a result of this initiative, people who are completely paralyzed can now enjoy downhill skiing and sailing in a new way. The National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic has grown to assist nearly 400 profoundly disabled veterans. The Clinic has provided Tetradapt Community with a platform to showcase their technology, bringing hope to veterans with traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, orthopedic amputations, visual impairments, certain neurological conditions and other disabilities.


“We are honored to work with the VA. Many people are not involved in adaptive sports as they feel that they can’t get involved. The technology was not available in the past.” said Rosenthal.

“We want to help people with real complex physical disabilities enjoy normal activities.”

Tetra-ski: Advanced Technology at the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic

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Dr. Rosenthal is currently the Medical Director of the Spinal Cory Injury Acute Rehabilitation program at the University of Utah Health Sciences Center, Salt Lake City, Utah and at South Davis Community Hospital, Bountiful, Utah, where he oversees Sub-acute and long term acute Spinal Cord Injury programs. He became interested in rehabilitation medicine and technology at the very beginning of his career. After graduating from New York Medical College, Valhalla, New York and completing his residency at University California (UC) Davis, Davis, California with a focus on rehabilitation medicine, Dr. Rosenthal landed his first job at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah.

His dreams of impacting the lives of those living with paralysis were coming true. He joined the University of Utah’s adaptive sports rehabilitation program and began developing the university’s very own TetraSki equipment.

“I fell in love with rehabilitation technology and what adaptive ski was doing for people. I was given the opportunity to work with veterans after completing my residency at UC Davis. I wanted to continue my work with veterans. Rehabilitation technology amazed me,” said Dr. Rosenthal. “That was the beginning.”

Hitting the slopes

A unique technology and the only one like it in the world, the TetraSki provides independent turning and speed variability through the use of a joystick and/or breath control, using a sip-and-puff technique. The sip-and-puff switch does not require hand availability and activates by simply sipping and puffing breaths of air in and out, causing the chair to be directed in whichever direction it is instructed. The TetraSki is ideal for individuals with the most complex physical abilities.

How Gary Steele changed West Point football forever

Vietnam War Veteran Robert Johnson from Hines, Illinois, on TetraSki at Winter Sports Clinic 2019.

For the first time in adaptive sports, skiers can use the joystick and sip-and-puff functionality simultaneously. The feature allows users to enjoy downhill skiing in their own ski chair. A tether-to the instructor is used as an emergency brake but is not used for turning directions.

U.S Army and Vietnam Veteran Robert Johnson of Hines, Illinois experienced the TetraSki first hand at the Winter Sports Clinic, last year in 2018. Mr. Morris is a patient at the David Hines Jr. Veteran Affairs (VA) Hospital, Hines, Illinois and became involved with the hospital’s adaptive sports program 5 years ago. He is an appropriate candidate for Tetra-Ski and considered to be “more involved,” meaning, having more extreme impairment. When asked what he enjoyed most about Tetra-Ski he said,

“The TetraSki is amazing. I like to lean in and out when I ski. Individuals who don’t have as much coordination ability as I do would really love it! The sip-and-puff is very useful for those who are high level quadriplegics. The technology is perfect.”

After three years of development by the University of Utah Rehabilitation Research and Development team, three TetraSkis will be provided to nine national adaptive ski program partners for shared use during the 2018/2019 ski season, and VA is among the lucky group. Tetradapt Community works in coordination with the University of Utah’s best engineering, research, business and medical experts to design manufacture to deliver the state-of-the-art TetraSki equipment.

Money is not the goal

Tetradapt Community is nonprofit and does not plan to sell the TetraSki in the market place. The goal is to expose the technology to the public for fundraising purposes. The technology is leased to VA Adaptive Sports programs and other adaptive sports programs. The company has received funding from VA Adaptive Sports and other private organizations, receiving roughly between ,000.00- 120,000.00 dollars each year in funding.

How Gary Steele changed West Point football forever

TetraSki.

“We had a good idea and wanted to see it carried out in the market, not for profit but for people to see its commercial potential,” said Dr. Rosenthal.

The National Disabled Sports Clinics empower those with perceived limitations by participating in adaptive sports that improve their overall health and outlook. The clinic is made possible through a longstanding partnership between the Department of Veterans Affairs. Tetradapt Community hopes to continue to its involvement with the winter sports clinics and the VA is excited to create more awareness of the Tetradapt initiative, giving hope back to individuals with physical impairments. The therapy and joy that this technology provides to veterans is immeasurable. When asked what impact he feels the TetraSki will have on our veterans and the future Dr. Rosenthal commented,

“The technology requires a huge cultural and mind shift. “It’s a shockingly independent experience,”

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY SPORTS

Golf made my friend a better Marine

We all know that Marines win our nation’s battles, and their discipline under pressure is a matter of life or death. However, and as weird as it may seem, there is a lot that the driving range and the fairway can teach us about winning battles. I know because I recently joined my friend Marine Major Ben Ortiz and his fellow golf warrior, Erik Anders Lang, for a round at the Desert Winds golf course on Marine Corps Base Twentynine Palms.


How Gary Steele changed West Point football forever

Major Ben Ortiz or, ‘Bennie Boy’ as I call him, have known each other since our first days at the Naval Academy. I already know what you’re thinking… of course, two Academy grads and officers are golfers. But literally, nothing could be further from the truth. Golf was never supposed to be part of either of our lives.

“Seriously, dude? You play golf, now?” I ask a little sarcastically as Bennie and I walk to the clubhouse.

Bennie is a Mustang (an officer who was enlisted first), and he grew up in a neighborhood outside of Chicago where even the mention of golf could get you ridiculed for life or worse. After joining the Marines he deployed multiple times to Iraq and Afghanistan where he’s been a kind of intelligence officer that grunts love and terrorists hate. So when he asked me to play golf with him, I immediately started to question his mental state.

“Dude, you have no idea. Golf has made me a better Marine. More focused…lethal.” Bennie smiles as he justifies why we are on a golf course at 0730.

How Gary Steele changed West Point football forever

Major Ortiz tees off with focus

As we approach the clubhouse, I meet a squad of Marines who have been recruited to play with us this morning, but we are also joined by a true golf warrior, Erik Anders Lang. Erik is a bit of an anomaly himself. He never picked up a club until his thirties, and now he travels the world for his series Adventures In Golf. At first, I am a little wary that Erik, who looks a little like he just rolled out of bed, can compete with the Marines on their home turf. But after watching Erik tee off with a nearly 350-yard drive down the center of the first hole, I realize that I am not only watching a true golfer but a sniper.

As Bennie, Erik, and I walk the desert course we begin to chat about the game and the Marine Corps. At each hole, I realize the golfers are fighting the terrain, the weather and even their own subconscious, an enemy more elusive than the adversaries Bennie and other Marines face abroad. As we near the end of the course, Bennie begins to explain his theory a little more.

“Intel is all about collecting and analyzing information and then turning it into something useful for the Grunts. A lot of people think that bad intel is a result of bad information, but there is a second and even more important component, the analyst. If I am distracted or unfocused, I can be the weak link. Golf, and the battle on each hole, has taught me about mental and physical discipline.”

How Gary Steele changed West Point football forever

Major Ortiz (4th from left) and Erik Lang (center) after a round of golf.

Erik smiles and nods in agreement. He knows the mental strength it takes to master the club. After a quick competition on the driving range, which Erik (the sniper) wins, we sit down in the chow hall for an After Action of the morning’s performance. Bennie has changed out of his golf clothes and into cammies, and Erik begins to explain to us how Tiger Woods inspired him to pick up a club.

“Not everyone is perfect in golf,” Erik starts. “He’s human, he’s obviously made mistakes, but if you watch carefully you can see how he processes the course and the ball with each shot.”

Erik’s got a point. Now, I am pretty sure that when Tiger Woods stepped onto the 18th green, poised to win the 2019 Masters, there was almost nothing going through his mind other than the basics of putting. In the seconds before Tiger’s final stroke, there was no time for self-doubt, fear or even distractions from the thousands standing around him and the millions watching all across the globe. With one quick putt, Tiger was back on top of the world and his pure calmness, poise, and discipline under such pressure is something we all can admire, especially Marines like me.

But unlike Tiger, Marines must use these same attributes for something much bigger than a green jacket. Now, I begin to see what both Bennie and Erik are stressing to me. Golf is a sport of discipline and focus which can extend beyond the course and onto the most stressful battlefields abroad.

Bennie now speaks to the group before we roll out for the day.

“I hope that other Marines will realize that the course is much more than a game. It’s about training too.”

I think Bennie’s onto something that both Erik Lang and Tiger Woods already know: maybe we can all be better Marines if we spend a little time on the course.

How Gary Steele changed West Point football forever

Major Ortiz (left) and the Author (right) after our round of golf. Bennie’s war face is the same from Quantico.

MIGHTY SPORTS

The mathematical reason NFL teams need to be aggressive on 4th down

Ask any military historian: Tactical aggression is a game changer. Throughout history, forces who were more aggressive in combat saw a lot more success compared their predecessors. Ulysses S. Grant’s determination to take the war to the Confederates led to a win for the Union in the Civil War. When Maj. Gen. Lloyd Fredenhall was soundly beaten by the aggressive Nazi Afrika Corps in Tunisia, he was replaced by the famously aggressive George S. Patton, who saw resounding success. The U.S. strategy of building an overwhelming force to push Iraq out of Kuwait led to a decisive victory in a mere 40 days during the Gulf War.

In a game of strategy like NFL football, the same kind of aggression pays off.


For anyone who saw the Bengals-Chiefs game on Oct. 21, 2018, watching Cincinnati opt to take a field goal in the 3rd quarter while down by 30-plus points was a real head-scratcher. Why not risk the turnover when you’re running out of the time it takes to score the four touchdowns you need?

How Gary Steele changed West Point football forever
Maybe you don’t know who their coach is.

That call — still a bad one — is one made over and over by conservative coaches, even in situations not quite as extreme as the one Cincinnati faced that Sunday night. If a team is facing a 4th down with 4 yards to go on their opponent’s 40 yard line, there’s a good chance they’ll still opt to punt the ball away.

They shouldn’t.

Well, maybe the Bengals always should. Anyway…

Kicking the ball, either for a punt or a field goal, is the safe choice. Whenever a team opts for the kick, fans and sportscasters alike praise the coach for making that decision. Economists and statisticians, on the other hand, lose their minds.

Why? Because there’s no real reason for a coach to be so conservative. Brian Burke, a former Naval aviator who used to fly the F-18C, is a nationally recognized expert on advanced sports analytics. Burke is currently an analyst for ESPN. In 2014, he published a study on Advanced Football Analytics that took a look at 4th-down decision making.

The longitudinal study assumes that coaches want to maximize the number of points they score while minimizing the number of points the other team scores. Then, it took thousands of real NFL plays on 4th down to calculate the potential value of each situation. Every down versus yardage situation has an “expected point” value and a value attached to the result of previous play, which affects the value of that play.

For example, the expected points value of a touchdown is actually 6.3 points because the opponent gets the ball back on the next play, whose value is .07. If you understand the value of the situation a team is in on 4th down, then you can find the statistically-driven decision the coach should make on that down.

If you don’t understand the math, don’t worry about it. People who do understand math created a handy graphic for the New York Times, based on Burke’s calculation. So we can look at the Bengals horrible performance in Kansas City a different way.

The horrible ball handling that led to the turnover aside, the Bengals tried for a fake punt on 4 and 9 from their own 37-yard-line with almost the entire second quarter remaining. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis tried a play that worked against the Chicago Bears in a preseason matchup. No matter how the ball was handled, the Times‘ 4th Down Bot says they should have punted it away.

Later in the game, with 6:20 left in the 3rd quarter and the Bengals down 28-7, Lewis opted to kick the field goal from the Kansas City 15-yard-line. Bengals fans everywhere were livid, given the score. While the the bot created by Burke’s formula and the New York Times doesn’t account for what to do in a blowout situation, Lewis made the mathematically correct call.

How Gary Steele changed West Point football forever

Too bad math isn’t enough to make Bengals fans hate Marvin Lewis any less.

Looking at the 2018 season, let’s see if there’s a correlation between game-winning success and 4th down aggression.

As of week 7, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a staggering 4-4 when comes to first downs on 4th down — but their record is still a measly 3-3. That doesn’t correlate, but the teams with the next-highest percentages in 4th down conversions are the Saints (at 87.5 percent) and the Chiefs (at 80 percent). New Orleans and Kansas City are first in their respective divisions. Five of the ten most successfully aggressive teams on 4th down also lead in total yardage, points per game, and total points this season.

One caveat: the least successful on 4th down conversions are also the least successful teams so far this year. So… know your own limitations.

MIGHTY SPORTS

WATCH: Of course the 62-year-old who broke the world record for planking is a Marine vet

For most people, holding a plank for a full minute is a challenge. But for 62-year-old George Hood who broke the Guinness World Record (GWR) for holding a plank yesterday, it was mind over matter. The Marine veteran turned DEA Supervisory Special Agent held the position for an insane 8 hours, 15 minutes and 15 seconds.

In an interview with Chicago’s Fox 32, Hood said he got the idea in 2010 when the category was added as a world record. Since then, GWR reported he underwent several training camps and fitness regiments, including doing 674,000 sit ups, 270,000 push ups and a practice attempt in which he lasted 10 hours and 10 minutes in 2018.

Hood posted on Facebook following his incredible achievement: “So very proud of this particular GWR because I have finally retired the pose as I know it and will pursue other fitness endeavors. I’m proud to share this feat with my 3 sons Andrew, Brandon and Christopher. So very grateful for an outstanding TeamHood crew and a staff at 515 Fitness, led by their owner Niki Perry, that came together just one more time to achieve victory. More to follow, training continues.

After holding the plank, Hood did 75 push ups. Just because he could. Semper Fi!

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MIGHTY SPORTS

WATCH: NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace skydived into the Daytona 500 with the Air Force

The Daytona 500 is known as the Great American Race.

Well, the Great American Race just had a driver make a Great American Entrance.


The United States Air Force has had a partnership with Richard Petty Motorsports for several years now. As part of their partnership, they decided that they were going to make a mark this weekend in Daytona.

One way was a little skydiving.

The other was one of the best paintjobs a racecar has ever had.

Bubba Wallace is a fan favorite among NASCAR fans. He finished second at the Daytona 500 in 2018 and 3rd at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2019. While he has had ups and downs in his short career, he is talented and a lot of people are rooting for his success. He is young, personable, and just an overall nice guy. He also does some pretty cool things.

How Gary Steele changed West Point football forever

The Air Force Wings of Blue demonstration team decided to help him make a grand entrance at the legendary racetrack on the days before the race. Wallace did a tandem jump out of a C-17 Globemaster and landed about 50 yards from the start/finish line of the 2.5 mile track.

After his lap, Wallace said, “I guess I can now say that was the coolest thing I’ve done. I’ve been able to go with the United States Air Force a couple of times in a fighter jet, F-15 F-16, and I didn’t think that could be beat. I’m still trying to decide if skydiving beat that, but jumping with the Wings of Blue was incredible.”

How Gary Steele changed West Point football forever

He continued, “I wasn’t nervous at all, which was kind of surprising because I’m about to jump out of a perfectly good C-17 aircraft, and that was cool, by the way; that thing is awesome. I didn’t get nervous. I went straight to scared crapless when we just walked off the back of the airplane. I wanted to back out right then and not do it then. The adrenaline rush that I got at that moment. I don’t know another feeling, another moment in my life that can describe that. Incredible. I couldn’t really see coming down, I had to hold my goggles. Once I did that, it was incredible; pulled the chute, super quiet ride. (Instructor) Randy did awesome, gave me the ride of my life.”

Wallace then tweeted video of the jump.

Talk about an entrance! Just your typical Thursday leading into the #DAYTONA500. Grateful for @USAFRecruiting, @RPMotorsports and @USAFWingsofBlue for knocking this off my bucket list!pic.twitter.com/LYGcfmZNIC

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Now let’s get to the beautiful machine Wallace is driving.

Rain postponed the race after the 20th lap on Sunday until Monday, but the weather wasn’t the only thing that stopped the show.

Dale Earnhardt had his black #3, Jeff Gordon had his #24 rainbow car, and Richard Petty had the #43 STP with its iconic paint job.

Wallace will be racing the #43 too, but with a serious Air Force twist.

You know that A-10 Warthog? The one that makes that beautiful sound?

The paint job on Wallace’s #43 honors that plane.

While the pictures look great, to see it in motion shows the true beauty of this magnificent racing machine.

pic.twitter.com/YNIZlSQTbs

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Wallace added a few personal touches honoring recently deceased driver John Andretti and the victims of the recent helicopter crash in LA including one of his heroes, Kobe Bryant.

Awesome job to the Air Force, Richard Petty Racing, and Bubba!

MIGHTY SPORTS

This Steeler went to four Super Bowls after being wounded in Vietnam

Rocky Bleier was unique among Americans in the late 1960s. He was drafted – twice. In the same year. First, the Notre Dame running back was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Then, the college graduate was drafted by the U.S. Army to head to Vietnam. And he did. Unlike many athletes at the time, the 1-A draftee was not put in reserves, so he put his NFL career on hold to answer the country’s call to arms.


Unfortunately for the Steelers, Bleier was sent to combat duty in southeast Asia after leaving basic training in 1969. He joined well over half a million American troops there, more than 11,000 of which would die in combat. Rocky Bleier was not one of those men but he came very, very close.

“There were a handful of players who had been drafted in their career, and I got drafted in the latter part of the year,” He told Fox Sports. “Next thing I knew, I was in basic training and my world had kind of been turned upside down. Then, eventually, I found myself in Vietnam, like all replacement soldiers at the time –€ shipped over because they needed bodies.”

How Gary Steele changed West Point football forever

Bleier arrived in Vietnam in May, 1969, a mortarman with the U.S. Army’s 196th Light Infantry Brigade. His company was in an area called LZ Siberia near Hiep Duc. One day, in August, 1969, his unit got word that their sister company was ambushed by an entire regiment of North Vietnamese Army regulars. Bleier’s Charlie Company was sent in to help Bravo Company.

But the moment they arrived in the area, they had to extract. It was a bloody mess. Charlie company had to carry out the dead and wounded bodies of Bravo Company, and as they did, they were ambushed themselves. Bleier and his fellow soldiers had to go. Two days later, they would have to come back for those bodies.

They were ambushed again.

How Gary Steele changed West Point football forever

“Obviously, we knew there was some enemy in the area, and we had just taken a break early in the morning and were moving out on an open rice paddy,” Bleier said. “So we’re moving out into that open rice paddy and all of a sudden we kind of ran into, accidentally, enemy soldiers. Our point man got excited and opened up fire, and then they started to run. We started to chase them, the machine gun leveled the area, and now we’re in a firefight in open rice paddies and that’s when I got hit the first time.”

Bleier was wounded in the thigh in that action; the bullet tore through his body. It felt like a punch to the leg and the Pittsburgh running back wasn’t sure if he could run. Or walk. Or even crawl. Somehow, he tied gauze around the wound and made it back to his commanding officer.

How Gary Steele changed West Point football forever

But that was far from safety. As the day wore on, the NVA were able to advance on the Americans. The communist troops were able to get a grenade into the position Bleier and his CO occupied.

“It hit my commanding officer, who I was lying next to,” Bleier said. “It bounced off his back and rolled between my legs, and by the time I jumped to get up, it blew up. I was standing on top of it and it blew up on my right foot, knee and thigh and my commanding officer caught a lot of that shrapnel as well.”

it was during that exchange that the North Vietnamese troops suddenly retreated from the battlefield. No one is quite sure why, but the Americans suspected the NVA field commander had been killed or wounded. It was dark by then, the two sides had been fighting almost the entire day. With the break in fighting, Bleier’s unit decided to leave. It took them hours to get to their landing zone.

Bleier suffered from a bullet wound in the thigh, shrapnel wounds in both legs, and a torn-up right foot. Doctors removed 100 pieces of shrapnel from him throughout several procedures, each a threat to his football career. Doctors told him he would never play again. The future Steeler set out to prove them wrong.

And the NFL and the Pittsburgh Steelers were going to help.

How Gary Steele changed West Point football forever

Bleier was placed on Injured Reserve for the 1970 NFL season and on waivers for the 1971 season, where he went unclaimed. By 1972, he was good enough to make the team again. He had few touches on the ball before the 1974 season, where he helped take the Steelers to the first of his four Super Bowls.

After doctors told him he would never again have the flexibility and strength to perform at an NFL level, Bleier ran for 3,826 yards on 922 carries, scoring 23 rushing touchdowns. On top of that, he also caught 133 passes for 1,226 yards and two touchdowns.

“I was one of a few Vietnam veterans that our fellow soldiers could identify with and say, ‘Hey, he’s one of ours, and God bless him,'” Bleier later said. “I was telling the story and giving a different image than one of baby-killers or derelicts or post traumatic stress or unemployment or homelessness. It was that kind of image that needed to be changed and I got to be a part of that, of changing that image.”

MIGHTY SPORTS

Veterans Golden Age Games torch delivered ‘Mission Impossible’ style

Staff Sergeant Tom McArthur of the Alaska Air National Guard practices it regularly: rappelling by rope from a helicopter. Whether it’s to rescue people who are lost in the woods, who are stranded because of a snowmobile accident, or who have been attacked by animals, making that descent is a standard part of his job.

So after descending from a height of 70 feet on June 5, 2019, with the torch for the 2019 National Veterans Golden Age Games in Anchorage, Alaska, he sounded nonchalant about it.

“We’re pretty consistent about this,” McArthur says. “It’s one of the things we train for. Throughout the year, we do it a number of times.”

McCarthur’s breathtaking feat was the opening stage of a ceremonial passing of the torch, the theme of which was “Mission Impossible.”


The torch will be on display during the “Parade of Athletes” at the opening ceremonies of the Golden Age Games on June 6, 2019, at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage. The Golden Age Games, which include nearly 900 veterans age 55 and older and serve as one of VA’s premier sports events, began on June 5, 2019, and run until June 10, 2019.

On a clear, sunny day amid the backdrop of the snow-sprinkled Chugach Mountains outside of Anchorage, McArthur descended from a Black Hawk helicopter that hovered over the fairway of the 10th hole at the Moose Run Golf Course. One of his colleagues, Technical Sergeant Jason Hughes, rappelled just before him.

How Gary Steele changed West Point football forever

McArthur ran for a short distance with the gold-covered torch and handed it off. Master Sergeant Chris Bowerfind of the Alaska Air National Guard. Bowerfind and 21 other people then ran three-quarters of a mile in one direction along Arctic Valley Road, which is parallel to the golf course, and three-quarters of a mile in the other direction back to the starting point.

Taml, an emotional support dog who has spent time in Iraq and Afghanistan, ran alongside Bowerfind. He was also accompanied by four officials from the Alaska VA Healthcare System, which is sponsoring this year’s Golden Age Games, some Veterans who are competing in the event, and members of the local community that support VA and the military.

The officials from the Alaska VA Healthcare System included Dr. Tim Ballard, director of the facility. He’s excited that the Alaska VA is sponsoring the Golden Age Games.

How Gary Steele changed West Point football forever

An Alaska Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk of the 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment hovers over a field to drop off two Alaska Air National Guard pararescuemen of the 212th Rescue Squadron and a torch for this year’s National Veterans Golden Age Games at Moose Run Golf Course, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, June 5, 2019.

(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Pvt. Grace Nechanicky)

“We’re one of the smallest VA stations in the country,” he says. “So for us to be given this opportunity is really great. It’s a testament to our staff who are very dedicated to taking care of veterans. Often times, it’s the big facilities that get this sort of stuff. So it’s really cool that we’re a small fry in a great big VA, and we’re having an opportunity to host this event.”

Ballard explains that even though the Alaska VA is an outpatient ambulatory care facility, it has a major partnership with Joint Base Elemendorf-Richardson (JBER) in Anchorage, a combined Army and Air Force installation.

“We have in-patient staff assigned to the hospital at JBER who see both Department of Defense and VA patients,” he says. “Roughly 85 members of our staff are embedded in JBER doing many inpatient activities. We’ve got a myriad of staff that are in the specialty clinics over there, including orthopedics, urology, cardiology, and the like. So even though we are outpatient from VA’s perspective, we really consider JBER’s hospital our hospital.”

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY SPORTS

That time the Panthers ran a play from ‘Little Giants’

In 2011, the Carolina Panthers were up 14-0 against the Houston Texans. With time running out in the first half, Carolina ran a trick play that saw quarterback Cam Newton secretly slip the ball between the legs of tight end Richie Brockel after quickly taking the snap. Brockel ran the ball in for another touchdown and the Panthers would win the game, 28-13.

After the game, reporters wanted to know where head coach Ron Rivera drew inspiration for the play. The answer was the movie, Little Giants.


The play even has a name – “The Annexation of Puerto Rico” – and it was devised by the tiny computer nerd, “Nubie,” who explained it to John Madden as a slow fake play with the quarterback running to one side of the field and a tailback picking up the ball and swinging around the opposite way.

How Gary Steele changed West Point football forever

“The Annexation of Puerto Rico” from the 1994 movie “Little Giants”

The play in Little Giants sounds a lot like the legendary trick play, the fumblerooski, where the hidden ball is purposely set down by the QB who then distracts the opposing team by running with the “ball” or “handing it off” to another player. Then, another player, usually a player no one would suspect, like a lineman, picks it up, and runs it home.

It might literally be the oldest trick in the book, which is what might have attracted Ron Rivera to the “Annexation of Puerto Rico” in the first place.

For the Carolina Panthers, they couldn’t purposely forward fumble the ball, that’s illegal in the NFL. And they still had to fool the Texans defenders. So Cam Newton takes the quick snap and most of the Carolina players continue the play as if it’s moving to the right, while others make key blocks to keep the way clear for Brockel.

Who says real life is nothing like the movies?

Actor Ed O’Neill played Kevin O’Shea, the coach of the Little Giants’ number one enemy: the Cowboys. During an interview with NFL analyst Rich Eisen, Eisen told O’Neill the play had actually been used by an NFL team. O’Neill is an avid football fan and former NFL player who was a linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers before being cut by the team in 1969.

He had no idea. His response (with a smile): “You gotta be kidding me.”

MIGHTY SPORTS

Setting goals for the everyday athlete

Fitness. The word conjures mental images of tight lycra clothing, 5K finish lines, and overcrowded rooms filled with clanking weights and the pungent odor of sweat. Fitness, however, is much simpler than what is being sold to you. Fitness is health, plain and simple — the pursuit of which is a lifetime endeavor.

The concept of improving fitness almost always focuses directly on the improvement of the physical body. However, mental and spiritual health play equally important parts in the equation. Setting the proper intention — the purpose of one’s physical pursuit is as important, if not more so, than the physical movement itself.


When it comes to fitness, goals are paramount. There are three simple questions you need to ask yourself:

  1. Where do I want to be?
  2. Where am I currently?
  3. What is the healthiest path from No. 2 to No. 1?
How Gary Steele changed West Point football forever

(Photo by Marty Skovlund, Jr./Coffee, or Die Magazine)

Your goals are your own. They should not exist for anyone else, and should be clearly identified so a path to achievement can be established. Let’s say your goal is to squat 200 pounds. Why? How does that number improve your quality of life? Numerical goals are not wrong so long as you can identify the reason. For example, if you aspire to be an EMT who will regularly need to hoist a 200-pound person, the goal serves you well.

Take an honest, comprehensive look at your current fitness level. Avoid self-criticism and identify the areas which can use the most improvement. Can you push and pull your body weight through various planes of movement repetitively and with ease? Does each of your joints flex and extend to an appropriate degree without pain? I know blood pressure and cholesterol levels aren’t as sexy to consider as what your abs look like, but they are undeniably factors that will sooner inhibit your quality of life than any aesthetic variance will.

Identify your weakness, then attack it with verve. Experienced triathletes know this concept well. For those with a strong swim and a weak run, it is much more enjoyable to practice swimming. This does little to improve race results or fitness in general though. That weakness may be flexibility, balance, or elevated levels of stress.

How To Workout Like An Operator

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Knowing where you are and where you want to be doesn’t mean anything without establishing a reasonable path from one to the other. This is the angle of the ladder you will climb to your goal. Time plays a crucial factor in this. If your goal is to squat that 200 pounds but you currently have physical difficulty getting off the couch, the goal is still achievable when the proper number of rungs are implemented at appropriate intervals.

Does the pursuit of your goal require detriment to other aspects of your health? If your goal is to complete a marathon for the sake of doing so and your training plan omits components of strength, power, speed, or agility, you may get to the finish line a little faster — but you are ultimately working against your own fitness.

If you can identify where you currently are and where you want to be but are unsure how to get from one to the other, fear not. In the coming weeks and months, I will address pertinent aspects of fitness programming, equipment, and ideology. Wherever you may be, let’s improve our fitness — and our quality of life, together.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

How TrueCar helped get Navy Reservist Jesse Iwuji into the NASCAR race of his dreams

When Jesse Iwuji started racing cars, he never imagined his passion would blossom into a professional career. His passion for fast cars and racing started at the U.S. Naval Academy when he was playing football, running track, studying engineering/mathematics/sciences and learning how to lead sailors on surface ships.

Upon graduating from the Naval Academy in 2010 and becoming a commissioned officer in the Navy, Iwuji became a Surface Warfare Officer, but his love for driving never left. 

He bought a Corvette Z06 to drive daily and speed around tracks in Southern California, and between 2013 and 2015 spent time learning how to drive on track. In 2015 he was introduced to a NASCAR Late Model and a NASCAR K&N Pro Series team and then spent the last few years of his active duty service becoming a racecar driver. What Iwuji didn’t know was that his need for speed would run him up the NASCAR ladder and eventually earn him an opportunity to race in the 2020 NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship race weekend at Phoenix International Raceway, with TrueCar as his primary sponsor.

Jesse Iwuji at the Nascar XFinity Race Nov 7th 2020 (Photo: Danny Hansen – HMedia)

After seven years of service, Iwuji joined the Naval Reserve to focus on driving. Now, he’s teaming up with TrueCar, the most efficient and transparent way to buy a new or used car from a trusted dealer, as the company’s military brand ambassador. 

“As someone who has served this country the last 10 years in the military, I’m excited to work with a brand like TrueCar that understands the unique needs and lifestyle demands of the military community,” Iwuji says. “I am proud to raise awareness of this fantastic program that can save active duty service members, veterans and their families a lot of time, stress, and money.”

Everyone who has served in the military knows that buying a car is one of the most common trappings among young troops and their families. While that new Mustang might be tempting, it’s important to make sure you don’t find yourself suckered into a bad deal. Thankfully, TrueCar recently launched TrueCar Military, a dedicated vehicle purchase program that provides exclusive military incentives and benefits, on top of TrueCar’s existing benefits, to those who have served our country’s armed forces and their families. As part of this program, veterans, active duty service members and their families can enjoy special military incentives, upfront pricing, a dedicated customer hotline and much more. 

TrueCar is no stranger to the military community — they’ve been supporting the community for years and through the DrivenToDrive program, where they provide brand new vehicles to deserving veterans. Now, they’ve taken their support a step further by sponsoring Jesse Iwuji, empowering him to live out his dream on the racetrack.

Inspired by the indomitable spirit of its program ambassador, SFC (Ret.) Cory Rembsburg, the DrivenToDrive program was launched by TrueCar in partnership with AutoNation and Disabled American Veterans (DAV). The program is back again this year — and with Jesse Iwuji involved, it’s better than ever. To celebrate Veterans Day on November 11, TrueCar awarded yet another vehicle to another amazing veteran. To see the surprise moment and Jesse present the vehicle to the 2020 DriventoDrive Recipient, check out the video or visit www.truecar.com/driventodrive/

To see Jesse in action and for more information about TrueCar Military benefits tailored to military members and their families, check out the video below.

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