One of the hidden strengths of the Pittsburgh Steelers organization is the network of relationships that they build over the years. Their vibrant alumni culture keeps the Steelers of the present day connected with the past, and reinforces generational concepts as guiding principles that persist today.
One of the greatest player ambassadors of the ‘Steelers Way’ would have to be Tunch Ilkin, a sixth-round offensive lineman out of Indiana St. in 1980, who would go on to play 14 years in the NFL, including 13 in Pittsburgh. He would become part of the team’s radio broadcasting booth, among many other tasks that have kept him very much embedded in the organization, even informally working with the team’s linemen.
Earlier today, he announced that he would be stepping away from the booth in order to focus on treatment as he battles ALS. He has been met with an outpouring of support, and Steelers lineman B.J. Finney paid his respects to Ilkin as well.
“I don’t know if you can really put a value on it. I mean, I think it’s been 37 years that he’s been around this organization, either as a player or in the booth”, he told reporters after practice today. “Tunch is a titan, man”.
A regular presence in the Steelers’ offseason broadcasts, always on the field when practice is going on and providing insights with what he sees, Ilkin has been known to volunteer his knowledge and experience to work with linemen, as somebody who excelled in fundamentals.
“He came in and worked with all of us when we wanted work”, Finney, one of the many linemen Ilkin has worked with, said. “He’s always talking to us about what we’re doing, techniques and things that he’s learned and has just been a great guy, great mentor to anybody and everybody that’s asked him for information or help”.
But it should be made clear that the love for Ilkin has more to do with simply the kind and generous person he is, and not the more tangible things that he gave back to the Steelers. If you’ve ever listened to him, as well, the passion is never far from the forefront.
“It stinks because I love seeing him around the place. Now I’m going to have to go visit him at his house on Mount Washington”, Finney said. “Love Tunch, wish him the best in what he’s going to have to fight and go through, and hope he knows that we all have his back and we’ll do anything for him every step of the way”.
Ilkin was also simply damn good at his job, and he’ll be missed in that capacity. But of course the priority is on his health, and it goes without saying that we all here wish him the best.