Former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman and radio analyst Tunch Ilkin died less than a year after announcing he had ALS. The two-time Pro Bowler was 63 years old.
Ilkin played multiple positions on the Steelers offensive line during his 13 seasons with the team, The Pittsburgh Post Gazette reported. He spent 23 more years with the organization as a radio analyst after that.
Former teammate and best friend Greg Wolfey said Ilkin spent the last week in the hospital with pneumonia before he died Saturday.
“He hit heaven’s gate at full sprint with a lot of high-fives and hallelujahs,” Wolfley told the newspaper.
Doctors diagnosed Ilkin with Lou Gehrig’s disease last October. He remained with the team last season, but in June announced he would retire from the booth.
“I want to spend this time focusing on my treatment and fighting this disease,” Ilkin said then. “I would like to thank Steelers President Art Rooney II, the Steelers organization, and the fans for their continued support and prayers at this time.”
He played all but one of his 177 professional games with the Steelers. Ilkin played that game for the Green Bay Packers just before he retired in 1993. The Steelers plan to enshrine him in the team’s Hall of Honor in November. The Steelers will also induct former tackle Jon Kolb, defensive back Carnell Lake, and wide receiver Louis Lipps along with Ilkin.
“He was cut once or twice at least, but in true Tunch fashion, kept fighting, never gave up,” Art Rooney said in July. “Then he followed that up with a Hall of Fame broadcast career, in my opinion. We’re so fortunate to have him as part of Steelers football for so many years.”
Ilkin discussed his time on the team in his 2018 memoirs “In The Locker Room.”
Steelers Players Pay Respects To Tunch Ilkin
Current and former Steelers say they’re going to miss Tunch Ilkin. Many have posted on social media mourning his death.
“… Your love, faith, candor, and strength will be remembered forever,” Heyward wrote of Ilkin. “I’m lucky enough to have talked and got to know you. May you be at peace brother. RIP TUNCH.”
Former Philadelphia Eagles offensive lineman John Welbourne said even Ilkin revolutionize his position.
“We lost an @NFL great today with the passing of Tunch Ilkin,” he posted on Instagram. “I never met the man in person but credit him with part of my success in the NFL with his “Tunch’s Punches.” My offensive line coach at @cal_football, Tom Cable, introduced us to Tunch as a player through video and implemented his hand/punch work daily in the off-season. …”
The Steelers drafted Ilkin in 1980, but it took three seasons as a backup before earning his spot on the field. He quickly became a fan favorite on the team.
The Steelers chose Ilkin to be one of the 33 former players on its all-time team in 2007 for the franchise’s 75th anniversary.