Tunch Ilkin, a two-time Pro Bowl tackle, team captain, and longtime broadcaster for the Pittsburgh Steelers, died today at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital at 63. He had ALS and passed on Saturday morning, according to former teammate, Craig Wolfley.
“He hit heaven’s gate at full sprint with a lot of high-fives and hallelujahs,” said Wolfley, who has been Ilkin’s best friend and sidekick since they both joined the Steelers in 1980. “He’s one of the greatest men I’ve ever been privileged to lock arms with.”
Ilkin was born in Turkey and came to the US with his family when he was 2. He played 13 seasons with the Steelers and one with the Green Bay Packers, retiring as a player after the 1993 season.
He joined the Steelers radio broadcast team in 1998, joining play-by-play man Bill Hillgrove and color analyst Myron Cope. When Cope retired after the 2004 season, Ilkin became the lead analyst.
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“Working with him was a dream,” Hillgrove said. “He was insightful, he knew exactly what he was talking about, he did his homework. He was a pure pleasure to be around. Beyond that, as a person, he was concerned about other people more than himself. He always displayed that.”
Ilkin also served as vice president of the NFL Players Association from 1989 to 1994.
His broadcasting career included a weekday radio show, In the Locker Room with Tunch and Wolf, on ESPN Pittsburgh.
Ilkin is survived by his second wife, Karen, and three children, Tanner, Natalie and Clay. His first wife, Sharon, whom he met in college and married in 1982, passed away in February, 2012.