Steelers Spotlight: Tunch Ilkin’s inspiring journey and his battle with ALS

Offensive lineman Tunch Ilkin #62 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
Offensive lineman Tunch Ilkin #62 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images) /
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Steelers Nation received some unfortunate news on October 9th. Former Pittsburgh offensive lineman and member of the Steelers radio broadcast team Tunch Ilkin announced doctors diagnosed him with ALS.

WTAE news in Pittsburgh covered the story after Tunch came forward, disclosing he had the disease. His diagnosis came as a shock to Steelers fans all around the nation. Especially those that remember him as a player on the field. For some people, ALS might be a death sentence. Not to Tunch Ilkin, though. Tunch played 13 seasons for the Steelers as a tackle. If history has taught anything, it is that Steelers offensive linemen are tough as nails, and Tunch could be considered one of the top 20 offensive linemen in Steelers history. So this is one fight Tunch will not take lying down.

Unlike most NFL players, Tunch Ilkin was born in Turkey. At two years old, his family moved to the United States more specifically in the Chicago area. Growing up, Tunch began playing football and found he had a knack for the sport. His hard work led to all-conference and all-county honors in high school. His hard work culminated in an athletic scholarship to Indiana State University.

While playing at Indiana State, he caught the eye of the NFL. He stood 6’3″, weighing 263. Precisely the type of lineman most teams want.  Then in 1980, the Steelers selected Tunch in the 6th round of the draft, the 165th player taken. He did not become a full-time starter until the 1983 season, but over 13 years played in 176 games and got named to the pro bowl twice. The only thing missing from his resume as a player is a Superbowl championship as the Steelers did not get to another Superbowl until after he retired in 1995, although teammate and good friend Craig Wolfley, did note once Tunch did sing the Turkish national anthem before every game.

Following the 1992 season, he left the Steelers and joined the Green Bay Packers. However, he only played one game for the Packers and then retired from the NFL. Once he retired, he pursued the next chapter in his career, working for the NFLPA and as a member of the Steelers radio broadcast team.