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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Tunch Ilkin (L) and Craig Wolfley Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images) /

Tunch Ilkin’s media career

Even before his playing days ended, Tunch had also been hard at work preparing for his career after football. In 1986 Tunch became the Steelers player representative to the NFLPA’s.  In 1989 he began serving as the vice president of the NFLPA’s executive committee and stayed in that post through 1994. During his tenure in that post, the players went on strike in the 1987 season.

Involved with the negotiations with the NFL, he helped bring free agency to the NFL and the birth of the NFL’s salary cap. While player safety and concussions had slowly become an issue during Ilkin’s tenure with the NFLPA, he did not involve himself in it. He did have a cause he championed. He hated astroturf and fought to get rid of it.

He then broke into the media both nationally and locally. In the Pittsburgh media market, he began his popular sports report segment entitled Lunch with Tunch. His show generally had interviews with Steelers players and coaches. NBC came calling as well, and he became a color analyst for the 1995 season with NBC pairing him with either Dan Hicks or Jim Donovan.

Two years later, in 1998, Tunch became the third person of the Steelers radio broadcast team alongside Bill Hilgrove and Myron Cope. He later got promoted to color commentary in 2004 after Myron Copes retirement. As part of the radio broadcast team, he reunited with his fellow lineman Craig Wolfley, who has also worked the sidelines during the Steelers games. Tunch and Craig have a great friendship, and during each broadcast, you may have noticed Craig Wolfley calling Tunch Ilkin Chalooch, a nickname he began calling Ilken after they watched the movie The Pope of Greenwich Village together.  He has been part of the radio broadcast team for the last 22 years. With Tunch’s tenure as a player as well, he has been an integral piece of the Steelers organization in some capacity for almost 40 years.

Aside from his broadcasting duties on the radio, he has also authored two books. The first entitled Forged in Steel: the Seven Time Tested Leadership Principles Presented By The Pittsburgh Steelers. He later wrote In the Lockerroom: Tales of the Pittsburgh Steelers from the Playing Field to the Broadcast Booth.

What a lot of people may not know is that aside from football Tunch Ilkin also had a spiritual calling.