Tunch Ilkin, the former broadcaster and tackle whose die-hard game on the football field was outdone by his kindness and generosity, died Saturday after a year-long battle with ALS, the Pittsburgh Steelers announced.
He was 63.
Ilkin had been associated with the Steelers for four decades, the first 13 as a player and the last 23 as a broadcast analyst.
“The death of Tunch Ilkin is heartbreaking,” Steelers President Art Rooney II said in a statement. “He was a man of faith who dedicated his whole life to the believing Christian and father of a family. … He was loved by his family, teammates and friends. We have been fortunate to have Tunch as a player and broadcaster for so many years. Our condolences go out to his entire family at this difficult time. ”
ALS – short for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – is commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. It is a progressive neurological disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.
Ilkin found out about his diagnosis of ALS in September and made it public a month later. Ilkin stayed in his broadcasting role until the end of the season.
“Tunch was special, someone who influenced everyone he came in contact with, including me,” said Steelers trainer Mike Tomlin. “He loved his family, loved his faith, lived his faith and serving others was his passion.”
Ilkin had been hospitalized for about 10 days with pneumonia.
“When you lose a family member, it’s not easy,” said broadcast partner Bill Hillgrove. “I was told last week that it was on an upswing. Unfortunately, in its condition, the upswing can be very brief. ”
In June, Ilkin announced that he was stepping down from his stand duties to focus on his fight against ALS.
The Steelers introduced Ilkin to headline the organization’s fifth Hall of Honor Class on July 31, and Ilkin said at the time that he plans to attend the November ceremony.
“It’s always been a pleasure to be around,” said Hillgrove. “Tunch was always positive. As an analyst, he always knew what to look for, knew which matches would be favorable or unfavorable for the Steelers. It was fun just being with the guy. He was very competent and fair in his job. ”
Ilkin became the first NFL player of Turkish descent when he was inducted into the Steelers list as a sixth round draft pick from the state of Indiana in 1980. Ilkin played for the Steelers during the 1992 season and made two pro bowls. He was also elected to the Steelers’ all-time team.
In retirement, Ilkin taught offensive linemen and was known for sharing his blocking technique known as punch punch.
“His passion for football was evident in his daily life,” said Rooney II. “As a player, he has struggled through tough times with cuts and injuries, but has continued to influence our offensive line as the leader.”
Ilkin retired from the NFL in 1993 but returned to the Steelers five years later to attend a broadcast booth with Hillgrove and Myron Cope. When Cope retired after the 2004 season, Ilkin became the chief color analyst.
Craig Wolfley, Ilkin’s closest friend and classmate in the 1980 Steelers Draft Class, left his side job reporter to fill the cabin vacancy created by Ilkin’s retirement.
“There will be a huge gap,” Wolfley said in June. “Think about it. He’s been broadcasting for 23, 24 years and we’ve been together for 20 years. He was the only reason I got into this business.”
Ilkin was deeply involved in his church as pastor of the men’s ministry in the Bible Chapel in McMurray. Ilkin was also a volunteer board member and active supporter of the Light of Life Rescue Mission, a homeless shelter and addiction support on the north side.
“A high-flyer in the field, a high-flyer in life,” said Hillgrove. “He was someone who cared more about his fellow human beings than basically himself. His work with the light of life, his services, his belief in prayer. It was a study of humanity, no question about it. ”
Ilkin’s first wife, Sharon, died of cancer in 2012. He leaves behind his second wife Karen and the children Tanner, Natalie and Clay.
“His work with Light of Life and other initiatives to help the homeless and other needy people has been tremendous,” said Rich Fitzgerald, executive of Allegheny County, in a statement. “Although he didn’t grow up here, he has hugged our city, raised his family here and continued to make Pittsburgh a better place.”
The burial care is taken over by the Beinhauers. Frieds will be received at the South Hills Bible Chapel, 300 Gallery Dr., McMurray, PA, 15317 on Mondays from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. A service will be held at 2 p.m. on Tuesday at the South Hills Bible Chapel. Memorial donations in Ilkin’s name can be made to the Light of Life Rescue Mission, 913 Western Ave., Pittsburgh, PA, 15233.
Joe Rutter is a contributor to Tribune Review. You can contact Joe by email at email@example.com or on Twitter.