The Pittsburgh Steelers held a press conference today on the day of the funeral of defensive lineman Tunch Ilkin. The team will play the Buffalo Bills tomorrow night, but some of the players were visibly upset and some were even in tears.
Steeler fans are mourning the death of one of their own, Tunch Ilkin. The 72-year-old passed away after battling lung cancer. Tunch was a longtime Steelers season ticket holder and he lived in Pittsburgh for more than 60 years. “Tunch Ilkin was a true Pittsburgh sports fan,” said Steelers president Art Rooney II. “His long-term love affair with the Steelers was manifested in many ways. He was an ardent season ticket holder, a constant presence in club offices and he even served on our board of trustees.”
News of the Steelers safety’s death was first reported by Paul Virgina, who also noted that he and Ilkin had been friends since their childhood. A statement from the Steelers offered their condolences to Ilkin’s family and friends and described him as a “true Steeler”.
courtesy of Getty Images The helmet of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Tunch Ilkin, a former offensive lineman for the Pittsburgh Steelers and a radio commentator, died on Saturday morning at the age of 63 after a battle with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Ilkin was admitted to the hospital on Aug. 24 with pneumonia, which is a major cause of mortality in those with ALS, according to Tom Reed of DKPittsburgh Sports.
Following the announcement, Steelers president Art Rooney II released a statement that echoed the sentiments of former teammates, current players, fans, and the media, all of whom had been affected by Ilkin’s efforts.
“We are saddened by Tunch Ilkin’s passing,” Rooney said, before going on to praise Ilkin’s love for the game and his influence on the organization as a player. Yet, when his playing days ended and he joined the Steelers radio crew, where his voice reached millions of listeners, he arguably made an even bigger impact to the Steelers and the Pittsburgh community.
Ilkin was remembered by Bill Hillgrove as “an Overachiever as a Human Being.”
“His willingness to constantly assist others made everyone love him,” said Rooney in his statement, a sentiment echoed by Steelers play-by-play announcer Bill Hillgrove, who worked with Ilkin for more than two decades in the team’s radio booth.
As a human being, he was “an overachiever.” He made contact with others. He was a good guy. He was a kind guy. “It was two decades of pure pleasure being around the man,” Hillgrove told KDKA-TV on Saturday, adding, “He cared about others.”
Mark Kaboly of The Athletic, another colleague in the media, provided perspective by saying, “… Tunch was the embodiment of a Great Human.” There isn’t a single individual who has anything bad to say about him, and that tells you everything you need to know…”
Going up to Tunch Ilkin and asking him about random offensive linemen at the Steelers camp was one of my favorite things to do. He was always the one to break things down for me. Tunch embodied what it meant to be a Great Human. There isn’t a single individual who has anything bad to say about him, which tells you everything you need to know.
September 4, 2021 — Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly)
Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, another long-serving member of the Pittsburgh sports media, voiced similar sentiments.
Tunch Ilkin, who had a profound impact on everyone, particularly those who worked closely with him, has died. I’m not sure I’ve ever met a nicer person. ❤️
September 4, 2021 — Gerry Dulac (@gerrydulac)
Tunch Ilkin had an impact on everyone he came into contact with, according to Mike Tomlin.
Countless NFL players and coaches spoke out about Ilkin, starting with Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, who described him as a “amazing guy” who “impacted everyone he came into touch with, myself included…”
Tunch Ilkin passed away today, and we have lost an amazing guy. Tunch was a unique individual who had an effect on everyone he met, including me. He was devoted to his family, his religion, and his desire to help others. My heartfelt condolences to his family.
September 4, 2021 — Mike Tomlin (@CoachTomlin)
Ilkin was particularly well-liked by the offensive and defensive linemen he met and coached, with several of them, including Steelers guard/center B.J. Finney, sharing their views on social media on Saturday…
To so many of us, he was a wonderful guy and a tremendous mentor. He would always take the time to inquire about my family and how they were doing. His lasting impression on me will be that he is a man of faith. He was there whenever I needed to speak. Tunch, take it easy! pic.twitter.com/1zTZ4hFrFF
September 4, 2021 — BJ Finney (@catcenter66)
… as well as Chris Hoke, a former Steelers defensive lineman:
The news of Tunch Ilkin’s death has really upset me. In so many ways, he was a guy I admired. My heartfelt sympathies and condolences go out to the Ilkin family. In the presence of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, rest in peace! Good luck, brother. #steelersbrother
September 4, 2021 — Chris Hoke (@hokiebro76)
Finally, Teresa Varley, who writes for Steelers.com and has long been the associate editor of Steelers Digest, seems appropriate to end with this.
Tunch Ilkin, one of the greatest people ever, died today, and it’s been a difficult day. One memory I’ll never forget is seeing him at camp this summer. ‘I love, Tunch,’ was the last thing I said to him, and he took my hand and replied, ‘I love you always, hun.’
I’m going to miss you. #RIPTunch
September 4, 2021 — Teresa Varley (@Teresa Varley)
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Sharon, Ilkin’s first wife, passed away in 2012 after a battle with breast cancer. Karen, his second wife, and their three children survive him.
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