Tunch Ilkin, a longtime Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman and, for the last 23 seasons a broadcaster for the franchise, is retiring. This morning he revealed that he was diagnosed with ALS in September.
“I was diagnosed with ALS in September 2020, and I want to spend this time focusing on my treatment and fighting this disease,” he said in a statement. “I would like to thank Steelers President Art Rooney II, the Steelers organization, and the fans for their continued support and prayers at this time.”
Ilkin, who was born in Istanbul, became the first Turkish-born player in league history when he was taken in the sixth-round by the Steelers in the 1980 NFL Draft. The Indiana State graduate was a two-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle in 1988 and 1989, and was named to the Steelers’ All-Time Team.
He wrapped up his 14-year career with one season as a Green Bay Packer in 1993. He was also the vice president of the NFL Player’s Association from 1989-94.
Tunch Ilkin, who spent the past 23 seasons as a Steelers broadcaster after playing 14 in the NFL, on his retirement: "I was diagnosed with ALS in September 2020, and I want to spend this time focusing on my treatment and fighting this disease."
— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) June 3, 2021
In a lengthy interview with Steelers.com, he reflected on all of the good times he had with the franchise, while giving updates on his fight with ALS, which he is certainly not taking lying down.
“I love Art Rooney II, and I love Dan, and I love the coaching staff, especially Mike Tomlin,” said Ilkin. “I’m friends with Mike, and I’d love to play for him, because he’s so good at coaching up guys. At training camp, I would watch him working with guys, coaching them, and just by standing there and watching him and listening to him, I learned defensive back techniques. One time when I was watching film in the Bill Nunn Draft Room with Ryan Shazier (after his spinal injury), Mike came into the room and said to us, ‘Don’t watch the same play over and over again, let (the game) wash over you.’ Even at that stage of my career in football, after decades and decades of watching film, that taught me something and ended up helping me.
“I just had fun. I had fun, I worked with two legends – Bill Hillgrove and Myron Cope – and I had fun with those guys. And when the Steelers open the regular season (against Buffalo), you can bet I’ll be watching the game.”
We wish Tunch Ilkin the best in retirement, and in his battle with this disease.