PITTSBURGH — After 37 years with the Steelers as a player and broadcaster, Tunch Ilkin retired on Thursday to focus on his treatment for ALS.
Having been such a mainstay in the organization for the Steelers over those 37 seasons, the blow of Ilkin’s retirement is being felt by the players as well. Steelers center B.J. Finney certainly knows the impact that Ilkin left on the Steelers organization.
“I don’t really know if you can put a value on it,” Finney said of Ilkin’s presence in the organization. “Tunch is a titan, man.”
As for just what Ilkin did around the organization outside of just call games and give commentary, Finney said he was hands-on and interactive with any lineman that approached him. It was that welcoming presence that Finney believes in part made Ilkin so vital.
“He came in and worked with all of us when we wanted to work,” Finney said. “He’s always talked to us about what we’re doing with techniques and things he’s learned. He’s just been a great guy, a great mentor, to anybody and everybody that’s asked him for information or help.”
Just on his retirement, Finney knows that Ilkin’s presence and mindset will be missed throughout the entire organization.
“It stinks because I love seeing him around the place,” Finney said. “Now I’m gonna have to go visit him at his house on Mount Washington. He and (Craig) Wolfey were always together and now we’re wondering what that’s gonna look like.”
While Finney mentioned techniques that Ilkin taught the lineman on the field, he believes that Ilkin’s biggest contribution to the organization was the faith he taught everyone off the field.
“He will mentor anybody and everybody about what it means to have faith,” Finney said. “There’s a line that he’s had to walk and he shares it so openly with guys who are willing to listen.”
For Finney personally, the lessons that Ilkin has taught him are inspiring and impactful.
“We all know Tunch hasn’t had the easiest walk of life,” Finney said. “We kinda gravitated towards each other because I haven’t had the easiest walk of life either. We’re kinda kindred spirits. Just being able to hang out with somebody who knows what that’s like and has gone through very hard times, he’s a great mentor. You can’t really put it into words.”
As Ilkin focuses on his battle with ALS and heads into retirement, Finney left one last message.
“Love Tunch, wish him the best in what he’s gonna have to fight and go through, I hope he knows we have his back,” Finney said. “We’ll do anything for him every step of the way.”