Tunch Ilkin and Craig Wolfley make it more entertaining and informative listening to Steelers games on the radio than TV, where national analysts are often boring and offer little insight.
Ilkin, the color commentator, and sideline reporter Wolfley liven up radio broadcasts with their yinzers banter and humor. More importantly, they provide listeners with great football details and opinions.
The two former Steeler offensive linemen, who join solid play-by-play man Bill Hillgrove on the radio, do a great job of explaining why players do certain things and what they're thinking in given situations. They also avoid talking down to fans with dumbed-down information, which is all some announcers (like baseball's Joe Morgan and Tim McCarver) know how to do.
Tunch and Wolf came into the NFL together in 1980 and spent most of their careers with the Steelers.
"By the way, I just want to remind everybody that I was a fifth-round draft choice, and Tunch Ilkin was just a sixth-round draft choice," Wolfley joked.
As it turned out, Ilkin and Wolfley came on board one year too late, joining the Steelers only a few months after the organization won its fourth Super Bowl of the 1970s.
Meet Tunch and Wolf
Tunch Ilkin and Craig Wolfley will be in Altoona on Friday for the Curve's Spring Training Festival at Blair County Convention Center. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by calling the Curve at 877-99-CURVE.
"Oh sure, why don't you just rub it in," Wolfley said with a laugh.
"We came in together, and our rookie year we saw the Joe Greenes, the Jack Lamberts, the Donnie Shells, Terry Bradshaw, John Stallworth, Lynn Swann, Franco Harris, I could go on, all these legends."
At that point, those legends figured they still had what it took for another Super Bowl run.
"They all had that T-shirt going 'One for the thumb,' and we thought, 'We're going to get a Super Bowl ring,'" Wolfley said. "Well, it never quite worked out. Tunch and I kind of led the Steelers in a decade of decline, and of course, I blame Tunch for that one."
They didn't get to play in a Super Bowl, but they've had charmed broadcasting careers with the Steelers. Ilkin and Wolfley were on hand calling the action for the Super Bowl XL win over Seattle and Super Bowl XLIII win over Arizona.
"It has been fun," Ilkin said. "But make no mistake about it ... as a broadcaster, it's kind of like being a fan with a microphone. I'm thankful and happy to be part of these Super Bowls, but it's not the same thing as playing.
"So I don't feel like, wow, at least I got to call them. I do feel very fortunate and thankful that I get to call these Super Bowls, but I'd still much rather play."
Ilkin and Wolfley came close to reaching the Super Bowl in 1984, losing to Dan Marino and the Dolphins in the AFC title game. Ilkin also felt the team had a good chance during the 1982 strike-shortened season and in 1989, but the Steelers lost to the Chargers and Broncos, respectively, in the playoffs.
"Of course, everyone wishes they could play in a Super Bowl," said Ilkin, a two-time Pro Bowl selection. "But I will say this: I had more fun than I deserve. My 14 years in the NFL, 13 with the Steelers, was a special time. I loved being here. I am thankful for every day that I got to do what I absolutely loved to do."
The 1980s may have been a disappointment as a whole, but Wolfley said it never got so bad that the Steelers felt like they couldn't compete.
"There was never a time when we felt the Steelers were like Cincinnati or some of the other franchises that never had a shot at winning the division or being in the Lombardi race," Wolfley said. "That's the appreciation I have for this franchise because historically, since the '70s, there has always been that opportunity to go out and grab the brass ring."
Ilkin and Wolfley couldn't help the Steelers get a ring for the thumb as players, but they've cherished being along for the ride as broadcasters. Wolfley, in particular, has one special memory of the long-awaited fifth Super Bowl crown five years ago.
"It just meant the world," he said. "I remember standing in Detroit and watching Brett Keisel and Aaron Smith, standing next to them as the clock ticked down on the sidelines and watching the elation come over their faces. It was most humbling to be around that."
Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. He can be reached at 949-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.