Posted on June 8, 2012 - by ChuckFinder
Lunch with Tunch-n-Wolf, nothing could be better.
These two old friends came in together as back-to-back draft picks, fifth round and sixth, in 1980. They played shoulder to shoulder through much of the 1980s. They remain side by side a generation later, on radio broadcasts for their talk show or Steelers games — though WDVE-FM puts Tunch Ilkin in the booth and Craig Wolfley on the sideline. They are the Hope and Crosby, the Martin and Lewis, the Penn and Teller (except talkative) of the Steelers and NFL.
So closely aligned were they as guard and tackle, so close they remain, that their names become pronounced as one.
First, there was the band Steppenwolf. Now there’s Tunch-n-Wolf, side by side in a booth at Sauce — the splendid eatery around the corner from Wolf’s old Bridgeville gym.
Wolf had one of the specialty burgers, Tunch a chicken-marsala special, and the interviewer about four bites of a chicken quesadilla because he was too busy asking questions and then taking copious notes. This book work began with older heads, gents such as Ed Kiely and Roy McHugh who go back, back, back to the World War II years. Still, I was eager to sit down, dine and digest Word Wars with Tunch-n-Wolf, who spin tales of the 1980-plus Steelers like nobody else. One picks up, the other finishes. Chew, swallow, repeat.
Oh, the tasty morsels.
The time Mike Webster climbed from his hospital bed and took a cab to and fro a game he refused to miss. And thought he broke his “freakin’ neck.” And worked on the blocking sled in his front yard around sunrise.
The time Chuck Noll — renaissance man and the coach who coached everyone “including the equipment manager,” as Wolf put it — peered over the shoulder of a airplane mechanic trying to fix the Steelers’ charter.
The time Larry Brown made the mighty Mark Gastineau cry.
Terry Bradshaw‘s first huddle of his final Steelers game. Tunch’s first experience with the Chief. Dan Rooney‘s role as a dealmaker and peacemaker in first, second and third previous labor situations.
Stories and laughs and good food rolled on.
These guys could be a book unto themselves.
Here’s one full tale: Tunch was the player rep and Wolf the assistant player rep — naturally — for the 1987 strike where, as the player rep admitted, “we got our butts kicked.” They were invited to an Allegheny Labor Council meeting around what Wolf called “the biggest boardroom table I’ve ever seen in my life.” They didn’t expect much support from the blue-collars. They got none.
Around the table, one union leader after another spoke about an NFL players’ strike in one of America’s most union-savvy cities. One by one, they started to forcefully proclaim: Sorry, but we cannot support the players.
Wolf raised his voice, their attitude was so contrary to the cause of players — who, in addition to free agency, were looking for better pensions and medical coverage like any of the unions of the folks gathered around that table. Tunch rebuked Wolf in front of the group, advised him to settle down and close up.
Next union official offered something anti-player that rubbed Tunch the wrong way, and next thing he knew his voice and hackles were raised. Wolf yelled at him. The two teammates and friends began to argue.
“It was a mess,” Wolf admitted.
They came out all right.
Next “The Steelers Encyclopedia blog Friday, June 15