Inside Conditions: The King is alive. Long live the King, Bill Hillgrove

On April 8, 2023, I wrote an article profiling the great Pittsburgh sportscaster Bill Hillgrove. The following excerpt is from that article. “There may be others, but Bill Hillgrove has been the voice of three sports institutions. The Pittsburgh Steelers and both the University of Pittsburgh men’s football and basketball programs for many years. He is unlike many folks who may have a limited impact on whatever life’s work they choose; this legendary radio and television broadcaster is and has always been far from being a ‘one-trick pony.’”

I also wrote: “Bill Hillgrove is a rare triple-threat broadcaster who oftentimes uses his unique voice to describe the game for listeners as if it were an intimate operatic performance held in the privacy of their living rooms with his richly-layered and multi-timbered voice serving him as if he were a conductor wielding a baton. During his 55 years as a radio and television broadcaster, he has been the “voice of consistency,” a voice that has consoled Pittsburghers when they lost, celebrated with them when they won, never abandoning them and choosing to ride the roller coaster of athletic incompetency and poor performances along with them through times both good and bad.”

There was no indication from him that less than a year after that article was written, Hillgrove would step out of the Pittsburgh Steelers broadcasting booth for good. However, on Feb. 29, the weight of that triple crown was considerably lightened when Hillgrove gave up his duty as the voice of the Pittsburgh Steelers. One of the questions that was not asked in the 2023 interview was: what was the most memorable game or games that he called? Recently, Hillgrove talked about those memories. “Well, there are two games,” he says. “There’s one for Pitt and one for the Steelers. The game for Pitt would be Tony Dorsett, breaking Archie Griffin’s rushing record in 1976. And he couldn’t have chosen a better venue than the Navy-Marin Corps Stadium. It was an emotional moment because they only fire that Navy cannon for the Mids (midshipmen) but suddenly when he hit the end zone, they fired the cannon in tribute. And I started to get emotional and then his parents came out of the stands and walked around the field and as they passed every section, including where the Mids were, they all doffed their caps. It was emotional and I lost it, I couldn’t talk. And I looked at Johnny Sauer, the color analyst and he was in the same place.  He had tears streaming down his cheeks. You realize you’re seeing a once-in-a-lifetime athlete.”

As for the Steelers, it’s easy, Super Bowl 43. Larry Fitzgerald scores, runs by Troy, and gets into the end zone, with two minutes and change remaining. The Steelers get the ball and they have a holding call right away, so they’re in a hole. But at that moment, I think Ben Roethlisberger showed that he is Hall of Fame material because every pass on that series was on a Steeler player’s hands, including the one in the left side of the end zone, which San Antonio Holmes probably should have caught, but then went right back to him on the right side of the end zone. And to me, that was as good as it gets.”

Hillgrove also talked about the difficulty and dynamics in terms of the travel accommodations needed for him to be the voice of both teams.

“Yeah, as far as travel is concerned, it’s become increasingly difficult not just with TSA, but also what’s happened with commercial airlines.  Commercial air transportation is not nearly as dependable as it used to be. There used to be eight flights a day from Pittsburgh to Baltimore. Now there may be two. You just don’t have the options, especially on weekends. So last year, because the Steelers made West Coast trips and the trip to Las Vegas, and Houston, I was on the Steelers charter. I wasn’t taking any chances trying to get from point A to point B, so I think I missed four Pitt games last year. But I always said early in the process that Mister Rooney, who passed in 1988. And my dad, who passed the same year, they were up there looking over the travel schedule making sure I got from point A to point B.”

As far as Bill Hillgrove Jr. taking the same career path as his father, Bill Hillgrove Sr. says that might not happen. “No, no, he he’s a spotter,” Hillgrove says. “Now his son, Jack is an on-air type and he’s been in the booth since he was 8 years old. He knows the dynamics of that. And he’s now the weekend sports anchor of Channel 9 Steubenville. He told me when he was 14, he goes Pap, I wanna do what you do, he’s going be great.”

The late great John Clayton once said, “Listening to Bill Hillgrove call a game could almost convince anyone to become a Steelers fan.” Bill Hillgrove takes all compliments with humility and grace saying: “I am blessed to be doing games for teams I grew up rooting for.  I never had to leave, knock on wood. And the passion is genuine. It’s natural and you can always tell that I’m a Pittsburgh guy.”

Bill Hillgrove also addressed difficult issues in football such as free agency. “There was a time when you were a Pittsburgh Steeler for life. That completely changed with free agency, but I will say this about the Rooney family and the way they’ve handled free agency. They’ve handled it as well as anybody, but I think I can count on one hand the mistakes that they have made in the process. One would be letting Chad Brown get away to Seattle. They didn’t know that Greg Lloyd was going to get hurt. And I think the other would be Rod Woodson. He was going to move inside to safety and he wanted outside money. He still had a lot of gas left in the tank and I think the Steelers letting him go was also a mistake. But other than that, they haven’t made too many.”

Make no mistake about it, ladies, and gents. Don’t expect Bill Hillgrove to ride off into the sunset of a nursing home because he will continue to call Pitt football and men’s basketball games and based on his past, he may be leaving all of us behind as he rides into the sunrise of the rest of his career and his life.

About Post Author


From the Web

Skip to content