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Bill Hillgrove, Steelers play-by-play announcer, retiring after 3 decades

Bill Hillgrove, Steelers play-by-play announcer, retiring after 3 decades

Bill Hillgrove got a call from his boss at WTAE-TV, Tony Quatrini, in the summer of 1994 to give him some good news and some bad news.

The good news was that Hillgrove was the new play-by-play announcer for the Pittsburgh Steelers, taking over for the retiring Jack Fleming. The bad news was that he was going to take a significant pay cut.

Television personalities were making significantly more money than radio guys at that point.

“That was OK because I always wanted to be a full-time play-by-play guy in the NFL,” Hillgrove once said.

Even Hillgrove couldn’t imagine he would be doing it for 30 years, on top of calling University of Pittsburgh basketball games for 55 years and football games for 50 years.

Hillgrove’s fall schedule just opened up a little. He announced Thursday on Steelers flagship station WDVE-FM that he’s retiring as the Steelers’ play-by-play announcer, three decades after being handpicked for the job by late owner Dan Rooney. Hillgrove, 83, will continue to call Pitt basketball and football games.

“It’s time for me to move on to another chapter of my life,” Hillgrove said on WDVE.

Hillgrove was the last play-by-play announcer for both an NFL team and a major college football team in the same city. He was the only one who did basketball, too. Joe Starkey called both the San Francisco 49ers and the California Bears up until his retirement two years ago.

Hillgrove called four Super Bowls in his tenure with the Steelers, including championship-winning performances against the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL and against the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII. The Steelers have had just three losing seasons in his tenure and made the playoffs 21 times in his 30 seasons, including nine AFC Championship Game appearances.

Despite some significant travel conflicts, Hillgrove missed only a handful of Steelers games over his career. Back surgery in 2019 forced him to miss two games late that season. They were the first he’d missed in 26 years.

It wasn’t unusual for Hillgrove to cover a Pitt basketball game, a Pitt football game and a Steelers game in the same week. His schedule has lightened on the Pitt side in recent years, but not by much.

So many memories. So many great calls.

Here’s to an immaculate 25th season in the booth, Bill. pic.twitter.com/nWf7HeRla0

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) September 9, 2018

Hillgrove grew up in the nearby Garfield section of Pittsburgh before graduating from Central Catholic and Duquesne University.

He was hired as the road commentator of Pitt basketball in 1969 and took over full-time the next year. He added the football job to his bio in 1974 and has remained at both positions since. He was also the sports director for WTAE 4 for more than a decade.

Hillgrove won the Chris Schenkel Award (for excellence in college football broadcasting) and the Woody Durham Voice of College Sports Award. He also received the prestigious Dapper Dan Lifetime Achievement Award, a longtime Pittsburgh honor given to some of the best sports figures in the city including Mike Tomlin, Sidney Crosby, Mario Lemieux, Dan Marino, Chuck Noll, Roberto Clemente, Suzie McConnell and Swin Cash.

Story time with Bill There is absolutely nobody you will ever meet who is a better storyteller than Bill Hillgrove. Maybe it had to do with his 50-plus years of telling the story of the Steelers and Panthers, but he perfected it. And I loved it.

If you know anything about covering the NFL, you get to the stadium sometimes three hours before kickoff, mostly to beat the traffic. After the obligatory pregame meal, I made my way over to Hillgrove many times in the dining area to chat, knowing darn well he would have a colorful story to tell. He would never disappoint. Whether it was some sort of wild travel schedule he endured — like the time he got a police escort from Chestnut Hill to the Logan International Airport in Boston just in time to make the cross-country trip to Seattle — to old tales about the late, great Myron Cope, it would always get a little more than a chuckle out of me.

Too bad I can’t go into detail about my favorite Cope story that Hillgrove likes to tell, but I can assure you this: When the voice of the Steelers would get on a roll with his stories, you’d just let him go.

Best Steelers call There have been many memorable calls over the 30 years of Hillgrove’s Steelers career, but the one that stands out to me was the interception call of Troy Polamalu during the 2008 AFC Championship Game against the Ravens and Joe Flacco. Hillgrove’s patented “INTERCEPTED!” call reeled you in, and the “Troy Polamalu at the 40, 35, 30 … he’s in, for the Pittsburgh Steelers touchdown” took it home and sent the Steelers on their way to their sixth Lombardi Trophy.

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(Photo: Charles LeClaire / USA Today)

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