(This blog was posted on Aug. 31, 2012. It is being reprinted with permission of the author, which was easy to obtain. Teams must cut their rosters to 53 players by 6 p.m. Saturday.)
By Tim Graham
Through the morning fog, on a fire-breathing black steed
rides an unflinching specter. His deadly blade is drawn and ready to sever poor
souls in his path.
The Turk cometh.
"The name carries some connotations that sound more
like somebody with a scimitar," former New England Patriots head coach Rod
Rust once told me, "going around, cutting people's heads off."
The Turk is a haunting, mythical figure. He's a shapeshifter,
taking on different identities in various regions -- but always the harbinger
"The Turk has been many people and a much-storied
individual, that's for sure," added former New York Jets coach Al Groh.
"He's somebody that you don't want to know."
And he probably has peach fuzz, runs a lot of office errands and
bought his first legal beer a year or two ago.
The Turk is a menacing character in NFL lore. He's the one
who approaches players at the team facility and says "Coach wants to see
you. Bring your playbook." At that moment, the player knows he has been
Essentially, as Rust analogized, a head has been lopped off.
In reality, The Turk usually is fresh out of college and
trying to climb the NFL ladder. He's an intern, an entry-level coach or a
The Turk never has more power throughout the year than he
does today. He's in his most fearsome glory for the NFL deadline to reduce rosters
to 53 players arrives at 9 tonight.
"Eighty percent of the guys know, but it's never easy,"
said a one-time Turk, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the interview
wasn't authorized by his team.
"It's a coldhearted business. It's a necessity in all
The Turk traditionally is an entry-level employee not only
because it's a job nobody wants, but also because it lessens the chance for
confrontation when the sickle swings.
"It's pretty impersonal," Rust said, "but the
person's not at any emotional risk because he clearly is not the one who made
the decision. There's a psychology there, obviously."
John Rauch Jr. was only 16 years old when his father anointed
him The Turk for Oakland Raiders camp in 1966. Rauch Jr. carried out the duties
for five years, including 1969 and 1970, when his dad was Buffalo Bills head
"My father would give me the list of names the night
before," Rauch Jr. said by phone from Maryland. "I would have to knock on the
doors every morning and need a positive response from each room that they were
awake so they wouldn't be late for meetings.
"When I did those rounds, I would inform those on the
cut list that 'Coach wants to see you before the morning meeting, and bring
your playbook.' "
Said the anonymous former Turk, whose experience was fairly
"It sucks being the young guy. You get a lot of the crap work,
especially with the younger players. You pick them up at the airport when they
first get to town. You shuttle them everywhere. They depend on you. They vent
to you. You develop relationships with them. You get closer to them than other
Rauch Jr. had a similar experience. He often had to break
the harsh news to players he had considered buddies.
Rauch Jr. was a ball boy at his father's camps. By the time Rauch
Sr. took over the Bills and reported to Niagara University,
Rauch Jr. was in college, of drinking age and owned a car.
Players would pile into the car and head to town. They would
eat steamed clams and pound Genesee Cream Ales at a Lewiston tavern known as the Bucket of Blood.
Fitting for The Turk, no?
"Some of them I really liked and they had become
friends of mine," said Rauch Jr., who played receiver at East Tennessee
State. "Others, I
didn't care for and it didn't bother me. There were some who were bad guys, and
I relished telling them. But I hated telling the ones that I liked."
Rauch Jr. said he "got a charge" out of informing
kicker Stefan Schroder, a 13th-round draft choice in 1970, to turn in his
"He was a real jerk," Rauch Jr. said. "He was
a very cocky guy for being a kicker, and he didn't take it well at all. He
threw a fit and cursed and told me to get out of his room. I just laughed at
him and walked out."
The toughest cut for Rauch Jr. was star AFL receiver Lionel
Taylor, the first to catch 100 passes in a season (and when there were 14
games). Taylor was trying to hang on with Oakland in 1967, but was in a battle
with a young Fred Biletnikoff and Glenn Bass, who'd come to the Raiders along
with quarterback Daryle Lamonica in a trade with the Bills.
"Biletnikoff was coming off a knee operation, Bass had
broken his leg the year before, and Taylor
was in his mid-30s at the time," Rauch Jr. said. "I was always a big
fan of Taylor's,
and when I had to tell him, I think that was the one that affected me the most.
I always thought he was so great."
Rauch Jr. was on the other end years later. He was visited
by The Turk when his tryout with the Chicago Winds of the World Football League
fizzled. He opted for a career in the Navy and, at 61, works at Naval Air Systems Command in Patunxent River, Md.
The Turk who spoke anonymously for this story declined to
share any specific stories for the record because he didn't want to reveal his
But he did pull back the curtain on how The Turk operates --
and it's not nearly as heartless as the players dread.
"You're there to do a job, and they know that,"
the anonymous Turk said. "It's just those couple days before and those couple
days after. You don't make eye contact. You walk with your head down. You're
not as jovial. You know it's getting to be that time.
"Then on the day of the cutdowns, you get in there
bright and early. The coach gives you the list of who to look for way before
any of them come in. When they come in you start grabbing them, one by one. 'Hey,
man. Sorry. Coach wants to see you and bring your playbook.' Then the air comes
out of them."
The process of getting cut is more than getting a good-bye pep
talk from the coach and turning in playbooks and iPads.
Players have to fill out human-resource forms, get an exit
physical, turn in a forwarding address for their locker contents, documents or any
pay checks that are due.
"That's the last thing they want to do, fill out all
that paperwork after their dreams were just shattered," the unnamed Turk
said. "Then the absolute worst part is driving them to the airport
afterward. What do you say to them? His career just ended."
The anonymous Turk claimed the job is an art. The Turk can't
be emotional, but must always be mindful of the player's circumstance.
So I asked the unidentified source to give his list of dos and
don't of quality Turking.
What Good Turks Do
• Deliver the boilerplate coach-playbook-iPad line and nothing else: "Say the
bare minimum because their whole world is about to be turned upside down."
• Work quickly: "Make it as painless and business-like
• Let the player dictate conversation: "Feel free to
let them vent."
• Listen without speaking: "The more you talk, the more
awkward it gets."
What Good Turks Don't Do
• Fail to collect the playbook: "Make sure. Sometimes
the player's playbook is back in the hotel. You think 'OK, I'll get it.' Well,
you've got to remember to go get it."
• Miss anybody: "Sometimes the guys come into the
facility all at once and a couple guys can slip through the cracks."
• Joke around: "For obvious reasons."
• Agree or disagree with what the player says about his
opportunity: "Don't speak for the team."
(Bills Photo: James P. McCoy/Buffalo News; Grim Reaper photo: Getty Images)