Honor the Heroes of the Game, Preserve Its History, Promote its Values & Celebrate Excellence Everywhere
Jon Kendle is Director of Archives and Football Information at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His biweekly columns tell unique and interesting stories starting from the league’s founding in downtown Canton in 1920 to the present day.
The 2017 National Football League season kicks off Thursday when the Dallas Cowboys host the Arizona Cardinals in the annual Hall of Fame Game at the spectacular new Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium. Preseason games afford a great opportunity for players to showcase their talents and, for many, to hopefully earn a roster spot. Each training camp ends with the tough task of 32 NFL clubs needing to perform the final cuts and trim to the required 53-man roster for the regular season.
Unfortunately, this means many NFL hopefuls will be released from their current teams. Some players will be placed on the team’s practice squad, while others will find a home with another club.
It’s a very difficult process for a lot of usually tough-minded and resilient men. For many it’s the first time in their football careers they will feel the failure of being cut from a team. Every situation is different and emotions vary from player to player. One thing remaining the same, year after year, is when cut down day comes, rookies and veterans alike hope to steer clear of “The Turk.”
Most rookies come into their first NFL training camp and have no idea who “The Turk” is or what he does. But by the end of the summer, all players quickly learned who he is and to avoid him at all costs.
“The Turk” is the NFL’s version of the “Grim Reaper.” He is the individual assigned by the team to track down players and explain to them they are being released. “Coach wants to see you, and make sure you bring your playbook” are the famous last words no player wants to hear come from “The Turk.”
In years past, he was known as “Squeaky Shoes.” Players said they could hear his shoes squeaking down the halls of the dormitories during training camp as he made his way from room to room cutting players who didn’t make the final roster. It wasn’t until the 1950s, in Los Angeles, the name “Turk” became synonymous with the man given the distasteful duty of releasing players.
Don Paul, a former linebacker with the Los Angeles Rams from 1948-1955, reportedly came up with the name. His coach, Clark Shaughnessy, had a specific method of releasing players. He would send someone in the organization to wake the player in the middle of the night.
That way the individual would be less apt to get angry since he still would be trying to wake up. The player would be told to grab all his stuff because the coach wanted to see him.
The player would then have an exit interview with the coach, turn in his playbook and be gone by breakfast. Shaughnessy’s method made everyone uncomfortable, which one can only assume was part of the reason he used this method. From rookies to seasoned veterans, nobody felt safe. There was no time to say goodbye, simply out of sight and out of mind. Don began proclaiming “The Turk strikes at night.” The story began floating around the league. Soon everyone was on alert to beware of “The Turk” who lurks in the halls of the teams’ facilities waiting to utter those dreaded words, “Coach wants to see you ... and bring your playbook.”
For obvious reasons, it’s a hard thing for NFL teams to do. Nobody likes the process and clubs are very aware to try and make the task as professional and personal as they can. But it’s a necessary part of any NFL season. Unfortunately, all the players in camp are competing for just 53 spots and something must give. So, whether it’s a late-night knock at the door, an early morning greeting on the way to the locker room after breakfast or being pulled from the weight room, the time eventually comes for many around the NFL. It’s a numbers game that is just part of the competition that makes football so great.
It’s that competitive nature that helps instill values such as commitment, perseverance and courage which makes everyone that much better. So, when someone says, “preseason games are meaningless,” it’s important to understand training camps and preseason games provide NFL players a time for not only professional but personal growth as well. And whenever “The Turk” comes calling, the game may be left behind for an individual, but values football teaches will have prepared these men for their own game for life.