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Lexington Herald-Leader: 'The Turk' chills the hearts of NFL players


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THIS MAN WILL CUT YOU

'The Turk' chills the hearts of NFL players

http://www.kentucky.com/mld/heraldleader/sports/6604910.htm

GEORGETOWN - former UK tight end who was waived by the Bengals on Monday

In the darkness just before dawn, a grim reaper stirs.

Armed with a small flashlight, a large satchel, a master key and a list of the damned, he makes his appointed rounds.

It is the hour when football dreams die.

Around the NFL, training camps are filled with men strong enough to lift SUVs and bold enough to try.

Yet every one of them fears The Turk.

If only you had been a fly on the wall in the Cincinnati Bengals' training camp Monday morning in the still hours between 5 and 6 a.m., this is the sight you would have seen.

Six men soon to look into the eyes of The Turk.

A sliver of the flashlight cutting through the darkness as he moves inside the player dormitory at Georgetown College.

Then, the sound of a key turning the lock to an apartment. Followed by a presence entering a sleeping player's bedroom.

Next, an immediate cascade of brightness filling that room as the reaper announces his arrival by switching on the lights.

And, at last, the damned will hear the voice of The Turk:

"The Bengals are putting you on waivers. That means you did not make the team."

In a businesslike but firm tone, The Turk's litany will run through the NFL waiver procedure. Travel arrangements for how the player gets home. How the Bengals will pay any money still owed (yep, the check will be in the mail).

Then The Turk will say the words every pro football player most dreads:

"I need your playbook." (Which will go into the satchel he carries.)

Finally, the would-be-Bengals-turned-won't-be-Bengals get their marching orders:

"Coach Lewis wants to see you before you go. Stop by his room before you leave."

In the harsh world of the NFL, you go to bed a pro football player. Face The Turk, and you are just another unemployed civilian Joe.

"It was like 5:30 in the morning," says one of Monday's waived, former Kentucky tight end Derek Smith.

"He came in my door, he pretty much scared the living crap out of me. I mean, there was somebody in my room.

"He flipped the lights on and, before you know it, you're packing. And you're still half-asleep."

Go to all 32 NFL camps, you will find The Turk.

The origins are murky for the name given to the figure responsible for telling pro football players they have been cut.

An archivist at the Pro Football Hall of Fame says there is no definite answer.

Tank Younger, a Rams running back in the 1950s, told Pro Football Weekly in 1987 that a former teammate, Don Paul, originated the term because a coach had a penchant for cutting players at night.

In response, Younger claimed, it was Paul who first said, "The Turk strikes at night."

In the Cincinnati camp, The Turk generally appears in the darkness of pre-dawn.

In the daylight hours, he assumes the form of Jim Lippincott.

The Bengals' director of football operations, a former high school football coach, a husband of 31 years, a father of two, a doting grandfather of one, Lippincott, 54, has been the Bengals' dream terminator for the last 11 years.

He learned the folkways of The Turk at the feet of the previous wearer of the mantle, a former Bengals scout named Frank Smouse.

"The key is not saying much, not conning these guys," Lippincott says. "As we deliver the news they're not gonna be on the team anymore, we're shattering dreams. That's a delicate moment.

"So he taught me to be brief, be exact, tell them how the process will work, what they can expect and be done with it. There's nothing you can say to make the moment any better."

Over the years, the only thing that's really changed for The Turk came this year. That is when new Bengals Coach Marvin Lewis insisted that he wanted to see all waived players personally before they left camp. In the past, Cincinnati coaches tended to view that final meeting as optional.

Says Lewis: "These guys have committed to me. The least I can do is look them in the eye."

Of all the players he's notified of their Bengals demise over the years, only one got confrontational, Lippincott says. That player -- whom he will not name -- felt like he hadn't been given a fair opportunity.

On two occasions, including once this year, Lippincott says players broke down in tears upon being told they were gone.

But in most instances, the reaction is generally, "Thanks for the opportunity," Lippincott says. "Plus, the players know that there's always a chance they could be brought back. Nobody wants to burn any bridges."

There is a human price to being The Turk. Lippincott has lost count of how many times he's entered a players' meeting room, only to hear the conversation come to a dead stop.

Once, he remembers observing the Cincinnati offensive linemen cutting up. He walked up to join the fun. "And, boom. Everything stopped," he says.

Later, a veteran player told Lippincott, "It's not personal. You know we like you. But this time of year, you just make people uncomfortable."

See, for a pro football player, one truth is eternal:

Where The Turk lurks, no good follows.

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