Following my sophomore year at SUNY Oswego, I got an opportunity to intern with the New England Patriots as their Media Relations intern. Keep in mind, I grew up a diehard Miami Dolphins fan and despised the Patriots. But as a Broadcasting major at Oswego, I saw this as a chance to develop media contacts on a large scale, plus it would allow me to see how a major sports team interacts with the media.
Upon arriving in Foxboro, MA, I was quickly dispatched to Smithfield, RI and tiny Bryant College where the Patriots held their training camp. I performed a wide range of duties, many of them mundane. It was not out of the question, on occasion, for me to even re-stock the fruit bowls in the coaches offices. I also gathered quotes for press releases, helped pass out credentials, would track down players if members of the national or local media requested interviews with them, etc.
One duty, however, I was not prepared for. The General Manager of the team was Dick Steinberg, a well respected personnel guru who was a straight shooter. During my first week there, Steinberg informed me "you will be the Turk--you will tell the players they have been cut." My heart rose up to my throat upon hearing this news. I was a 19 year old college kid and I would now be charged with telling these football giants that their dream was over? I did what I was told.
About once a week, I was instructed to swing by the GM's office at midnight. Players were already asleep observing their 11pm curfew. The GM would meet with the coaching staff, decided which casualties there would be, then I would be given the list at midnight. Keep in mind, I would walk back to the dorms with this list, the same dorms where the players lived. It was my job to wake the guys up at 6:00am, those players who were no longer wanted. My message was simple and cold: "bring your keys and playbook to Dick Steinberg's office." I had a master key to all of the rooms and had to do this several times each morning that cuts were made.
And the fun didn't stop there. After the players had their five minute "exit interview", it was my job to then bring them to TF Green airport in Providence and get them on their way. No NFL team wants cut players to mill around. I would tell them at 6:00am and they would be off the grounds by 7:00am. No visit to the lockerroom, no allowing them to steal a practice shirt or helmet as a momento, nothing like that.
I become numb to this after a while. My stomach would churn for a bit each morning I had to do this but, believe it or not, you kind of get used to it. One morning I actually knocked on the wrong guys door. Poor WR Cedric Jones. He would have the distinction of catching Doug Flutie's first NFL td pass. I accidentally told him he was cut when he answered: "dude, I think you have the wrong guy." Cedric now works for the NFL offices in New York and always razzes me about that mis-step.
The hardest was a guy I became friends with. A LB from a small town school who made it to the final week. Of all the newcomers and rookies, he was the nicest to me. His NFL dream was about to end. I knocked on his door with a great sense of sadness (I was almost in tears). He opened the door and already knew. He just had a feeling. In fact, his bags were already packed. 45 minutes later I brought him to the airport, only this time, instead of dropping him off and heading back to camp, I walked in to the ticket counter. As we said our goodbye's, he gave me a hug and wished me luck in my career. As I turned to leave he said "hold on, check this out." He opened a big duffle bag and there was his New England Patriots helmet. He lifted it from the locker room the day before. "I'm not gonna let them keep this from me." I gave him a high five and we both were thrilled. He now is regional President of a bank.
I was the last intern to ever "turk" for the Patriots and maybe the only college intern in NFL history to do so. The next summer they had one of the trainers do it. It was a memorable summer, met great people and had wondrous experiences. This much I learned. Not everyone in the NFL is rich. Dreams are fleeting--and can be shattered by a 19 year old college kid with those famous fateful words "bring your keys and playbook....."