Joe Douglas was once a Hard Knocks star
With its original programming still in its fledgling stages at the turn of the century, HBO nonetheless managed to create some intimidating, memorable characters, including Tony Soprano, Avon Barksdale, and … Joe Douglas?
On Tuesday night, the premium cable network debuted the 16th season of “Hard Knocks,” a docuseries that takes viewers behind the scenes of an NFL training camp. This summer’s edition will focus on the Dallas Cowboys, who will make their record third appearance on the show.
“Hard Knocks” originated at Baltimore Ravens camp in the summer of 2001, showcasing their preparation for a Super Bowl defense. At that time, Douglas, now the New York Jets‘ general manager, was working through his second season in Baltimore’s scouting department. His official title was “player personnel assistant”, but to the players and the audience, he bore a far more foreboding moniker: The Turk.
Good thing here for young people to watch — "The Turk" from the 2001 Ravens, shown during Hard Knocks, was just introduced as GM of the New York Jets.
Having to take all the steps up the ladder isn't a bad thing. pic.twitter.com/FAFHeriWKP
— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) June 11, 2019
“The Turk” is a nickname synonymous with NFL training camp. It is bestowed to a team employee who will inform camp participants that the head coach would like to see them and that the chosen player must bring his playbook. The process is seen as the precursor to the player’s cutting from the team, the potential end to his NFL dream.
Douglas fulfilled that role during Ravens camp at Western Maryland College in 2001. He first appears in the series’ second episode, as he tracks down doomed quarterback Ortege Jenkins. The term is said to have originated at the Los Angeles Rams’ camp, where head coach Clark Shaughnessy would dismiss cut players in the dead of night, leading linebacker Don Paul to declare “The Turk strikes at night”.
“To me, when I think of The Turk, I think of the Grim Reaper,” Douglas says in a confessional interview. “You’re doing the dirty work of having to grab somebody and taking them to get cut. It’s never an easy job. You got the players, they know you’re The Turk. They have a different feel around you. But they know it’s a business. This is not a good part of the business, but it’s a business nonetheless.”
Douglas continued, “Most of the time, they know what’s going on. It’s tough.”
As Douglas speaks, he is shown approaching the hotel room of Jenkins, an undrafted quarterback competing for a backup role. Making the situation all the grimmer is that Douglas wakes Jenkins from a nap before taking him down to see head coach Brian Billick.
“That makes it equally tough, having to wake somebody up just to tell him that he’s going to get cut,” Douglas says. “You got to make sure to tell him to bring the playbook for the coaches and then walk him down to (Billick). He was real somber about it, didn’t say much.”
Jenkins had been competing for a roster spot as a backup quarterback while Ravens searched for the successor to Trent Dilfer, narrowed down to a competition between veterans Elvis Grbac and Randall Cunningham. His release was the first depicted on “Hard Knocks” and has remained a staple ever since.
Over the last two episodes, Douglas takes on an almost terrifying prescience. The penultimate showing depicts the aftermath of a poor preseason outing against the Carolina Panthers, one that leads into the then-landmark cutdown to 65 players.
Douglas is seen patrolling the hotel’s hallways as players anxiously dread his knock shortly after a meeting with coaches and general manager Ozzie Newsome (future Jets coach Rex Ryan is also in attendance as Baltimore’s defensive line coach). Music reminiscent of a slasher film plays in the background.
The season finale documents the Ravens’ final cuts as August becomes September. As Douglas tracks down his final targets, there’s a brief moment of levity when future Hall-of-Fame blocker Jonathan Ogden asks Douglas if he’s looking for him. The two share a laugh before Douglas tells Ogden he’s safe.
Alas, others aren’t so lucky. Douglas is seen sending several others to Billick’s sympathetic chopping block, including Kenny Jackson, a linebacker attempting to make the team after two years away from football. Notably spared is seventh-round pick Dwayne Missouri, a defensive lineman whose NFL adjustment and battle to make the opening day roster was a major subplot of the first season.
Ironically, Douglas now welcomes players to the Jets in his role as general manager, assuming the role in 2019.
Baltimore would win 10 games during the 2001 season, but a return trip to the Super Bowl was erased through a loss to Pittsburgh in the AFC Divisional round.
Other notable names on the Ravens’ staff included Marvin Lewis, Jack Del Rio, and Donnie Henderson (three years before he became the Jets’ offensive coordinator).
Earlier in the season, the Jets appeared as Baltimore’s first preseason opponent (following a canceled contest in Philadelphia), taking a 16-3 decision at Giants Stadium. Series protagonist and undrafted rookie defender Reggie Waddell is victimized by a Jerald Sowell block on a LaMont Jordan touchdown but also recovers a Chad Pennington fumble en route to making the team alongside Missouri.
Hard Knocks will air new episodes on Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET on HBO.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags