In his 40th season covering the Miami Dolphins, Andy Cohen celebrates the 100th anniversary of the NFL by looking back at some of most memorable moments, players and performances in Dolphins’ history.
It is the most dreaded day for every player walking the tightrope of employment in the NFL.
“Coach wants to see you, bring your playbook.”
Those were the words I remember from so many summers ago. Today, those words have been upgraded to “bring your tablet.”
Either way, they meant the same thing. Your days here are over. Your dream must be put on hold. You didn’t do enough to prove you belonged.
It’s different today in many ways. There are more players in camp, more players on the roster and now there is just one major cut down date: this coming Saturday.
Somber Saturday I call it. With one swift incision, roughly 90 players become 53.
Back in the 1980s and actually up until a few years ago, the cuts came in several doses, each one more difficult than the one before. Players weren’t first notified by phone calls or texts as they usually are today. In those days, The Turk came to visit. He was the NFL’s version of the Grim Reaper. Under Don Shula, it was running backs coach Carl Taseff, a small man in size but a giant of a man on those cut down days.
Taseff had an interesting sense of humor. He would fake knocking on a dormitory door just to terrify the inhabitants. Then he would proceed to the real door, knocking hard and shouting loud and clear: “Coach wants to see you.”
As a beat reporter back then for the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, I took great pride in finding out some of the cuts before they were announced. Truth now be known, I had a pretty good source on the team.
Most of you know Kim Bokamper from his work on local television and radio as well as the Dolphins radio broadcasts. But I knew him back then as an excellent football player – an original Killer B – who was kind enough for several years to whisper in my direction the names of the cuts. To this day I’m not sure why he gave me these yearly scoops, but suffice it to say they were much appreciated.
Well, it was the summer of 1986 and the last cuts were going to be announced the following morning. As usual, I called Kim at home on his day off.
“Who’s the big cut tomorrow,” I asked.
There was an eerie silence.
Finally, a response.
“Me,” Bokamper said.
I was shocked. But Bokamper tells me today he had seen it coming. Injuries played a big factor. He just couldn’t play the way he once could.
So the 60-point headline in the next morning’s Sun-Sentinel simply said: “Bokamper to get released today.” (I couldn’t break it on social media because back then social media meant two writers going out for a cold one.)
I had mixed emotions. It was great that I had scooped the competition, but I also felt badly for Bokamper that his career had to end. The fact that I also lost a pretty good source was secondary.
Today cut down day is very different. We get the news in an e-mailed press release or maybe with a tweet from an agent. It’s usually at a time when the players are nowhere near the training facility. Years ago the writers were allowed to stand in the parking lot at the training facility at Biscayne College, waiting to interview the players as they loaded their cars with whatever equipment they were given.
We got some great quotes in that parking lot. Some anger. Some bitterness. Some heartfelt goodbyes. Yes, even some tears.
It was the human side of football, perhaps more than any other time of the year.
I remember one free agent receiver in particular who took it especially hard, sitting in the walkway near the team dormitory sobbing uncontrollably, his teammates coming by to offer condolences, one in particular was fellow receiver Mark Duper.
“Hey man, you gave it your all,” Duper said. “Don’t let your dream die today. Keep working, you never know when you’ll get another break.”
Those words meant so much to the young receiver. A few minutes later, Duper told me, “I never want to know how he feels.”
Duper never did, one of the lucky ones who played 11 seasons.
But of all the stories I can think of surrounding the hundreds of players I saw lose their jobs over the years, the one I will always remember most was the day Bokamper whispered into the phone: “Me.”
Like so many of these players on cut down day, I never saw it coming.