Posted November 29, 2013

Thank you, Dr. Z. Yours truly, Everybody

Dr. Z, Uncategorized
(Heinz Kluetmeier/SI)

Sept., 1999: Paul Zimmerman and Peter King discuss their NFL expansion drafts. (Heinz Kluetmeier/SI)

Zimmerman’s mastery of football minutiae was staggering. During the game, he would keep a visual game chart, with different squiggles denoting pass, run, or punt, his tiny script indicating the ballcarrier or receiver. He’d also record: a defensive chart, in which he would highlight good plays by defenders (not necessarily just tackles); an offensive line chart, which would note successful blocks; a cumulative statistical summary, recording individual statistics for attempts, completions, carries, and fumbles for each team (the New York Times’ Jerry Eskenazi said, “I don’t believe Paul has ever believed a press release); a chart on punters, including elapsed hang-time, distance, and return yardage, coffin-corner efficiency, and, at the end of the game, the average hang-time for each punter. For fun, he would time the National Anthem.

“He is a sick f—,” said one editor at SI with a measure of affection. “But we need him.”

– Michael McCambridge, “The Franchise, A history of Sports Illustrated Magazine,” Hyperion Books, 1997

The reason Sports Illustrated needed Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman, and hired him away from the New York Post in 1979, is the same reason that sports fans today need Bill James, Football Outsiders, Prospectus Ventures, Pro Football Focus, “Moneyball,” NFL Films, and the ever-burgeoning cottage industry of tape mavens and advanced analytical scholars: Because somewhere, someone loves their favorite sport enough to take a closer look underneath the hood and desperately wants to know how things work beyond the popular and easy narrative.

And it’s safe to say that without Zimmerman, few of the people and organizations named above would have the same understanding of their own work — whether they know it or not. Because, whether you know it or not, Zimmerman has been as much of a pioneer and masterful influence on football analysis as Bill James was to the advancement and enhancement of baseball knowledge.

Zimmerman’s classic tome, “The Thinking Man’s Guide to Pro Football,” was first published in 1970 when there was no internet, no coach’s tape available to the general public, and very little in the way of national football analysis as you see it today. He based his expertise on his time as an offensive lineman for Stanford and Columbia University, and started his journalistic endeavors for various East Coast newspapers before landing at the Post in 1966. He put out a new version of the book in 1984, and nobody had come close to the book’s comprehensiveness in the ensuing decade-and-a-half.

But it was really with SI that Zimmerman’s influence grew, and fans of the game developed a knowledge of where to go for the expert’s take.

The last five years have seen an explosion in the technology allowing football fanatics to analyze the game. But Dr. Z has been an observer only. In Nov., 2008, he suffered a series of strokes that left him unable to read, write, or communicate for the most part. An unthinkable sentence for one so eloquent, one would think. But as he always was in his work. he faced this horrible challenge with defiance and dignity.

“Can you imagine being a writer who can’t read, write or speak?” his wife Linda said during a benefit banquet in May, 2009. “And not once has he been angry or shown any sign of defeat.”

Now, Paul and Linda Zimmerman spend their at their Mountain Lakes, N.J. home, and they deal with the aftereffects of the strokes every second of every day. Ken Rodgers of NFL Films recently visited the couple at their home and helped Dr. Z pen a touching letter to his readers. The letter and accompanying video show that no matter what external forces silence him, “Z” still has all kinds of things to say.

My wife says the best way to understand my current situation is to take a look at my library.  Like my brain, it’s filled to the rafters with information; some valuable, some worthless, but all of it a mystery to anyone but me.  In this room and others like it, I covered professional football for 55 years.  Friends tell me I’ll be remembered as the author of the definitive book on football.  Or as the writer who popularized weekly NFL picks.  Or one of the early crossovers into 24-hour sports television.  To me, none of that matters.  Right now, I’m just a guy whose library went dark on November 22, 2008.

That’s the day I suffered the first of three strokes.  I haven’t written a word in the five years since.  It’s called aphasia.  My brain still works perfectly.  I’m just unable to communicate my thoughts to others.  I can’t read.  I can’t write.  And the spoken word, once the playground of my soul, has become a tedious one-way street.

Three words comprise most of my vocabulary.  The first one is “Yeah,” and the second one is “No.” It’s taken me four years of speech therapy to get those bastards out. 

Most everything else comes out as the word “when” – though it sounds a bit like “one” when it comes flying out of my mouth like the Howitzers I saw in the army … In my head, those are all different words, assembled together in masterful, witty sentences.  But all that comes out is “when.”  Which may be fitting since much of my time these days is spent re-living “the when.”

– Paul Zimmerman and Ken Rodgers, “Yours Truly, Dr. Z,” NFL Films, 2013.

Dr. Z was much more than a historian, but re-living “the when” when it came to football was his specialty. Nobody has ever brought the game’s eras together with more expertise. He had played against Vince Lombardi’s power sweep long before the Packers of the 1960s, and he seemed to know how to tie every modern and supposedly trailblazing development to some relevant antecedent.

I’ve heard that people are fascinated by Pete Carroll’s new age coaching style.  But I remember 40 years ago when the Cowboys were charting their players’ emotional biorhythms. Are you impressed by Peyton Manning’s exploits at age 37?  You should be.  But don’t forget that fifty years ago, 37-year-old Y.A. Tittle set the NFL record for passing touchdowns.  A record that stood for 21 years till Marino broke it in ‘84. I guess that was my favorite thing about sportswriting:  putting every Sunday in historical context.  But like I said, the NFL is cyclical.  My audience has moved on.  I don’t blame them.  Because so have I.

The thing I most like about Bill James’ work is the thing I most liked about Dr. Z’s — he was able to present concepts that would have been lost in the hands of others. He could make the most advanced ideas acceptable without talking down to the reader, because he had a wonderful, original, and conversational style. And with that, he would take you into the immediacy of the action, just as he would lay open the secrets of the game for all to see. When he wrote a game story, it was different than anybody else’s game stories. Why? Because he went through the door with his own ideas, and he wasn’t going to change that for anyone.

At big games I covered before I got to SI, I used to see Zim interviewing someone alone … almost always alone. Jay Hilgenberg after a Bears playoff game; that’s one I recall. He always thought: Why do I want to get what the crowd gets? Why do I want what’s going to be in everyone’s story tomorrow? I want my own story. That’s such a valuable lesson. When I would cover a big game for the magazine, I’d turn my story in at dawn on a Monday, then open up every paper I could find to make sure all (or 95 percent) of the quotes and stories I used were mine and no one else’s. That’s the most valuable lesson he taught me. 

– Peter King, The MMQB.com

My favorite Dr. Z pieces were his boots-on-the-ground articles, when he had to encapsulate a game on the fly and could use his mammoth stock of football wisdom without a seeming second thought and integrate it perfectly into the conversation of the gameday narrative. Nobody has ever done it better.  His game story for the San Francisco 49ers’ 26-21 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XVI on Jan. 24, 1982 is the single best and most informative game piece I’ve ever read. I often think of it when I’m on a deadline in a press box, and I aspire to do one-tenth as much as well. While most writers try to beat you over the head with what you just saw, Z started his article with the plays the 49ers didn’t run in the game. And then, he proceeded to delve the anatomy of Bill Walsh’s brilliant game plan in ways that nobody else could. Then or now.

Because he knew when, and what, nobody else knew.

They had an end-around pass, Dwight Clark throwing to Freddie Solomon. They had different option passes for every healthy running back. They had a play in which Solomon throws a pass off a reverse and they had a pitch-and-later-al, Joe Montana to Ricky Patton to Earl Cooper. They had something called a Nickel Blizzard, which isn’t the big brother of Pennies From Heaven; it’s a safety blitz out of the nickel-back formation. What else? Oh yeah, they also had what they call a Short Yardage Triple Pass, which means sweep, reverse, pitch back and pass…no, wait a minute, they did use that, yes they did. They used it in the first half, in which they built a 20-0 lead on the way to their 26-21 triumph over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday in the Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich.

Why didn’t they use that other stuff? Well, they had enough, quite enough, more than enough. How many new toys can you fit in the attic? How many candy bars can a healthy child digest? How many newfangled things can you throw at a team without having the Competition Committee come up with another Parity Edict in the off-season…O.K., Walsh, the other guys get two weeks to prepare for Super Bowl XVII, but we’re giving you three days, see.

Brother, did 49er Coach Bill Walsh throw some stuff at the Bengals. The Triple Pass, in which Montana hands to Patton who hands to Solomon who pitches back to Montana who throws downfield to Tight End Charle Young, was designed for third-and-one. It made its entry on the Niners’ first third-and-one situation of the game—in the middle of their long (68 yards), exotic touchdown drive in the first quarter—picked up a neat 14 yards and then bowed out for the day amid polite applause.

He could get caught up in the minutiae, just as anyone else can. When the Post sent him to cover the 1965 NFL Championship game, he got so wrapped up in a conversation with Fuzzy Thurston and Jerry Kramer about Green Bay’s blocking prowess that he forgot to interview Bart Starr and Paul Hornung. He was so far ahead of his time, through — he knew (perhaps without knowing) that there would be an audience interested in the Packer Power Sweep as much as there were people who wanted Hornung’s quote and the box score.

Dr. Z is the most accomplished football writer of all time, and when I joined SI in 1994 as a 29-year-old covering the NFL, it was slightly intimidating. And I have to admit that, at first, he didn’t go out of his way to make me feel less intimidated. He had every reason to be annoyed by me, a young, loud, new-guard journalist who acted like I had it all figured out a lot more than I actually did. He messed with me a little, and I had to navigate my way through the situation.

Once I hung tough and started working with Zim, however, there was a relatively quick thawing–and I had the great pleasure of getting hands-on training, intended or otherwise, from a legend. I loved that he was so strong and secure in his opinions–and I loved even more that they were founded on unparalleled knowledge and intensive reporting. I would never approach him in the former area, though it was sure fun to soak up as much as I could in his presence.

And when it came to the latter, I was merely trying to report to his lofty standard– i.e. interviewing John Elway on the balcony of his room at the Broncos’ team hotel following Super Bowl XXXIII (after Zim had famously watched a replay of Super Bowl XXIII with Joe Montana in Montana’s room hours after the game). It turned out we had more in common that either of us had realized. Zim had done his share of late-night carousing with sources back in the day, and for all his superior football acumen, doggedness and toughness were at the foundation of his reporting excellence. I was simply trying to follow the path he’d blazed.

– Mike Silver, NFL.com currently, and Sports Illustrated from 1994 through 2006.

We have an obligation to do what he did as much as we possibly can. We have an obligation to dig deeper and write smarter and ask the questions we might not have asked the day before because we took that extra time to watch tape or research an aspect or talk a few extra minutes with a source. We have an obligation to make football writing a richer tapestry than it was yesterday. Because he did it, and he did it decades ago, and we may never catch up to him, but we have an obligation to try. We have an obligation to remember his name and his work and to forward the reasons for his influence. Because we would not be here without his work. We would be decades behind.

The DNA of Dr. Z’s columns is all over modern football journalism. When a blogger posts a Cleveland Browns play diagram, a website breaks down stats 30 ways from Sunday, when a hot stove article breaks down free agent rumors or coaching carousel news, they all assume (correctly) that there is a regional and national audience that craves analysis of that detail. Dr. Z. is one of the first people who made that assumption, then cultivated and educated the audience he attracted. He was the insatiable, writing to the other insatiables. — Mike Tanier, Sports on Earth

I wish I could have known and worked with Dr. Z. Learned from him. Carried his laptop case. Run errands. Whatever. Anything. He was the king of power rankings and mock drafts for SI when I was just finding my feet in the industry — one more little guy who was trying to gauge the size of his footsteps, much less walk in them. Through his work and the guidance of those who were inspired by him, I started to put it together — learned to ask the right questions once in a while, learned to watch tape and pick the right thing out one time in three, learned to see the game in a different way.

I was able to see the game in a different way, in large part, because Dr. Z had cleared the path.

When Tom Mantzouranis hired me to write for Sports Illustrated this last July, I thought about all the people who have written for the magazine and the website who have inspired me — Peter King, Mike Silver, Dan Jenkins, Gary Smith, and on and on — and I wasn’t freaked out until it hit me.

Oh, s—. I am going to write about football where Dr. Z had once written about football.

And for all the work I’d done to get to this point, and all the expertise I imagined I might have, the thought made me feel very  small. And very sad, because Dr. Z had written about football and he wasn’t going to any more.

It still does. Because Paul Zimmerman’s legacy as a Thinking Man who wrote about pro football is something that is hopefully passed from mind to mind, and heart to heart. When you read his work, you feel that the game is more accessible and elevated at the same time, and it’s that rare gift that makes him timeless.

I think of “Z” every time there’s a national anthem (which he used to time) or a punt (he used to clock the hang time) or a really good bottle of red wine being ordered on behalf of the company. It took a while, but he legitimately took me under his wing, and it was an honor to work with the man. He penned me handwritten letters and paid me compliments I probably didn’t deserve and made me feel like I belonged on his level–which, of course, was a lie. I didn’t. I still don’t. None of us do. – Mike Silver

In the last few years he wrote, Zim was haunted by the annual torturous spring ritual of the Mock Draft. To say he agonized over the thing would be a massive understatement. His mock would be due at the SI offices on Sunday morning for the draft that would be the following Saturday. (Usually; it has been a moving target.) I’d be working on my own mock for SI.com at the time, and that wouldn’t come out till a day or two before the draft. And I was working my sources. So I’d see his version, and we’d talk four or five times on that Sunday before his draft got set in stone and readied for print by Sunday night. And I’d tell him, “Hey, if I were you, I would make these changes … ” And it would really piss him off. Some he’d know, some I’d know.
But he couldn’t get over the fact–it enraged him–that a guy he’d known in the league for a long time wouldn’t be totally upfront with him about who they’d take. They’d smokescreen him. Hey, they’d smokescreen me, too. But often times there are others who know–friends in the league who might have had a beer at the Lexington Marriott one night with a Browns scout who said, “Forgot Akili Smith. Forget McNabb. This is our guy–Tim Couch.” Or maybe an agent heard something real. But I’m not here to say it’s bad Zim didn’t know the guy having the beer at the Kentucky bar. Not at all. I’m here to say how admirable it was that a 70ish Zim would agonize over his Mock Draft. His stories, his drafts, his information … all crucial to him. It’s what made Zim Zim. 

Zim beat up a lot of people over the years. He wasn’t easy to get along with. He had warts. But he’s an American original, and I’m lucky over the years I got to learn at his feet. – Peter King

I’ve seen loved ones stricken incoherent and paralyzed by strokes: bright, successful people frustrated by the simple act of tying shoelaces or ordering a sandwich. It’s scary to think of what such ailments take away. Watching football – and expressing my thoughts and opinions on it – are joys I take for granted. It was my hobby and passion long before it was my career. I think we all recognize in the back of our minds that we will lose our parents, we may lose our spouses, we may lose much of our eyesight and hearing and mobility. But to lose the ability to tell the guy next to you what you think of a play or a call is unfathomable, and humbling. It reminds you not to take a sentence or paragraph for granted, that talking to fellow fans about this fascinating sport, and being listened to, is a gift and a privilege. – Mike Tanier

I suppose I wanted to write this piece because I was moved to tears by the part of the NFL Films video that has Dr. Z wondering if he has any reach to today’s football fans. I wonder, too. The people I asked to pen marvelous tributes to Dr. Z wonder, too.

If you haven’t read his work — if you only know Dr. Z from those of us who try to carry on in our own “lowercase z.” fashion — do yourself an enormous favor and reach back for the truth about the game. His SI.com archive can be found here, and his magazine pieces here. You’ll soon understand that most of the things that make great football analysis today wouldn’t exist had he not chosen to blaze his own trail.

And blaze your own trail, dammit. I’m sure that’s what he’d tell us now.

Time marches on.  Don’t waste it. 

Yours truly,
Dr. Z.

52 comments
PeterWader
PeterWader

Dr  Z's last Super Bowl article was one of the most amazing things ever. He was not a stats guy, he knew that  toughness was a key element in football that is underrated. 

HoppinBill
HoppinBill

I think the best tribute to Dr. Z., is the fact that this is the first story about anything that I've read online in a long time that is not infested by trolls.  Miss you, Dr. Z.  


I would love to know, given that Dr. Z only says Yeah, No, and When... how they worked out exactly what he was saying.  I imagine it was the work of The Flaming Redhead understanding what he might say and verifying with him via "Yeah" and "No" and some "when"s. 

gpellison68
gpellison68

As a long time follower of Dr. Z, I am inspired by the grace that he has handling such a debilitating illness, and I truly miss his columns. Several others have picked up his columns, the weekly picks, power rankings, and have done an admirable job with it, but Dr. Z with his style and commentary are truly missed. I am 45 and I can remember reading Z back in my twenties. It makes the last five years seem a little off for not being able to read his comments regarding a game I love. My prayers, blessings, and many thanks to him for all of his work, and for the legacy he has cultivated the old fashioned way in his field. He was not a "pop" writer, or a one hit wonder. He was and is a legend in writing and this article pays homage to that very well. Thanks to Doug for giving us a great article about one of my favorite writers.

Django
Django

I miss him. I think of him often.

loud_scott
loud_scott

Dr. Z was the most amazing football writer i had ever read, and is the reason that i now scour the internet for all the stats/stories and endless NFL facts that i can find.  

Couldn't the cutting edge technology that is assisting Steve Gleason help Dr. Z?  Wouldn't a complicated/automated setup give him the "ability" to again, write?   Steve Gleason wrote a guest piece on MMQB, albeit a shorter one as typing with the contraption becomes a chore.  Even to get a 1 paragraph breakdown of the superbowl -- to get his picks for the playoffs...to get his thoughts on the "player safety". 

Anyway, I posed this question to the mailbag at theMMQB and just felt that more avenues may get the "right" person to see it..... 

--loud_scott 

olansuddeth
olansuddeth

Nothing truly meaningful to add here, except that I painfully miss Dr. Z every single time that I open the pro football pages.  The man was a genius with words, and offered insights that we just don't get from those who have followed in his stead.  Who else gives us the breakdowns of what really goes on in the trenches?  Who else gives us the nuances that are all but lost to the internet?  Mix in his humor, his accessible style, his true skill with the written word... his void continues to be felt.

Dr. Z, you are a genius, and are sorely missed.  Thank you for all that you gave to us.

LukeMcCarthy
LukeMcCarthy

Dr. Z was always one of my favorite writers ever since I started following football a decade and a half ago.  His insights and unique perspectives, as well as being a student of the game like I strive to be, made for a refreshing read that I never tired of.  Even if he never writes another paragraph about football, I'm still praying that he recovers fully so that he can communicate as he chooses and live the rest of his life without restrictions.

barrytlyons
barrytlyons

This was wonderful.  I think of Dr. Z every time I see a punt or read Hemingway.  I won't miss him because I won't ever forget him.

Mat X
Mat X

I'm glad I got to read much of Dr. Z when the Internet was still young.  I would refresh SI.com and grin when his Power Rankings came up.  I also hate that so much of this column was written in the past tense, but alas, that's probably where it will remain.

blubbo35
blubbo35

The best sports writers I can remember are Dr. Z on football and Peter Vecsey on basketball. Both wrote for the NY Post, which may or may not be a coincidence!

Ken A
Ken A

Dr. Z was my favorite writer to read on any site an when he had his stroke it was a sad day. This is a great story and, I am glad the mag and his comrades are keeping his place in journalistic history alive. I encourage anyone who has not read his stuff to hit the links above and enjoy.   

bside18
bside18

Thank you so much to my step-mother, Linda, to Peter, to Doug, to Tom, to Sports Illustrated, for this beautiful and heart-wrenching tribute to my dad.  For those of you who knew him, thank you for sharing the stories and anecdotes.  Thank you for the offer here to put more pieces together.  Thanks to my dad for leaving such a funny and insightful legacy--I've been going back to read his book with Duane Thomas, and his biography of Weeb Ewbank--two other solid pieces with his poetic and zany voice. And as I read over this post, I remember my dad reminding me of the writing exercise he had to do for class, to write a creative piece using no adjectives. --Sarah Z.

scott.marie
scott.marie

Doug........never paid much attention to you before...........You are now there for me with King at Dr. Z's feet.............extremely unique and excellent !!!

Mathonwy
Mathonwy

Wow. What an amazingly perfect video. Riveting and touching without being maudlin. Damn...  thanks for sharing it.

remosu37
remosu37

My only regret: only shortly after I was old enough to drink, Dr. Z had his stroke.  Now, I wish i could get his wine advice... alas.

Vinny Cordoba
Vinny Cordoba

The difference between Dr. Z and the rest of the stat geeks is he actually played the game at a reasonably high level. He knows how hard it is to play well, which means he was less likely to be an arrogant, smug, all-knowing dips**t when writing about players who fell below some perceived sabermetrical threshold. He also went out and watched the games, the practices, the workouts, instead of sitting around with his head stuck in a data program. So please don't lump him in with the rest of the advanced stat nerds.

remosu37
remosu37

I truly miss Dr. Z's weekly columns.  He was the first football write I ever really LOVED to read, and I'd always flip to his articles in my SI issue as a middle schooler.  For 15 years, I read his columns, and greatly saddened when he had his stroke.


What really distinguished Dr Z in my mind is his ability to simultaneously be analytically sound without losing sight of the human story.  For every anecdote about the 49ers playcalling, he paired with a story about an overlooked player, an unsung block, an inspiring story of a backup rising up for 3 snaps that made a difference. And it was always the story that the other sportswriters ignored, that they didn't notice, but Dr. Z knew it would be a great story.

Dr. Z can be emulated, but never truly replaced.  I'll always miss his writing, his analysis, his nose for a story, and his sharp wit.

Bjornagast
Bjornagast

Dr. Z's columns on SI were a joy to read. I didn't find him until I started following the NE Patriots closely and looking desperately for intelligent commentary. Paul's work was so much more than football analysis--it provided an education about the football season, the NFL and the game itself. And then you had his commentary about culture and wine to mull over during your quieter moments. 

Dr. Z apparently had an encyclopedic knowledge of football but he was one those rare talents who could entertain the hell out of you while he informed and yes educated you. Much of the fun was following a man willing to think out loud in the press about a number of things and to admit when he was wrong or had changed his mind. So much sportswriting consists of neutered quotes and tired cliches--there's so much G.D. boilerplate. You always knew you were dealing with a sharp, opinionated cookie when you read Paul Zimmerman and grateful that he was willing to share his insights with you. 

I got hooked when Dr. Z correctly predicted that my beloved Pats would beat the Eagles by 3 points in the Super Bowl. I stuck around for the rest of his columns and got so much more than football. 

Dr. Z and Linda, if you read this: thank you both for sharing your lives and thoughts with us. I hope you truly are happy. Paul, your intelligence and wealth of life experiences are ever harder to find on the Web, but fans like me will always remember and cherish you. 

When when when WHEN. 



jtstaley88
jtstaley88

Dr. Z certainly deserves a tribute and I'm glad he got one but I can't say that I enjoyed the article. It only made me angry by reminding me once again what a bunch of hacks have followed him. The straw that really broke the camel's back was Peter King saying "I'm lucky over the years I got to learn at his feet". What an arrogant, ignorant, patronizing statement. If he would read his own writing (which I quit doing years ago) he would know that he didn't learn a thing. Obviously, Dr. Z had extraordinary talent but that is not the main thing that sets him apart from all of the current SI football writers. That is very simple and can be explained in one short sentence. He loved football and they do not! 

gspontak
gspontak

Doug, thanks for writing this.  I appreciate you putting into words, and sending them out to all of us (and Dr. Z!), what so many of us feel.

I made a point of recording the show on TV when I heard about it, just so I could catch this segment.  I spent a long time looking forward to the day when I would read Dr. Z's next article.  I don't know that I've yet entirely given up hope.

Dr. Z, if you see this: please know that you are much loved and your contributions to football and journalism are greatly valued.  Thank you so much.

Linda, I've followed your blog at times, hoping to catch news.  You are a wonderful person, and Paul is blessed to have you by his side.


DamienW
DamienW

Honestly, I had some tears in my eyes watching this. But they were tears of joy. He's still in there and he reminds me of the classic curmudgeon. 

This was an excellent piece. 

HalvardLeira
HalvardLeira

Dr. Z.  - a man among boys, a writer among journalists. His studies of Hemingway were not restricted to boxing, methinks. Respect!

KristianColasacco
KristianColasacco

I used to love reading Dr. Z and was so saddened when he had his stroke.  I remember being so certain that he'd get back to writing again because it just didn't seem fathomable to read SI without him. 

sam93505
sam93505

What a sad and tragic way to end a great ride....

WestcoastMD
WestcoastMD

What a fantastic and thoughtful piece. It was humbling to enter the world of Dr. Z. I hope we all remember that there are many like Dr. Z, robbed of the remedial tasks we take for granted, who don't have the resources to survive that he does.

HunterBishop
HunterBishop

Dr.Z and Peter King really introduced me to the world of football journalism, and because of that I'm a much better fan. I was devestated when I learned of Dr.Z's stroke; I've fervently hoped for the past five years that he would return. 

And hell, maybe he will. But I could the year or so that I read his material as one of the most informative years of my sports life. 

ken.burnside
ken.burnside

One of the regrets of my life is that I'll never get to read a Paul Zimmerman interview with the new crop of QBs - Luck, RG3, Newton and Wilson.  I'll never get a Dr. Z analysis of Tim Tebow's amazing half-season of fourth quarter miracles in Denver.

A friend of mine, John M. Ford (SF writer, poet, etc.) once wrote "We're all living on borrowed time. The trick is to find work of sufficient interest to pay off the debt."  Paul Zimmerman may have never heard that aphorism, but he didn't need to.  He was living it.

To everyone at NFL films and NFL.com and SI - thank you for putting this tribute together.
To Linda Bailey Zimmernan - thank you, for sharing the happiness that you and Zim had for two decades.

And to Dr. Z:  Thank you for the stimulating writing, the poetry of truth and analysis, and opening my eyes to things in this game.  Time has moved on.  Some men's work, in their fields, stand athwart the waves, begrudging every grain of sand taken out, a Colussus inspiring all.

Again, thanks...and yes:  Find your own path - the only thing Zim would have you emulate in your chosen profession from his life is to find the thing you're passionate about and to pursue it doggedly, as though every day might be your last.

Find the work of interest and pay off the debt.


ReverendDC
ReverendDC

I remember, one week in late 2008, where I thought that something was wrong with SI.com on a Monday..  Then on a Tuesday.  Then on a Wednesday.  Where was the Dr. Z article of the week?  Where were the Power Rankings?  Where was my commentary on the o-line play and the ratings of the sports yak-men?   A great football voice speaking about football things (it also was acceptable that Brooklyn Decker put her 2...um...cents in once a week with the good Doctor at the time).  Where was this giant of the foosball reporting?!  


As it turns out, he was silenced, but, Dr. Z, you are never forgotten.  Whenever I read MMQB, or Gregg Easterbrook, I remember Dr. Z.  I am reading Dr. Z.  Sir, you still remain relevant to today's NFL fan, and we are all lesser because of your absence.   As (the tastefully named) Gregg Easterbrook would say, enjoy the rest of your time until you are called to enjoy the eternal football game with scantily clad cheerbabes on the sidelines and the Football Gods talking Ice Bowl lore with you in the Owner's Box in the sky.


(BTW, the National Anthem STILL isn't being sung properly, and takes far too long to complete in terms of original cadence...usually well over  4 minutes...but there's JETS!!!!)

vince2
vince2

Every single NFL game I've watched for years and years, I watch the National Anthem being sung and wonder what Z would have thought about it.  I miss this man's talent and humanity so much.  I've never looked at anyone's rating of an offensive lineman other than Paul's, knowing that most writers have no clue.  Falling in love with Linda because of how Paul wrote about her, with his recommending bottles of wine to his readers, with his obvious love of all things big and small about the game.  I'd love his insights about changes in football and I have a strong feeling he would be all in favor of player safety over dinosaur rules.  We are lucky to have had him writing for us for so long and being one of the all time greats.  Thank you Dr. Z and thank you for writing this story and not letting people forget.

redmacadam
redmacadam

A great piece. It warmed my soul and broke my heart. I no longer enjoy watching football -- the game has changed too much, the characters and eccentrics are mostly gone, the money is too big and too much of a topic in and of itself, the elegance and beauty of the game has largely evaporated, and the physical and emotional costs to player and their families saps the joy from it -- but I still love to read about it. Dr. Z was always one of my go-to guys. Many others at SI remain so today. Because it's not really about the football, is it. It's about the moments of life, good, bad and indifferent, that come through in the stories. Thanks, Dr. Z, for all those wonderful words you crafted over the years. And thanks to you too Doug, and your colleagues. Long after football is gone, your words and stories will remain.

rskins09
rskins09

NFL reporting was  never the same  after Nov. 2008 ...Dr. Z never used all the cliche's  that too many other sports reporters used ..And he always told it as it is  without being obnoxious ..His article  why everyone hates to play in Dallas was a classic ..Still have the mag. in my ceder chest  along with that great article about Don Shula  after he set the NFL record ..Friends and I used to have NFL Draft  parties for years and never forget the year he was  the commentator ..His love of the game was always obvious and  I  miss his great articles and commentaries  about the NFL ..They'll never be another football  writer as good as you, Dr. Z .. I was devastated  when I heard you had the  stroke in 2008 .. ...Thanks Dr. Z  ...

CoachHowie1
CoachHowie1

Wonderful to read and to enjoy the great memories of my all-time favorite football writer. I was beyond thrilled when Dr. Z once answered one of my questions in his column... I felt like I gained some level of credibility within the football world by asking a question worthy of Dr. Z's attention. You're missed, Dr. Z, and there will never be another like you.

GalenConley
GalenConley

Great article. Great video. I can't believe it's been 6 years. I vividly remember when Z's stroke happened and how devestated I was. It's so heartening to see him still truckin along.

Rax
Rax

Great work as always. Very touching.

LindaBaileyZimmerman
LindaBaileyZimmerman

Doug....what can I possibly say?  No words can express my gratitude for taking the time to put this amazing tribute together for Paul!!    I read it to Z....which was extremely hard to to through the sobs.  It meant so much to him to hear praise from his colleagues!     Linda Z aka The Flaming Redhead

dbum
dbum

Dr. Z brought me to SI. Collectively, all the other sports writers come close to filling in for him. His wit, knowledge and in-depth writing on the best sport in the world are unparalleled. Your articles where like a good cigar or cup of coffee. They broke through the monotony and made you sit still and just enjoy the experience. Thank you for your perspective Dr. Z. 

mgranadosv
mgranadosv

Dr. Z changed NFL journalism. He took something that was a hobby to many and made it into something serious and well thought out, with lots of analysis.

I agree, if it wasn't for Dr. Z we'd have even more Skip Bayless' around instead of people who care about the game for love of the game.

Thanks Dr. Z.

RayCornwall
RayCornwall

Moved on, Dr. Z? Hardly. ANY time you want to spend the time with NFL films and put together something like this again, guys like me- who loved your writing on football, wine, and redheads (well, one redhead)- will happily put everything else down and read or listen. Life dealt you a cruel blow, but it's obvious you've spat in the eye of fate and kept fighting and kept yourself. Thank you (and NFL Films) for doing this, and I'll be here any time you want to do it again.

chaotic
chaotic

@bside18 Please add a small extra hug for me, the next time you see your dad.  His columns were the highlight of my week for decades, and it was a pleasure to get to know him (and The Flaming Redhead) through his words.  I even had the honor of having him quote from my emails in his column, not once, but twice!

"The Flaming Redhead is total a babe!"  (He told her about the quote, which of course won me whatever contest she was adjudicating, so he asked, "Guess where he's from?"  "California", she replied.  "Nope."  "Okay, Montana!"  Actually, she was right both times!  I signed the original email as being from my hometown of Bozeman, Montana.  A week later I revealed the truth:  I grew up in Bozeman, but now I live in San Jose, California!)

"God invents the words.  I am merely his scribe."  (He was looking for something else to say when thanking people for their compliments.  I don't think he ever used it.  It sounds nice, but it's a bit pretentious.)

To Dr. Z:  I honor you.  I honor and acknowledge your commitment to true sports journalism, reporting the facts rather than selling the hype.  I acknowledge you for the unfiltered joy that your words conveyed when the game reached its peak moments.  I 
acknowledge you for your deep appreciation of the game, and all of its nuances.  And finally, I acknowledge you for your boundless love of Linda, The Flaming Redhead...   ...your very own personal Total Babe.

Hoping to hear from you when...

Kendall Scott
Bozeman, MT and San Jose, CA

Bjornagast
Bjornagast

@jtstaley88: I get the strong feeling I'd like Peter as a person, but I think he needs to shake things up when it comes to his writing. I don't see him as arrogant or ignorant. He comes across more as a creature of habit seeking the right tone or phrase when he should be willing to go out on a limb, ask hard questions and be willing to take the risk of being wrong in his analysis. Show us more of the blood, sweat and tears of your thought process, Peter. The pat phrase and just-so polish will take you only so far. 

I encourage all of SI's writers to take more risks and provide readers with more analysis. Greg Bedard, Boston Globe readers miss you and your analysis. Please do more. Please teach your willing readers more about the finer points of football. I know you provide pictures of NFL pre-snap positions and in-play movements and that's a good start. Please also consider video clips of plays or even GIFs when relevant. 


EasyGoer
EasyGoer

@KristianColasacco I felt the same. It's a cliche but it's true - it's not the same without him. Good luck and God bless you, Dr.Z.

BY
BY

@vince2 Vince I was going to put something on here until I read your comment. You summed it up perfectly.

JimiJamm
JimiJamm

@LindaBaileyZimmerman Linda, all the best to you and your husband. It was comforting to see the video of Paul; although life has changed for him, he looks well and sharp as ever! Long live Dr. Z!

dfarrar777
dfarrar777

@LindaBaileyZimmerman  Linda, thank you so very much for responding. Your strength is an inspiration. I'm humbled and honored that you saw the piece and read it to him. I hope you can see from the responses here that his reach has not diminished one bit. Dr. Z is still the man.

vince2
vince2

@LindaBaileyZimmerman Haven't seen you since the benefit Peter hosted.  You're a wonderful woman and I hope your life is still filled with love and joy, despite the difficulties.

Vinny Cordoba
Vinny Cordoba

@Django   , feel free to ignore posts that offend you. Also, nobody cares if you miss D. Z, and "think of him often." That's sweet, but pretty irrelevant to pretty much everyone else on earth but you.

TheDistrict
TheDistrict

@Bjornagast @jtstaley88 No. Peter King is a complete hack. I have no idea why they keep trying to promote that guy. No insight and he's a terrible writer - the man needs an editor.