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On Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman’s health and influence

P. Zimmerman

For a lot of us, The Thinking Man’s Guide to Football (and its update) by Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman is the seminal modern book on the sport.

The book made me and so many others think about the sport in an entirely different way.  It may have been the first time I realized that our most popular sport is easily our least understood.  That was exciting, because there was so much to learn.

Dr. Z has been on my mind a lot lately. I picked up a signed copy of his underrated 1988 book Duane Thomas and the Fall of America’s Team in a used bookstore in the French Quarter this month.  It was the type of moment that reminded me why I drag my wife into used bookstores everywhere we go.

Zimmerman let the subjects of the Thomas book tell their story, like he did in so much of his writing.  Zimmerman knew, better than anyone, how to get football men to reveal the good stuff.

Dr. Z is one of the most knowledgable nuts and bolts football writers ever, which makes his restraint remarkable.  He often just stayed out of the way, telling a story by listing quote after incisive quote.  You don’t see quotes like those anymore.

I’ve also been thinking of Zimmerman because of some discouraging recent updates on his health. As Peter King of SI.com mentioned Monday, Zimmerman is struggling as he recovers from spinal surgery.  This surgery has set him back while he attempts to recover from a pair of strokes back in 2008.  Zimmerman’s wife, Linda, updated Paul’s condition in a recent blog post that is heartbreaking, yet still hopeful.

I’ve often thought how incredible it would be if someone could write a book like The Thinking Man’s Guide to Football about this era. Zimmerman makes the players of the 60′s, 70′s, and 80′s come alive in those books; I would love to learn that much about today’s game.

But there is only one Dr. Z; no one else could pull it off. Through his books and writing for Sports Illustrated, Zimmerman is arguably the greatest football writer ever and certainly of his generation.

Even big Zimmerman fans may not realize he won All-Service honors with a Special Forces team he played on while stationed in the Army in Germany.

On this Memorial Day, we want to send him our best wishes during his recovery.

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42 Responses to “On Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman’s health and influence”
  1. crunchyclam says: May 30, 2011 3:11 PM

    Good post. No one writes about football like Dr. Z.

  2. seeschool says: May 30, 2011 3:16 PM

    “On this Memorial Day, we want to send him our best wishes during his recovery.”

    I second that.

    He always seemed like such a humble man, despite owning a brilliant mind for the game. Always infused humour into his writing, and never hestitated to poke fun at himself. Just a rare combination of talent and humility…I miss his work for CNNSI terribly.

  3. kindbass says: May 30, 2011 3:28 PM

    Dr. Z is/was the best football writer out there. Period. Dude should be in the Hall of Fame. Honestly, if Peter Gammons can be in the baseball Hall of Fame, there’s no reason Dr. Z shouldn’t be in Canton.

  4. liquidgrammar says: May 30, 2011 3:58 PM

    Great post!! I don’t read SI anymore, but when I did his was the article I read first! Good luck Dr. Z!!

  5. crunchyclam says: May 30, 2011 4:21 PM

    stull60060 says:
    May 30, 2011 3:25 PM
    Zimmermann and others like him have black balled Stabler because during his playing career he gave very few interviews and disliked the press in general.
    —————————————————–

    Or it could be, as Dr. Z has written many times, Stabler’s negative TD-INT ratio. Zim hates turnovers with a passion and makes the case that Stabler wasn’t careful enough with the ball to be considered truly GREAT. All this talk about the biased press and whatnot is just cover for the fact that ‘The Snake’ was simply a good qb and not a HOF one.

  6. rcunningham says: May 30, 2011 4:33 PM

    “15. SEAHAWKS—Randy Moss, WR, Marshall

    Finally a place for this 6’4″, 200-pounder, who ran a 4.31 40 in a private workout. Dennis Erickson fancies the passing game and he feels that this gifted athlete could really light it up for him. Personally, I’m not so sure. Actually, I’m really sure—that Moss will be a bust—but I’m too polite to say it. I have yet to see him do one tough thing on the field.” – Dr. Z’s 1998 Mock Draft

    Love the guy though, I just find this quote hilarious in retrospect.

  7. seeschool says: May 30, 2011 4:33 PM

    oh yes…and I must add…thank god he kept losers like Ken Stabler out of the hall of fame.

  8. melonnhead says: May 30, 2011 4:46 PM

    Dr Z hated Stabler because of Stabler’s alleged involvement in luring Raiders beat reporter Bob Padecky to Alabama under the guise of an interview, and setting him up on a cocaine bust. Google the story.

    Nothing but respect for Dr. Z. If not for his resignation from the HOF Seniors Committee in protest, Bob Hayes would have never been inducted.

  9. pwa206 says: May 30, 2011 5:04 PM

    Miss Doc Z’s articles … I even miss the “flaming redhead’s” quotes. His writing was top notch.

    And, Gregg, stop asking us “how incredible it would be if someone wrote a book like TTMGTFB and write it yourself.

    You’ve got more access than any of us. And while your writing isn’t as good as Docs, it’s by no means bad.

    “You could do it ….”

  10. monsterscream says: May 30, 2011 5:37 PM

    I wish him the best.

  11. coolheir says: May 30, 2011 5:58 PM

    There were a few instances back in the early ’80′s I believe, when he did some color commentating on some of the NFL games on NBC and he even did that very well. Soft spoken with a dry wit and obviously very knowledgeable about the game.
    There used to be a tackle for the Vikings named Zimmerman and he made a point during the broadcast of a Minnesota Vikings game once about how he thought the. name Zimmerman was such a great football name. At first I didnt get it, then it dawned on me they shared the same last name.
    Being a former subscriber to S.I., I also enjoyed his writing. very much.
    Get well soon Dr Z….

  12. loytomaki says: May 30, 2011 6:48 PM

    My favorite Dr. Z story was the one he told about his last day at ESPN. It was during draft coverage. The topic was on how much bigger and faster current players were then in the 70s and 80s. Someone asked if that trend would continue and speculation began on what future NFL players would look like. Dr. Z makes a comment about how future NFL tallent will be so smart and sofisticated that they will be able to beat any doping test out there and they will be even bigger and stronger. Apparently the cut to commercial a minute later and the phone rang, security walked him off the set and from the building never to be seen on ESPN again.

  13. commandercornpone says: May 30, 2011 7:08 PM

    I prefer the book “They Call It A Game”, by former Browns CB Bernie Parrish.

  14. Wisconsin77 says: May 30, 2011 7:23 PM

    Never read his book, just his articles and they weren’t that great. Not sure what all the hubub is about.

  15. nahcouldntbethat says: May 30, 2011 7:29 PM

    There are no great writers about football in this age because all of the major ones are essentially gossip columnists who do a bad job of hiding their allegiances.

    Dr. Z was a pleasure to read and I actually learned something about football now and then in the process.

  16. tagryn says: May 30, 2011 7:35 PM

    In Tom Danyluk’s book “The Super ’70s,” on page 48 Dr. Z reflects on Stabler. It’s pretty much what Z says in swervinmervin’s post above: Stabler had all the gifts in the world, but was too lazy to capitalize on them, and Z did believe that he set up that sportswriter by planting drugs on him as a joke. The page also includes a quote from teammate TE Dave Casper that Stabler basically didn’t bother studying game plans and preferred to wing it on his natural talent. For a work-ethic guy like Zimmerman, its easy to see why that would be enough to cross him off the HoF list.

    For other voters, Stabler’s problem as I see it is that compared to other HoF QBs of that age, he has neither the multiple championships of a Bradshaw nor the excellent passing TD-to-INT ratios of a Staubach, Fouts, or even a Ken Anderson. He was an exciting but inconsistent player throughout his career, and that just hasn’t been good enough to merit entry into the HoF.

  17. joelvis72 says: May 30, 2011 8:29 PM

    Which bookstore? Beckham’s?

  18. bluefan204 says: May 30, 2011 9:07 PM

    Many, many positive vibes and prayers going out to Dr. Z!

  19. swervinmervin says: May 30, 2011 9:14 PM

    Tagryn – You’re way off. Stabler’s numbers are almost exatnly on par with Griese and Namath. Both are HOFers. Stabler needs to be in if those others are in. Only thing holding him back is the sportswriters holding a grudge. I think its fairly obvious. Especially when you look at Namath and Griese.

  20. serr8d says: May 30, 2011 9:39 PM

    Yes, shout-outs to Dr. Z.

    But not on Memorial Day. That’s for the men and women who died in service.

    You were thinking of Veteran’s Day, maybe?

  21. 8man says: May 30, 2011 9:43 PM

    As much as he mentioned the “Flaming Redhead” in his columns I had an inkling that he must truly love her.

    Now we all know why.

    Good luck, Dr. Z!

  22. 1bigtex says: May 30, 2011 9:59 PM

    I don’t believe that Stabler’s omission from the Hall has anything to do with sportswriters holding a grudge. However, Stabler’s close friendship with a convicted bookmaker who had ties to a New Jersey crime family might have a great deal to do with it.

  23. hobbstweedle says: May 30, 2011 10:27 PM

    Rosenthal writes about “Dr. Z,” a mediocre writer with obvious biases. What next? A requiem to Shecky Greene?

    If you wanna write about the guy’s medical issues and how they impact SI.com, fine. But at least try to demonstrate a little objectivity, even if Zimmerman couldn’t, and even if you’re only pretending.

  24. 1phd says: May 31, 2011 12:55 AM

    I wish Dr Z the restoration of good health and thought I don’t agree with them, I’m not liking the censorship here whitewashing the comments.

  25. JSpicoli says: May 31, 2011 2:18 AM

    “Or it could be, as Dr. Z has written many times, Stabler’s negative TD-INT ratio. Zim hates turnovers with a passion and makes the case that Stabler wasn’t careful enough with the ball to be considered truly GREAT. All this talk about the biased press and whatnot is just cover for the fact that ‘The Snake’ was simply a good qb and not a HOF one.”

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Any one who says things like this is a moron, or 21 years old and hooked on comparing stats that are apples to oranges, or both.

    Do you people even relaize how different (and better) the game was in the 70′s? You think TO would be in one piece playing the 70′s? DB’s made life tough on Offenses. It is fundamentally flawed to compare stats from different era’s of a game that has prostituted itself into some kind of touch football game with the offense getting the keys to the car in the 80′s.

    I’m not going to google it, I’ve done it before, but the Stabler Raiders were in like 6 of 7 AFC Championship games over 7 years, only falling short due to running into the other big dynasty’s of the 70′s the Dolphins and the Steelers, and things like the immaculate reception and Rob Lytle’s botched fumble call. Stabler won an MVP, passing titles, and was involved in more memorable game, more comebacks, more INCREDIBLE games, than any other one player. All Pro many times. NFL’s most accurate passer. Sea of Hands, Immaculate Reception, Holy Roller, Ghost to the Post. He defined the clutch QB of the time, and was Joe Montana with the 2 minute drill before Joe Montana. Heck, Stabler usually only needed 1:10.

    The reason this fool is biased against Snake has nothing to do with football. It has to do with off the field stuff.

    You are embarrassing yourself as an NFL fan to defend the shallow and petty bias of this moron Dr. Z.

    I wish him nothing, and that is the best thing I can say about the POS.

  26. JSpicoli says: May 31, 2011 2:19 AM

    Stabler was so much better than Griese it is not even funny.

  27. JSpicoli says: May 31, 2011 2:26 AM

    There has never been a cooler player under pressure than Ken Stabler.

    ‘Jascha Heifetz never played the violin with more dexterity than Kenny Stabler is playing the defense of the Minnesota Vikings.”

    RIP Mr. King.

  28. qoojo says: May 31, 2011 3:20 AM

    For awhile there, I got tired of him acting like an ***hole in his column by berating people. I thought he was the most knowledgeable writer at SI, and eventually was the only one I read at SI, with King being a general idiot and a Favre **** sucker. I liked reading his annual announcer grades, and reading what he had to say about line play. Since he left SI, I don’t recall reading more than a handful of articles there, and most of them were links.

    It’s a shame he hasn’t recovered, and probably will never recover.

  29. joetoronto says: May 31, 2011 6:01 AM

    1bigtex says: May 30, 2011 9:59 PM

    I don’t believe that Stabler’s omission from the Hall has anything to do with sportswriters holding a grudge. However, Stabler’s close friendship with a convicted bookmaker who had ties to a New Jersey crime family might have a great deal to do with it.
    **************************************************
    Like usual, you’re full of crap.

    In Zimmerman’s own words…

    “Ken Stabler won’t get my vote as long as I live.”

  30. 1bigtex says: May 31, 2011 7:46 AM

    @JSpicoli

    “Stabler won…passing titles…many times All Pro…”
    Stabler was All Pro once, in 1974. He won no passing titles and was 4th in yardage once and 5th in yardage once for his only top 5 finishes.

    “It has to do with off the field stuff.” Agreed, but that “stuff” is some pretty serious stuff.

    @joetoronto

    Talk about “full of crap”, did you even bother to read what I said? There was a post earlier that speculated some bias based on a reluctance of Stabler to give interviews. All I said was that Stabler had a close association with a known gambler and that I believe that is most likely the source for much of the resistance to those who oppose his induction. There have been stories that Stabler was involved in fixing games. You don’t have to believe that he fixed any games, but surely you don’t deny that the speculation was there, not when the NFL and a major network spent money investigating the story. However innocent Ken Stabler’s friendship with Nicholas Dudich may or may not have been, hanging out with a convicted bookmaker who was a known associate of the De Calvatore crime family was not a very bright move on the part of the Snake. I believe that is the reason for Zimmerman’s “as long as I live” statement, and the reluctance of many other voters to support Stabler as well.
    Please feel free to identify anything in this post that is “crap”. It all looks accurate to me.

  31. joemontanawasthegreatest says: May 31, 2011 8:36 AM

    Griese went to 8 pro bowls, had a great winning percentage, 2 Superbowl wins and has a great td-int ration for his day. I wouldn’t compare Stabler to him in terms of his overall resume.

    Stabler is going to make it on a veteran committee vote.

  32. stull60060 says: May 31, 2011 10:11 AM

    Bob Griese is not better than Ken Stabler period. Neither is Warren Moon or Jim Kelly. Yet, they are in the HOF. Stabler won 70% of his starts for the Raiders. No one was more feared with the game on the line in the last 2 minutes. He was the coolest under pressure. Forget about statistics. Statistics are for losers and the Snake was a winner. I find it hypocritical to say that it was his off field stuff that kept him out of the HOF. Why? The HOF electors voted in a convicted crack head and now rapist in Lawrence Taylor. Mr. Z and those like him should be voting on the players results on the field. Did he win or lose? Fran Tarkenton played for 20 years( a guess) and had all sorts of statistical records but was a loser. NO CHAMPIONSHIPS. Like Jim Kelly, he had four chances to do it and failed. The eyes don’t lie. Watch the games Stabler played in and how he led his team to victory. Stop strictly looking at stats. Like a previous post said, you cannot compare players from different eras. They played under different rules.

  33. 1bigtex says: May 31, 2011 11:31 AM

    @stull6oo6o

    Let’s not pretend that Stabler was some kind of unstoppable force. His championship total is one. That puts him in the same category as Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson. As far as “off the field” stuff; being suspected of fixing games is not exactly “off the field”.

  34. JSpicoli says: May 31, 2011 1:22 PM

    Let’s just face it, because a bunch of biased a-holes vote on the HOF, and not the players and members of the hall 100%, the HOF has turned into a political popularity contest.

    If the busts in Canton could talk (thanks John), they laugh out loud at you people saying Stabler does not belong.

    The most common response I get when I bring this subject up to someone who watched Stabler play and the 70′s Raiders is “Stabler is not in the HOF already? Gee, I thought he was”.

  35. JSpicoli says: May 31, 2011 1:24 PM

    “involved in more memorable game, more comebacks, more INCREDIBLE games, than any other one player. ”

    I don’t hear anyone laughing at this statement.

  36. JSpicoli says: May 31, 2011 1:25 PM

    stull60060 says:
    May 31, 2011 10:11 AM
    Bob Griese is not better than Ken Stabler period. Neither is Warren Moon or Jim Kelly. Yet, they are in the HOF. Stabler won 70% of his starts for the Raiders. No one was more feared with the game on the line in the last 2 minutes. He was the coolest under pressure. Forget about statistics. Statistics are for losers and the Snake was a winner. I find it hypocritical to say that it was his off field stuff that kept him out of the HOF. Why? The HOF electors voted in a convicted crack head and now rapist in Lawrence Taylor. Mr. Z and those like him should be voting on the players results on the field. Did he win or lose? Fran Tarkenton played for 20 years( a guess) and had all sorts of statistical records but was a loser. NO CHAMPIONSHIPS. Like Jim Kelly, he had four chances to do it and failed. The eyes don’t lie. Watch the games Stabler played in and how he led his team to victory. Stop strictly looking at stats. Like a previous post said, you cannot compare players from different eras. They played under different rules.

    __________________________________

    BINGO

  37. JSpicoli says: May 31, 2011 1:29 PM

    4 time pro bowler, which is what i meant, thanks for pointing out he was all-pro once, which means THE BEST QB IN THE NFL. In an era with tark, griese, bradshaw, and many more.

  38. JSpicoli says: May 31, 2011 1:31 PM

    In an era with way less passing than today due to the fact that maulers were in the secondary.

  39. JSpicoli says: May 31, 2011 1:32 PM

    Sorry to go off so much, but this is a travesty and if I had a pet peeve, this would be it.

  40. JSpicoli says: May 31, 2011 1:34 PM

    Let’s see, Stabler fixed games, so he won 70% of his games for a decade. Was he fixing them by making sure the Raiders won?

  41. JSpicoli says: May 31, 2011 1:36 PM

    I was ready to finish, but found this gem under Top 10 biggest HOF snubs
    …..
    2. Ken Stabler—Oakland Raiders, Houston Oilers, New Orleans Saints

    The Snake led the Raiders to a victory in Super Bowl XI against the Minnesota Vikings. Under his leadership the Raiders played in some of the most memorable games of the ’70s and in numerous playoff and conference championship games.

    Stabler was a four-time Pro Bowler and is a member of the NFL’s All Decade Team of the ’70s. He was the NFL MVP in 1974, the Bert Bell Award winner in 1976, and twice led the league in passing.

    Among some sports writers controversy still swirls around the Snake, but it can be argued that Stabler was a better QB at crunch time than a few fellows already in the Hall of Fame.

    And if All Decade and a Ring doesn’t get a player in, what does?

  42. 1bigtex says: Jun 1, 2011 7:01 AM

    @JSpicoli

    Well, there are two players on the 1970′s All Decade first team (not tied for second team) who have multiple All Pro awards and at least one ring each who can’t get a sniff of the Hall, Drew Pearson and Cliff Harris.

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