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.