[Sports Illustrated]

Paul Zimmerman, 1932-2018 Comment Count

Brian November 2nd, 2018 at 11:23 AM

Dr. Z hated airports.

I thought this was weird. 20 years later, I know I'm the weird one. I like airports. I like wandering from place to place. I like LaGuardia because it has a place where I can buy olives and lunchmeat by the pound and call it a salad. I like the people moving from place to place like me, and I like the waiting when no one can expect anything from you. Now I know this is weird, because everyone tells me it all the time.

When Dr. Z said he hated airports, it was News. Paul Zimmerman leapt onto the internet like a fish who'd been introduced to water at the age of 65. He used his newfound milieu to talk about his wife, wine he liked, and how much he detested airports. Also football, so much football, and in a way that nobody else had ever tried to talk about football. All of this was innovative in a way that can no longer be communicated accurately.

I was 18 and dedicated to absorbing every iota of information about Michigan football, and football in general, that existed. Here is the thing about 1997 that baffles today: this was possible. I read everything. As 1997 progressed in a potentially memorable direction I downloaded 150x120 pictures of Charles Woodson for posterity. I flipped over to reports about the Raiders, who might be using a Michigan alum as a fourth receiver. I read every damn thing about Michigan football that existed and when that was over I looked for any possible reference to Michigan football from NFL folks.

Dr. Z existed apart from this. He was Sports Illustrated's main NFL analyst, and also completely insane. He charted every game for every NFL team. He used the opinions derived from this Sisyphean task to bludgeon coaches and assorted other NFL persons with his opinions until they admitted he was right. I remember one particular safety for the Arizona Cardinals—at the time a 5-11 makeweight with a consistency the Lions could only aspire to—who Zimmerman proclaimed was an All-Pro despite the fact that nobody could be bothered to look at an Arizona Cardinal. The next year that guy was an actual, legitimate NFL All-Pro, and boy did Zimmerman let you know about that. This was perfect.

It's hard to explain? At the time I was downloading every episode of the first season of South Park and looking at it on the hard drive I'd set aside for this task with a feeling of distinct pride. Late in my freshman year I took a trip to North Campus with my friend Sunil to use the Media Library's CD burner. I put a bunch of Tragically Hip and They Might Be Giants bootlegs on a CD that would actually play in your car and felt amazing. The internet opened up wide, like Lewis and Clark broaching the Rockies.

The internet was simultaneously mind-blowing and manageable. Platforms were still hard to come by. The ones that existed were an entirely new paradigm. And the football internet was dominated by a 65-year old guy who charted every-damn-thing and didn't mind telling you about his wife and his Various Foibles.

He was right about as often as anyone can be when talking about something as squirrelly as football players making football plays. I moved to Detroit when I was 10 and had a Lions phase that lasted from about then to about college and hated Z about half the time, because he'd say the Lions wouldn't be good. Then they were good. Then I'd like Z because he'd say the Lions would be good, and then they wouldn't be good. 

I grew up and realized that Zimmerman was doing his level best in a field of applied chaos. For seven hundred consecutive years I projected that Rich Rodriguez's team would have a turnover ratio approximately equal to the one he had at West Virginia. QED.

It should be no surprise that I tried to be him. Back in the day when blogs were worth talking about people would ask me why I started this thing, and I'd say I was frustrated with the shallow level of coverage Michigan got. I only thought that because there was a man out there saying Arizona Cardinal safeties should be All-Pros before everyone else agreed. When they asked me what my influences were I'd name anything and everything outside of sportswriting, and then I'd say Paul Zimmerman, Dr. Z, the patron saint of charting.

RIP, Paul(+2).



November 2nd, 2018 at 11:39 AM ^

Z was a weird read. And worth reading every week. I still remember a mailbag where someone asked him how he watched games, and being blown away that he talked about watching from the center of the line out. 

Someone on this board basically quoted that verbatim yesterday. It was, to me, a revolutionary idea, back when I could watch full football games and be pretty smart about them and still have no idea what went into the blocking schemes and route combos.

The world has changed. Football is still enjoyable, but being able to know more about what goes on has made it so much richer of an experience. It truly is a game that is accessible to every level of fan, including the casual ones that think OBJ makes "pretty cool plays" and crazy ones that dump out 1000 words on their day off about the optimal first step technique for a pulling guard. 

Z was the first guy that made me try to be a smarter football watcher. And if he had influence on Brian, well, we're all better off as fans because of him. 


November 2nd, 2018 at 11:43 AM ^

I grew up reading guys like Jim Murray and Mike Downey, listening to the incomparable Jim Healey, and watching Howard Cossell, Dick Enberg, Pat Summerall, Merlin Olsen, and Don Meredith.

I hate getting old because that era of sports writers and announcers is slowly dying off.





November 2nd, 2018 at 2:00 PM ^

Maybe you left him off because OBVIOUSLY, but Keith Jackson, man...

Less obvious:  I remember enjoying Charlie Jones when I was a teenager.  It seemed like he always had some insane Raiders-Chargers game.  He was good.

It'll be interesting to see who rises from the current crop for people younger than I to say years from now, "Man, I liked the way they called a game."


November 2nd, 2018 at 11:48 AM ^

Thanks for shining a light, Brian, and to the whole mgoblog team for carrying forward that perfect blend of effort-driven insight, humor, levity and gravitas that is the essential core of good writing.


November 2nd, 2018 at 12:06 PM ^

Dr. Z was on the Internet around the time I started getting on the Internet, and gave me the impression that sports writers on the Internet were smarter than the ones in print.  I mean, Drew Sharp was the most voluminous source of info at the time, and we high schoolers didn't have much to compare him to, and we still knew he was a fount of unending negativity for no good reason at all.

P.S. Liking airports is not weird.  I love airports.  I like getting there early and having plenty of free time on my hands to sit down at the bar or read or do puzzles or whatever.  I like passing by all the gates and looking to see whether or not I've been to the place that plane is flying to.  I like all the people going every which way, coming to and from all corners of the world.  I like watching the ground crews.  I like the multimodal transportation - planes, trains, and automobiles all in one place.  Sometimes inside the building.  I guess I get why some people wouldn't like them, but those are the people who absolutely do not believe in the phrase "it's the journey, not the destination."


November 2nd, 2018 at 12:59 PM ^

I didn’t mind airports until they started making you take off your belt and shoes at security. Seriously, fuck airports, Al Qaeda, Isis/Isil, shoe bombers and underwear bombers. May they all exist for eternity in a virgin-free pit of flaming hell-fire.

When I think of the “good old days,” I think of Morley Safer and Andy Rooney on 60 Minutes, Johnny Carson, Howard Cosell, Walter Cronkite, and SI employing talented writers like Frank DeFord and Dr. Z. I associated him so closely with SI that I just assumed he was already dead along with the magazine.

Roy G. Biv

November 2nd, 2018 at 12:26 PM ^

I'm old . . . I was buying Hip and TMBG CDs because downloading wasn't yet a thing I comprehended.  Speaking of the Hip, we in MI were really lucky that our proximity/commerce/culture accorded us exposure to things Canadian.  Living in the Flint area I would listen to partial reception of 89X to discover The Hip, Ghandarvas, Moev, etc.


November 2nd, 2018 at 12:39 PM ^

In 1989 The Oakland Press ran a contest where whoever could correctly pick the most top 10 NFL draft picks would win an all expenses paid trip to see the Detroit Lions play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Tampa. I was only 14 so I entered under my mom's name and simply copied Dr. Z's top 10 predictions form Sports Illustrated. I (He) got the first 8 perfect and only missed 9 and 10 by switching their order. I (my mom) won the contest. She was a little confused at an answering machine message when she got home from work that day as she didn't recall entering any such contest and thought it was a scam. We flew on the team plane, stayed at the team hotel and I got autographs from all my favorite players including Barry Sanders. Barry didn't play that day but Rodney Peete scored on a naked bootleg in the final seconds to win at the Old Sombrero. It was awesome and all thanks to Dr. Z. That man was a true genius.


November 2nd, 2018 at 5:02 PM ^

What a bad ass story, I used to enter the weekly football Pick-Em in the Saginaw News every week growing up.  They had you pick select NFL, College and local high school games every week.  They'd always publish the readers that outpicked the "expert" writers.  I was on that damn list almost every week and I was so damn proud!


November 2nd, 2018 at 12:43 PM ^

I started getting SI in the late 1960's when I was in grade school. Dr Z was always one of my favorites. Now I know why.

Brian, now when I tell people about your charting, I can say you are following a noble tradition. It will help offset the notion you are crazy obsessed.

Nicely done young man.


November 2nd, 2018 at 1:01 PM ^

Nice tribute, Brian. I was obsessed with Das Hips at that same time. Saw every show within 150 miles of Ann Arbor on the Phantom Power tour. 

matty blue

November 2nd, 2018 at 2:21 PM ^

z was an iconoclast and a crank (this is a compliment). 

it's hard to imagine now, because you can't swing a dead cat without hitting hot takes in every direction, but in his heyday, someone like z - who did his own research, then wrote about it in an argumentative, intelligent, didn't-give-a-shit-what-you-thought way - was exceedingly rare.  exceedingly.  and it was delicious.  he and bill james shared some dna...and they share at least some of that dna with this blog, which is how and why i got here in the first place.

so long, z, you glorious crazy bastard.


November 2nd, 2018 at 3:44 PM ^

I'm a couple years later to the sports internet and Dr. Z was a pillar. He held up a fairly solid SI masthead and for all his deserved analysis credit, he also had a way of getting people to open up to him and finding the unexpected stories. 

As much as I like the accessibility and variety of today's landscape, I do sometimes pine for those halcyon days of Dr. Z and early Page 2 before smarter monetization, pivots to video, and the rise of the Take Industrial Complex. 

S.G. Rice

November 2nd, 2018 at 4:57 PM ^

I remember reading Dr. Z faithfully in SI every week as a kid since my dad had a subscription.  I didn't always agree with him -- what kid who thinks he knows pretty much everything would? -- but I definitely soaked in what he had to say and it made me a better student of the game.


I think that he faded quite a bit from the public consciousness due to the world changing from print to digital and the fact that he survived so long after his stroke.  That doesn't mean his legacy should be forgotten.



November 2nd, 2018 at 5:07 PM ^

Great stuff.  I only remember reading him in pieces, but his NFL stuff was always solid and data driven in a way no one else was.  We take for granted now guys like Bill Connelly, Kenpom, Torvik, and Ed Feng popping out analytical approaches to college sports, but he was the Bill James of football to a lot of people and it's rough for him to be gone.


November 2nd, 2018 at 6:12 PM ^

Of course! That's what I kept sensing when I found MGoBlog, without it bubbling to consciousness. The close analysis, the clear explanations, the solid savvy, the non-football thoughts that added spice, and always the surprising angle: that's why I enjoyed so much about Dr. Z, more than anyone sportswriter I'd read.

And THAT is why I enjoy MGoBlog so much: close analysis, clear explanations, solid savvy, non-football thoughts that add spice, and surprising angles.

It's MGoZ! Dr. Blog! You're virtual family.

STL Blue

November 3rd, 2018 at 8:13 AM ^

I too enjoyed the football knowledge and wit of Dr Z's online column.  RIP

Point of order--Roger Wehrli played for the Cards when they were in St Louis before moving to Phoenix in the late 80s.  Not only was he All Pro, but is now in the HOF.