Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

29 Nov 2013

Thank You, Dr. Z. Yours Truly, Everybody.

Our friend Doug Farrar pays tribute to Paul Zimmerman with the help of Peter King, Mike Silver, and Mike Tanier.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 29 Nov 2013

23 comments, Last at 03 Dec 2013, 10:56am by PatsFan


by Peregrine :: Fri, 11/29/2013 - 12:39pm

Nice piece by Doug.

I've always felt a connection with Dr. Z as well. Back in 1997 I interned at SI and did fact-checking for Dr. Z and Peter King's nascent MMQB. I was a lineman in high school and always appreciated Dr. Z's focus on line play.

And this might have been my favorite piece by him, his prediction that the Giants would beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.


by nath :: Fri, 11/29/2013 - 4:56pm

Dr. Z was my favorite football writer for a long time-- definitely the best old-school, pre-advanced stats writer, since he actually watched film and formed opinions based on that.

I was mentioned in a mailbag of his once! That was a nice moment.

by Bobman :: Mon, 12/02/2013 - 3:28am

I think I was, too! Sadly, it was wine-related and not NFL related, but as he and I love them both, I felt free writing to him about either, or both, whenever I wrote in. Usually both. "Hey Paul, I had a really great Aussie shiraz the other night, did you ever have....?" Who the hell else of his generation connected with his readers in such a way that they sent them freakin' wine suggestions? I really miss his stuff.

by bubqr :: Mon, 12/02/2013 - 9:35am

Which Shiraz was that mate?

by Athelas :: Fri, 11/29/2013 - 5:34pm

Great piece. I certainly hope those who haven't read before will be inspired to do so.

As a female who was passionate about football but didn't have any personal experience playing it to help me understand it, his writings were incredibly important to my education.

Thanks Dr Z.

by dryheat :: Fri, 11/29/2013 - 6:15pm

My favorite thing about Z was he was the only, and I mean the only, sportswriter who ever wrote "I don't know, but I'll see if I can find out for you" in response to a question. And he did it often, in a time when 100% of the other writers were afraid to say "I don't know" and either made up some b.s. answer or ignored the question and went off on a tangent.

by Subrata Sircar :: Fri, 11/29/2013 - 7:53pm

I learned how important line play was by reading his columns and then watching the games with them in mind. It was astonishing how often, once I looked, I could identify successful plays before they unfolded because I could see the blitz being picked up, or the force defender getting pancaked. It was eye-opening, my first real glimpse into how football really worked.

Thanks, Dr. Z.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Sat, 11/30/2013 - 5:52pm

This. Reading Dr. Z made me start to notice the details, and I felt like I stopped staring at football and actually started watching it.

by Bobman :: Mon, 12/02/2013 - 3:29am

Especially line play, right?

by panthersnbraves :: Sun, 12/01/2013 - 10:03am

Absolutely! Whether I am watching on TV or in person, people wonder how I can pick out a bad formation or a hold before the flag is even thrown, and it is because Dr Z taught me how to look for them.

Now that my son is playing HS O-Line, I am thankful that I learned to appreciate his contributions on a more technical level so that I can both enjoy the play, and converse with him about the play. We were looking at game film, and I asked him why he reversed his field and blocked inside, when it appeared he was going to finish pulling and block the OLB. His reply was that the OLB was too far out, and his second-level read had him choosing to go through the A-gap and taking the SS. Nice pick-up for a First Down.

I never would have understood (or likely even cared about) that one play, without having first read Z's articles.

by princeton73 (not verified) :: Fri, 11/29/2013 - 10:42pm

check his brilliant analysis of the Dan Marino pick by the Dolphins (at approx 3:08)

by Karl Cuba :: Sat, 11/30/2013 - 12:03pm

That's fantastic. I also love that his fellow analyst was Howard Balzer because he used to write the best column in the British NFL magazine 'First Down', so you have two of the writers who had the most influence on me as a young football fan in the UK there on a clip from 83.

by Dr. Bill :: Sat, 11/30/2013 - 3:30pm

Great piece--thanks.

by RickD :: Sat, 11/30/2013 - 5:17pm

Great piece.

I remember getting my first Sports Illustrated subscription in 1979. There was a new writer on board, a colorful guy who seemed to know a lot about football named Paul Zimmerman, who went by the nickname of Dr. Z. From that early day Dr. Z was the one guy who always had the best analysis of the NFL. And really, most of the time it wasn't close. As others have noted, Dr. Z. took the time to cover line play. Once you see a good discussion of line play, you wonder how so many writers get by just talking about what the star QB is up to. Dr. Z. has always understood that football is a team game, and he liked covering the guys in the trenches.

by panthersnbraves :: Sun, 12/01/2013 - 10:04am

I always enjoyed his love of the Flaming Redhead - and you can still see his devotion today...

by Boots Day :: Sun, 12/01/2013 - 1:05pm

I have a copy of the original "Thinking Man's Guide to Football," from 1970. I've read it about five times, and maybe it's time to read it again. Dr. Z is, hands down, the best writer about professional football there has ever been.

by buzzorhowl (not verified) :: Sun, 12/01/2013 - 2:10pm

I probably wouldn't be reading this website today if my parents hadn't given me a copy of The New Thinking Man's Guide To Pro Football for my 10th birthday in 1986. I read that book at least a dozen times as a kid, and although I don't have that copy anymore (more's the pity, considering how much copies sell for on the secondhand market), I can still remember a lot of the stories he told in there. Even as a little kid, I loved football, but Dr. Z's expertise took me to a whole new level.

by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Sun, 12/01/2013 - 4:12pm

Loved reading Dr. Z's articles. He was a writer who dared to be different, who wrote about tactics instead of narrative, who watched more games than any other writer (and charted them all, before charting was a thing!), who hated cliches, who didn't take his power ranking too seriously, who answered mailbag questions that deserved to be answered, who stuck to his game charting results when making Pro Bowl picks even when they were unconventional, who ranked broadcasting teams, who (as many people have noted) timed the national anthem, and who believed that a football column was an appropriate place to discuss his love of fine wine. There is no writer today who can combine his ornery, cussed refusal to spout narrative or dumb down analysis, his encyclopedic knowledge of the game and its history, his commitment to objective charting and analysis, and his insider experience manning the trenches. Usually we have to settle for one or two of those qualities, and the best writers today have three. None of them can capture all four, much less Z's offbeat and inimitable writing voice.

by Bobman :: Mon, 12/02/2013 - 3:31am

Damn you guys! Last time I got weepy reading FO was when you excerpted (or linked to excerpts from) The Blind Side.

by Danish Denver-Fan :: Mon, 12/02/2013 - 7:21am

'When when' indeed my friend.

It is somehow both sad to see this true giant rendered almost speechless and inspiring to see he is powering on and wants none of our pity.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 12/02/2013 - 10:07am

Of the mainstream sportswriters, he was about the only one who had an opinion about Pro Bowl selections that I paid attention to, because he was the only one who saw enough games to have an opinion that mattered, and had enough experience with the game to have an opinion that mattered. Which is why I got so mad at him when he selected Mike Alstott one year.

Miss ya', Z.

by Richie :: Mon, 12/02/2013 - 3:40pm

On that NFL Films piece, they mention that Dr. Z is unable to write, and his only communication is to way "when". Does anybody know how he was able to write the story that was told in that documentary?

by PatsFan :: Tue, 12/03/2013 - 10:56am

I have no inside info, but my guess is that his wife, etc. put the piece together in their best imitation of his style and what they think he's thinking and then read it to him sentence by sentence and he'd say "yes" or "no" at each sentence and if he said "no" they'd rewrite and try again until he said "yes".