The return of Paul Zimmerman, including excerpts from his unpublished memoirs and best-of selections from his long tenure at SI, elicited a powerful response from The MMQB family and around the football world  

July 01, 2016

This week, The MMQB is celebrating the life and career of Paul Zimmerman, who earned the nickname Dr. Z for his groundbreaking analytical approach to the coverage of pro football. For more from Dr. Z Week, click here.

Throughout Dr. Z Week, we asked for your feedback and reactions to our tribute to Paul Zimmerman. We received an outpouring of memories about Zim and appreciations of his writing as well as generous donations on the GoFundMe page set up to raise money for Paul’s mounting medical bills. It wasn’t just longtime readers of Paul who wrote in; we heard from a new generation of Dr. Z fans who’ve been introduced to his writing for the first time this week. Thanks to all of you for sharing your thoughts and memories.

Paul's wife, Linda Bailey Zimmerman, sent in this note:

Paul and I are overwhelmed by the incredible tribute that Peter and his team put together on The MMQB.  I have spent the week reading every article to Paul ... watching every video. We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve even sobbed!

I can’t begin to express our gratitude that people still appreciate his talent and wit. Even though Paul is severely handicapped, his wit and humor still shine through! He remains as brilliant as ever... even though his brilliance is now locked inside! This week has been especially uplifting to me ... reminding me what a great writer this generation has lost! I really wish he could have finished his memoirs, and I wish that he would have had time to write a novel. This week has made me realize that a great writer can make you read anything.

Much thanks and love to everyone!

—Linda & Paul (The Flaming Redhead & Dr Z)

And now for your emails…

* * *

The MMQB

I’ve been a guitar player for close to 30 years, and there are some players for whom you just know who it is simply by hearing them play. Albert and BB King, Clapton, Jimi, SRV, Duane Allman, Warren Haynes. It’s the same notes, the same chords and scales, but a voice distinct and unique as soon as you hear it. Why is that?

I was a Dr. Z reader for many years and was saddened to learn the news of his strokes that forever muted his voice. It was great getting updates from Peter, but it wasn’t the same, and with time all seems to fade.

When I clicked on “A Life in Journalism,” it was like someone discovered some lost basement tapes. A long-forgotten vinyl export from some bootlegged gig in Slobovia or something. It was like you pulled the record from the jacket, put it on the turntable, and BAM! There was Zim, just riffing! The licks, the tone, the phrasing ... undeniably Dr. Z!

—Doug McCluskey, Moncton, NB, Canada

* * *

I was going to take a day trip to NYC this week by train, but after reading Peter’s column on Monday, I decided to donate the money and put the trip off for another time. I donated $100, what I would have spent on my trip. I broke it down as an $84 round trip ticket and $10+ for food. I don't really consider it a sacrifice, just more about managing priorities in life. I read Dr. Z growing up, and the stories this week reminded me of his incredible football knowledge. His stories were always so good to read.

—Kevin Johnson, Albany, N.Y.

* * *

I felt compelled to help. I have known Zim for almost 40 years. We are part of the same community—the football community. He could be cantankerous as hell, but I enjoyed working with him because we shared a love of the game. I deeply respected his knowledge, his passion, and his wit. There were usually a few laughs in any conversation with him.

—Greg Aiello, NFL Public Relations

* * *

Like every other sports fan growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, I was eager to retrieve my Sports Illustrated from the mailbox every Thursday. That meant relishing the great writing and reporting of, among others, Dr. Z. In 1986, my first year on the Cowboys beat—despite the fact I figured I knew everything at the age of 31—I took Dr. Z’s “Thinking Man’s Guide to Pro Football” with me to training camp in Thousand Oaks. I was quickly astonished to find out how much I didn’t know about the league and the game.

In addition, I had the good fortune to work with Paul that year (despite my rookie beat writer status) since he was writing a book on Duane Thomas and needed weekly updates on what was going on inside Valley Ranch at the Cowboys’ new headquarters. He paid me handsomely for it, and I’m sure most of the material was useless, but near the end of the season I did get a note or a call from him (how did we communicate in 1986?) saying, “last week that was exactly the stuff I need.” And some of it actually made its way into his book.

Of course, I saw him on and off in press boxes through the years and chatted with him many times but had lost track of just exactly how his life had been impaired by the strokes a few years ago. When I saw the photos and read the article on The MMQB, I felt like a donation was the least I could provide a man who meant so much to me in my earliest days as a journalist covering the NFL.

—Tim Cowlishaw, Dallas Morning News

* * *

Dr. Z Week was a great idea. Paul’s column was a must read, and no one has filled his shoes. The only thing he liked more than football was a great French restaurant and a better French wine. That shows you how marvelous his perspective on life really was.

When I was general manager of the Patriots, he could be critical, but never personal. If he criticized me or my team it felt like it was coming from a mentor. Thanks for putting this great retrospective together.

—Pat Sullivan, Patriots GM, 1983-90

* * *

My favorite Dr. Z quote was a scouting report he did on some player ... “He runs like the wind, a wind which occasionally blows him into strip clubs, where ‘misunderstandings’ occur.”

—Stacey Monponsett, Duxbury, Mass.

* * *

I’ll let you in on a little secret. When I read Peter’s Monday column, I always gloss over the bits where you talk about writers or personalities who have passed away. As a 24-year-old from Australia, learning about a pundit from Tennessee or Nebraska has little interest to me whatsoever.

So when I heard you were going to spend a week talking about on old writer I thought, “Oh boy, looks like I’ll have to get my news fix somewhere else this week.” But luckily for me, there was nothing else to read at this dull time in the offseason. So I read Peter’s MMQB column. Then I read Tim Rohan’s fantastic piece. And I realized I was hooked.

Then, and this is why I’m writing, the most curious thing happened. Midway through reading Dr. Z’s memoirs about his pathway in journalism, I had an uncontrollable urge to just start writing. I closed my browser and just started crunching my keyboard. The words flowed without a lull. The European soccer championship is on right now, so I wrote what ended up being 11 pages on what I thought of the tournament so far. I could have written about anything. I was that inspired.

The content about and by Dr. Z hypnotized me into writing. And I had so much fun doing it.

When the written word can spark you to do something or feel something, it is truly special. This Dr. Z week was truly special for me. What a wonderfully pleasant surprise.

—Sean, Adelaide, Australia

* * *

The excerpt from Dr. Z’s memoirs was fantastic. I’ve forgotten over the years, since his stroke, how wonderful his writing is. I’ve always loved football, but he made me understand why I loved it and made me appreciate it even more. Thanks for bringing back great memories. By the way, to this day, anytime I see “The Star Spangled Banner” performed, I pay attention to the length and think of the good doctor.

—Lee Lovette

* * *

Many thanks for Dr. Z week on The MMQB. As a football fan in England for the last 15 years, I did not have the privilege of reading his work. Or should I say, I was deprived of the opportunity. Now, my eyes have been opened. I must hunt down a copy of The Thinking Man's Guide to Pro Football for some summer reading.

—Jonathan

* * *

I met Paul in the Candlestick Park press box in 1988. I was a young sports writer at the Contra Costa Times, and, as a former high school player I came to love Paul’s nuts-and-bolts insight into the game. I went up to him and in so doing penetrated a light haze of cigar smoke that surrounded him.

Paul was very nice, taking the time to show me his play-by-play charts, his drive charts and the stop watch which he proudly showed me how he always timed the national anthem.

I didn’t have time to get to know him better, but I later ran into him and a young Peter King at the ’89 Super Bowl, Niners-Bengals. Paul was a profound, solid writer on football, and few in journalism knew the game better. Niners were slated to play the Falcons, I believe. Their quarterback was Steve DeBerg, who former Niners coach Bill Walsh once said—to Dr. Z—was “just good enough to get you beat.” During the weekly pressers, that issue came up. Walsh, of course, denied. Writer after writer used the NFL’s press book to call Z at his home, including me. It went like this:

Ring.

Voice: “He said it.”

Click.

—Ted Johnson

* * *

I was once lucky enough to be chosen as Paul’s E-mailer of the Week for his SI.com column. I asked a forgotten football question but also mentioned his reference to a Washington State Lemberger (Kiona Vineyards, lower Yakima valley), wondering why this wonderful grape is so little cultivated.

It was an honor to “chat” with him via his weekly column about wine, and to this day I keep a bottle of Kiona Lemberger in my wine rack, drinking as appropriate and replacing the bottle after. I figure he would approve, and I do it to honor the grape and to honor him.

—Mark Hartman, Edmonds, Wash.

* * *

I have tried at least four times this week to write this email, but I have struggled to find the right words to say. So, I will keep it simple; I miss reading Dr. Z’s columns on SI.com a lot. I am an avid reader and a borderline crazy football fan. I am always reading a book, an online article, a magazine, someone's random twitter feed (Dr. Z would have been a must-follow). I did not know of his days as a newspaper reporter, and I did not read much of his SI stuff, but I was a huge fan of his online columns. Reading Dr. Z. columns was a weekly ritual, and it was a ritual that I became fully devoted. So when I heard the news of his stroke, I was saddened, but I just expected that it would take some time for him to recover, and he would be back at it. But he didn't come back, and he is not going to.

There is never going to be another Dr. Z. He loved football, he loved writing, and not just writing about football X’s and O’s. It was everything else that he put into his columns that made him a must-read. He was a perfect blend of old-time reporter and new online color writer. Storyteller, teacher, coach, reporter, collector, wine muser, and man who’d seen it all but still loved to see more.  

So all of this week at The MMQB has been awesome. I’ve read everything, and I love it. I miss reading him, and I know that there are a thousand more readers out there that miss him too. Keep fighting, Dr. Z, don’t give up. Tell the Flaming Red Head we miss her too, and there are many out here praying for both of them, and cheering for her and Dr. Z. 

—Jeremy Woods

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