- Sports Illustrated writer/producer Jimmy Traina worked closely with Paul Zimmerman back in the early 2000s, and he describes what it was like engaging with Dr. Z on a regular basis.
I don’t know exactly how or when it happened, but it was sometime in the early 2000s. I was an editorial assistant at then-CNNSI.com where my job consisted of typing magazine stories into our computer system. One day, out of nowhere, my then-boss Stefanie Kaufman—who many of you don’t know because she works behind the scenes at Sports Illustrated—told me that Paul Zimmerman, who we all know as Dr. Z, had called and told her that from now on, the only person he wanted to deal with at the website was me.
Back then, Dr. Z wrote weekly NFL Power Rankings and a weekly column. The e-mail sent to him in reply to those pieces went to an inbox to which the entire staff had access. Each week, the NFL producer had to sift through the e-mail and compile a dozen or so questions to fax—yes, fax—to Dr. Z so he could use them in his weekly mailbag. Apparently one week, the NFL producer botched the fax and Dr. Z was not pleased, so he made his proclamation to Stefanie.
Shortly thereafter, I became his personal editor at the website, and it was one of the best things to happen to me.
Not only was I treated to reading and editing his tremendous writing each week, but I was also able to work with a man in his 70s who understood the Internet better than any other writer. He was so ahead of his time with how he wrote for an online audience. His mailbag was unlike any other mailbag there is or ever will be. His columns gave you an inside look at the technical aspect of football—he loved critiquing line play—but he wrote in a way the common fan could understand. And he was doing NFL announcer rankings before anyone else and better than anyone else.
I was also treated to getting to know the man. He LOVED football. He would literally cut out every single boxscore every single season and glue them into a notebook. He charted every single game using his own system where he graded every player. He had stories about anyone and everyone associated with the NFL, and he loved to share them.
But the best part about working closely with Dr. Z for a few years was dealing with someone who was 100% real. There was no bullsh-- with Dr. Z; no phoniness. What you saw was what you got, and you never had to guess where you stood.
If I changed a line in his column without telling him, he’d call me, yelling and screaming and ranting about how unhappy he was, and then he’d hang up on me.
Five minutes later, my phone would ring. I’d pick it up and say, “This is Jimmy,” and he’d say, “Who do you like in the Eagles-Giants game this week?” as if nothing happened.
There was never a dull moment working with him. It was a constant roller coaster with ups and downs, but the downs never lasted, and that made everything exciting and energizing. I will always be grateful for those few years.
One day during this time, we had a big company meeting, and we all had to go around the room, introduce ourselves and say what we did at SI.
I said, “My name is Jimmy Traina, I’m a producer for the website and Dr. Z’s personal bitch.”
And I thoroughly enjoyed every minute I had in that role.