When the above picture was taken 25 years ago, Paul Zimmerman, then playing for the Western Area Command Rhinos, was recovering from the third of four broken noses he sustained during an undistinguished career as an interior lineman in high school, at two colleges—Stanford and Columbia—and for the Rhinos, an Army team. As painful as those smashed schnozzes were, we're sort of glad they happened, because they're one of the reasons Zimmerman is so well qualified to write the story about New England Guard John Hannah that begins on page 46.
Zimmerman says he was "big and slow" as a player; he suspects that if he had ever been timed for the 40, he would have been a "dnf" (track shorthand for "did not finish"). The toughest foe he ever faced, in a U.S. Army League Game, was a former Ole Miss stalwart named Charlie Montgomery. Montgomery proved too fast for Zim, so he resorted to grabbing. Suddenly, Montgomery's fist shot through the space above Zimmerman's face bar, raising a lump on his forehead. "I looked like a unicorn," Zim recalls.
In 1960 Zimmerman was a $25-a-game guard with the semi-pro Paterson (N.J.) Pioneers and a reporter for the now-defunct The New York World-Telegram & The Sun. At that year's NFL championship between Green Bay and Philadelphia, the paper's football writer, Joe King, sent Zim to his first pro dressing room to get quotes from the losing Packers. One of the first players Zimmerman saw was Guard Jerry Kramer, and he asked him, "How did you call your changeups?" Because reporters never spoke to offensive linemen in those days, Kramer brought over Fuzzy Thurston and Jim Ringo. As Zim recalls, "They were lovely to talk with, but then, suddenly, the room was emptying and I had no quotes. Paul Hornung, who had hurt his neck, was leaving, and I asked him, 'How's your neck?' 'Fine,' he said, and left.
" 'Excuse me,' I said to Vince Lombardi. Lombardi said, 'I already talked to the reporters. Goodby.' "
August 2, 1981
Soon, King came in. "How's Hornung's neck?" he asked Zim.
"Fine," replied Zim.
"Well, what did Lombardi say?"
"What did you get?"
"Well, I talked to the interior three."
"Get out of here."
Two years passed before Zimmerman got into another pro dressing room, Cleveland's. "Jimmy Brown had had a big day," Zim says, "and I wrote about the two guards in front of him, Gene Hickerson and John Wooten. The headline over my story read: GUYS WHO PAVED THE WAY FOR JIMMY BROWN, and I thought, 'Hey, I've got a gold mine here, as long as no one catches on.'
"People don't talk much to offensive linemen even now, because it's tough to tell when they're doing a great job, but they're the ones I like to watch best. It takes extremely high intelligence to play the offensive line and all of those guys are very bright. That's why they talk so well. All the punishment they take also tends to open them up. I always find the best-talking athletes are the ones who have to absorb pain—distance runners, fighters and offensive linemen."
No wonder Zim can identify with them. After all, how many football writers have broken their noses four times?