War talk by men who have been in a war is always interesting; whereas moon talk by a poet who has not been in the moon is likely to be dull
—Mark Twain, 1883
This is an article from the Oct. 8, 1984 issue
Football talk from SI senior writer Paul Zimmerman would have held Twain's attention. Dr. Z, our offensive lineman emeritus, who has two stories in this issue, on Sunday's Broncos-Raiders game (page 16) and on San Diego Charger wide receiver Charlie Joiner (page 36), spent a goodly chunk of his early life in a three-point stance—11 football seasons' worth. That hands-on experience enriches his writing, which now includes his recently published The New Thinking Man's Guide to Pro Football (Simon and Schuster, $17.95), an updated version of a similar Guide published in 1971.
Zimmerman, in his sixth year here at SI, spent two years on the book, and the result is a triumph of organization. If, on assignment for us, he noticed something worthy of inclusion in his Guide, he made notes in red ink for easy identification later. These and other scribblings were transferred to "about 2,000" 5" X 7" index cards, which were strewn throughout two rooms of his Mountain Lakes, N.J. house. "When it was time to start writing I beat a drum," says Zimmerman. "The cards lined up and marched in, and that's how the book was finished."
After college football (Stanford, Columbia) and a year with the Army's Western Area Command Rhinos in West Germany, Zimmerman played into his 30s (he's 51 now) for semipro teams in New York and New Jersey. But football wasn't his only sport. He was a co-founder of the Columbia Rugby Club and toured England, Ireland and Wales with a club team, the Old Blues. As a 15-year-old heavyweight, he'd sparred with Ernest Hemingway in a Manhattan gym, and later he boxed in the Army, distinguishing himself as "the first victim of a guy who went on to score 12 straight knockouts." They stopped the fight at 2:38 in the first round, but not before his date, who'd been watching, became ill.
Says Dr. Z, "I suppose if I'd been a great athlete and a great pro, I wouldn't be a writer now."
But he wasn't, so he is. Frankly, we wouldn't have it any other way.