A word of warning: Do not try to call, page or in any way
communicate with SI senior writer Paul Zimmerman, a.k.a. Dr. Z,
when there's an NFL game on television. "I won't let him take
calls then because he's so rude," says Zimmerman's wife, Linda.
"If you interrupt him during a game, you wouldn't want to talk to
him again." The good doctor doesn't just watch the games. He
charts them with a devotion to detail worthy of Vermeer. On his
play-by-play sheet, for example, Zimmerman uses blue ink for one
team and a black pencil for the other; he notes injuries in red
and employs green for anything out of the ordinary, including bad
calls, fights and coaches' challenges. He also keeps what he
calls a field chart, which lists eligible receivers and shows the
defenders who covered them on each play. ("So I know who the
offense is picking on," he says.) On top of all that Zimmerman
maintains his own set of stats for the simple reason that, as he
says, "I don't trust the official statistician."
By his own estimate Zimmerman has charted 6,000 games since he
first broke out his pens and pencils while attending the 1947
Columbia-Penn clash as a teenager. Since coming to SI in 1979 he
has refined the system, and these days, using two satellite
dishes and three VCRs hooked up at his Mountain Lakes, N.J.,
home, he watches and charts, live and on tape, eight games per
week, or about 150 per season. Apart from his sheer passion for
football, what motivates the doctor is, he says, the hope of
catching something significant that everyone else missed.
"Catching five of those missed things a week gives me an edge,"
That edge is what distinguishes his weekly "Dr. Z's Forecast,"
which in this issue focuses on Super Bowl XXXVII (page 54). After
Sunday's conference championship games, in which he batted .500,
Zimmerman was 118--78 for the season, a .602 average.
He has about five careers packed onto his resume. He has covered
the Blue Jays for Toronto's Globe and Mail and served as that
paper's Beijing bureau chief. He has worked as a correspondent
for CBC news, written documentaries for The Discovery Channel,
written four books, hosts segments for Hockey Night in Canada and
even put in a stint last summer as a park ranger at Glen Canyon
National Recreation Area, near his home in Page, Ariz. Then, a
few months ago, Allen Abel, 52, found his curiosity leading him
in yet another direction. "I wanted to write about the basketball
diaspora," he says, referring to the increasing number of
Americans playing overseas. "When Yao Ming came over here," Abel
says, "I thought it was only natural to look the other way, at
the American on Yao's former team." Abel's profile of Dan
McClintock, Yao's replacement on the Shanghai Sharks, starts on
page 63 and tells the story of a 7-footer and former Denver
Nugget who is trying, despite limited basketball skills, to
adjust to a culture that still reveres Yao.