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Volume 25 No. 216
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Longtime NFL Writer Paul Zimmerman Passes Away At 86

Zimmerman led the Pro Football Writers of America in '82 and received the Dick McCann Award in '96
Photo: SI

PAUL ZIMMERMAN, a journalist whose "extensive analysis of the NFL's complicated schemes changed the way many fans viewed the sport," died Thursday at age 86, according to Bob Glauber of NEWSDAY. Zimmerman "wrote about football for 55 years" and covered the JOE NAMATH-era Jets for the N.Y. Post before joining SI in '79. He wrote for the magazine until '08, when he "suffered the first of a series of strokes that left him unable to write." Zimmerman had a "cantankerous personality and wasn’t afraid to verbally challenge players." However, he was "universally respected for his knowledge of the game" (NEWSDAY, 11/2). The AP noted Zimmerman was "president of the Pro Football Writers of America" during the '82 season and received the Dick McCann Award, the PFWA’s highest honor, in '96 for a "long and distinguished contribution through coverage." The PFWA in '14 instituted the Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman Award, given for "lifetime achievement as an assistant coach in the NFL" (AP, 11/1).

ONE OF A KIND: NBCSPORTS.com's Peter King, who worked alongside Zimmerman for years at SI, wrote the NFL world has "lost a legend." There were many people in sports journalism who were "inspired to dream to do this work" by Zimmerman, and he had "more influence on the business than anyone I know" (TWITTER.com, 11/1). YAHOO SPORTS' Frank Schwab wrote among all the "men and women who have written about professional football, few made a mark" like Zimmerman. His '70s book, "A THINKING MAN'S GUIDE TO PRO FOOTBALL," and the '84 sequel, "NEW THINKING MEN'S GUIDE TO PRO FOOTBALL," are considered two of the "most influential books on football ever written." Zimmerman's style was "gruff, blunt, smart, funny and entertaining" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 11/1). In DC, Des Bieler writes Zimmerman's writing style "contributed to a gruff, even cantankerous old-school persona, but that was belied by the affection he inspired among those who knew him" (WASHINGTON POST, 11/2). In N.Y., Kevin Kenney writes Zimmerman was an "analytical and opinionated football guru who penned erudite and insightful columns, picked games, wrote mock drafts, knew everybody and was known by everybody" (N.Y. POST, 11/2). NFL.com's Michael Silver wrote Zimmerman was an "American original" and called him the "greatest football writer of all-time." Silver: "To say that, in the course of writing 13 consecutive Super Bowl game stories for SI and covering the sport for the magazine, I strove to soar to the standard set by Zim would be an understatement" (NFL.com, 11/1).

HIS OWN STYLE: In Boston, Chad Finn writes no NFL writer "has been as ahead of his time or more detailed in his analysis as Paul Zimmerman." He was "opinionated and notorious among colleagues for refusing to back down from a football argument he believed in" (BOSTON GLOBE, 11/2). PRO FOOTBALL TALK'S Michael David Smith wrote Zimmerman "understood the sport of football in a way few if any members of the media before him did: Zimmerman would write not only about the running back who gained 100 yards, but about the offensive linemen who made it possible -- and he would explain in great detail how the offensive linemen did it, often interviewing players and coaches not just to get a glimpse of their personalities but to get minute details like what went into a proper three-point stance" (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 11/1). SI.com's Jimmy Traina noted Zimmerman's columns gave readers 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" (SI.com, 11/1).

TWITTER REMEMBRANCES: The L.A. Times' Sam Farmer: "Godspeed, Dr. Z, your impact on the NFL sportswriting world is immeasurable." The Athletic's Don Banks: "He will be greatly missed, and long remembered." ESPN's Stan Verrett: "My mom encouraged us to become avid readers, so I had my own subscription to Sports Illustrated starting in elementary school. I would wait for it each week. As an NFL fan, I always enjoyed Dr. Z, especially when he wrote about the Saints." NBC Sports Philadelphia's Reuben Clark: "I was so lucky to be SI's Eagles stringer back in the day. Every time I talked to Dr. Z I learned something and laughed my ass off." Indianapolis-based reporter Bob Kravitz: "I never met Paul Zimmerman, but he was so far ahead of his time when it came to truly understanding football X and O’s and communicating it in a way that was accessible to a layman." TSN's Michael Farber: "Like Joe Gergen and Bill Nack at Newsday, Paul Zimmerman covered the 76 Olympics for @nypost and more than held his own against a squadron from the @nytimes. His work mattered. He mattered."