Paul Zimmerman, the legendary Sports Illustrated NFL writer, passed away Thursday at 86 years old. I had the pleasure of meeting the man who has been described as the “dean of columnists,” while covering my second NFL Draft in New York City, in 2006. But, it was my first using my YouTube Channel, Zennie62.
I asked Mr. Zimmerman if I could interview him for my channel, and while he didn’t know me and had every right to refuse my request, he accepted it.
What a treat (as you can see)! See, Paul Zimmerman is the author of the legendary book “The Thinking Man’s Guide To Pro Football.” That title was particularly important to me because as a teenager I arrogantly considered myself smart: a lover of detailed football strategy (all that still applied today).
Mr. Zimmerman’s book didn’t disappoint me: if you want to understand why a man named Sam Huff, and the position he played of “4-3 middle linebacker” is so important to the evolution of pro football, you need to read “The Thinking Man’s Guide To Pro Football.” But, I digress.
The author of the “The Thinking Man’s Guide To Pro Football” and I went from the NFL Draft floor at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall, and down to the make-shift restaurant in what’s called “The Grand Lounge”, so I could set up my camcorder and have a quick talk with Sports Illustrated royalty.
The reason I planned for a quick talk was that the Houston Texans had just finished selecting Mario Williams as the first pick in that draft, even though some believed the team would take USC’s Reggie Bush. The Draft was speeding along, and we didn’t want to miss what was going on.
So, for that reason, we didn’t have much time, but the six minutes-plus of YouTube video time was classic, and for one simple reason: Paul doesn’t have a filter. He says what’s on his mind, and he’s not mean-sprited (at least he didn’t seem like that to me) so the talk was fun. I particularly wanted to ask him what his beef was with Katie Couric.
See, that year, 2006, Couric was named anchor of the CBS Evening News, was going to be paid a king’s ransom five-year, $75 million contract, and “Dr. Z” as he’s called, never stopped talking about her at the Draft.
So, after we sat down to do the video, Paul tore into the idea that Katie Couric brought anything of value to the CBS Evening News. But that was after a great take on why the Houston Texans took Williams with the Number One Pick the organization held for the 2006 NFL Player Selection Meeting. Dr. Z said that the Texans were afraid Bush would hold out of training camp for more money “they did it because they couldn’t sign Reggie Bush,” he said. “Peter King of Sports Illustrated had it, but I didn’t believe him,” he continued.
Katie Couric Tests Well In Focus Groups
Then, we turned to Katie Couric: “I really don’t understand. What does she do for $15 mil (a year)? She’s not a Walter Cronkite. She’s not an Edward R. Murrow. She’s doesn’t change the course of history or our lives. She’s a pretty face”, he said.
“She tests well in focus groups,” was my response. Paul just flipped his eye-brows and said “Okay.” “You’re more up on these things than I am. I’m just a Joe,” he continued. “I don’t think she can pick up a blitzing linebacker…” Then, we turned to my question of how the NFL changed. His answer surprised me.
Given his writing, I expected a technical, football strategy-based answer based on the 4-6 defensive front, or the Dallas Cowboys’ mutiple-offense, or Bill Walsh’s short passing system, or something. What I got was a reminder that, at the end of the day, the NFL is about people, and race. “The most dramatic change in pro football,” Dr. Z said,” is it used to be a white game, now it’s a black game. It used to be a strength game, now, it’s a speed game. If you don’t have speed, you can’t win.”
I wanted to continue the talk, but felt the press of time. We had a lot of fun and agreed to meet and talk again, but never were able to connect to make that happen.
While I can’t claim to be a great friend of Paul Zimmerman’s, I can say I was blessed to not only meet and talk with him, but produce what turned out to be the only YouTube-based interview with him. Dr. Z is a reminder of a time when people could just talk about people and make true observations and not be denounced for it. We need to return to that.