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Saturday, November 03, 2018

RIP Dr. Z

While I enjoyed Peter King, Dr. Z was always my favorite of Sports Illustrated's Big Three football writers. His acerbic, opinionated style might not well have gone down with television viewers - he was fired by ESPN - but he was the inspiration for all the detailed analysis now provided by the likes of Football Outsiders and ProFootball Focus.

His articles are a wealth of football history, dating back to the all-time great Notre Dame teams of 1946 and 1947 and the unheralded stars of the AAFC. He truly lived a life in football, and he was one of the sport's greatest historians. His insight was deep, as indicated by this offhand observation in an article on the New York Giants defeat of the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV:
"I want size on my entire defense," says Parcells, "not only on my front seven, but in my secondary. [Five of his nine defensive backs weigh 200 pounds or more, and no defender weighs less than 190.] The defensive backs have to be physical on the receivers, jam them. Sure, they'll get their share of catches, but they're going to pay for them."

That was the heart of the defensive scheme New York threw at Buffalo. Parcells was in charge of the overall concept, but the implementation was left to Bill Belichick, the brilliant, 38-year-old defensive coordinator who has head coach written all over him.
We can hardly hold it against him that he did not predict Belichick would subsequently become the greatest NFL coach of all time, as he clearly perceived Belichick's unusual potential. His attention to detail bordered on the obsessive; he made a habit of timing the performance of the national athems. My favorite feature was his post-season ratings of the NFL announcing teams, where he spoke for the viewers with the assurance of a subject-matter expert.
The worst is the search for the eternal "story line," a favorite device of production people but something I've always felt is a deadly trap. "Here's the story line," we hear at the top of the show, or "among the many story lines," etc. No, the story line is what develops from the game itself, and as an old handicapper, I can tell you that most of the time it differs from preconceived notions. So why bother with it at all? Why get locked into such a static device, instead of merely letting the game take its course?
He was an old school man in a new school world, but he never compromised or concealed his opinions. He was also a wine aficionado and wasn't afraid to demonstrate that he loved his wife as much as the sport to which he dedicated his life. He was, in short, a genuine man, and the world is fortunate that he left us such a treasure trove of his work.

Perhaps the best compliment one can pay him is to observe that if an alien were to come across the ruins of the planet Earth centuries in the future, the archive of Dr. Z's writings would not merely suffice to allow that alien to understand the game of football, it would make that alien a fan of the defunct sport.

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12 Comments:

Blogger Dave November 03, 2018 11:09 AM  

Would it be safe to say Dr. Z did not oppose the 2A?

Blogger Sean November 03, 2018 11:23 AM  

One of my favorite Dr. Z gripes was over the national anthem. He kept a record of how long they were and how long it should be. He was the best sports writer of my life time. It was a sad day when the stroke Left him unable to write.

Blogger Dave November 03, 2018 12:03 PM  

The strange and creepy video recommendations are back and, no, I'm not referring to JBP.

Blogger Dave W. November 03, 2018 12:58 PM  

Dr Z was always one of my favorite football writers, too. It was a sad day when he fell ill.

One of the biggest surprises I read in one of his obits was that his father was Charles Zimmerman, chairman of the Socialist Party of America. Dr Z never once struck me as that kind of leftist idiot.

Blogger George P. Burdell November 03, 2018 2:41 PM  

I almost totally disagreed w/ Dr.Z's politics, but I loved his football and wine commentary.

Blogger Retrenched November 03, 2018 3:18 PM  

My second favorite sportswriter ever after Frank Deford. RIP Dr Z.

Blogger Migly November 03, 2018 4:01 PM  

He was the greatest. Have been missing him for years now.

Blogger Haxo Angmark November 03, 2018 4:01 PM  

monkeyball is already a defunct sport,

and has been so for many years.

and, for the record, I can remember the

great days of Y.A. Tittle and the alphabet backfield.

Blogger lowercaseb November 03, 2018 5:27 PM  

This is a wonderful eulogy. Even though things are rough nowadays, it's good to be reminded of men that inspire.

Blogger Skylark Thibedeau November 03, 2018 7:29 PM  

Loved to read his column but he was a leftard. I think he was really planning to move to New Zealand aftrr Kerry lost but then the Stroke happened.

He did know his football and his analysis of the NFL was second to no one. RIP Dr.Z.

Blogger flyingtiger November 04, 2018 11:14 AM  

He was wrong about John Don Loony. He called him the worse football player ever, and had an appropriate name. Looney was ahead of his time. He took weight lifting seriously and worked out. He may have taken steroids, which would have made a pioneer in that area. Looney was famous for auguing with the coach and being right. He had an average career, and retired as soon as he qualified for a pension. He even volunteered to fight in Vietnam! That is part of the Looney legend.
Aside from that, I liked everything else about Dr. Z.

Blogger Dirk Manly November 04, 2018 3:33 PM  

Loony was a reservist, and his unit was called up for Vietnam. Loony joined a class action suit pushing the idea that a reserve unit can't be called up for an undeclared war. They lost. Loony obeyed his mobilization his orders.

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