There always are plenty of football books available during the holiday season, but one deserves special attention not only for its quality but also for the story of how it got published.
Dr. Z: The Lost Memoirs of an Irreverent Football Writer is the autobiography of Paul Zimmerman. "Dr. Z," as he was known to long-time readers of Sports Illustrated, is squarely on the Mt. Rushmore of the greatest NFL football writers.
"He's the Godfather of modern pro football writing," said Peter King, who was influenced by Zimmerman's work before becoming his colleague at Sports Illustrated. "Not only was he a great writer, he was the most intelligent football analyst in the business. That's what made him an absolute must-read."
The book is laden with anecdotes about Vince Lombardi, Joe Namath (the Jets great wouldn't speak to him for 23 years), Johnny Unitas and more. There are brilliant insights on the game from a reporter who covered the NFL for 55 years through 2008. A long chapter about his all-time team provides a detailed and fascinating analysis about his selections. Of RamsHall of Fame defensive lineman Deacon Jones, Zimmerman writes, "I think Deacon made more crawling sacks than any player who ever lived. When he was knocked off his feet, the argument was just starting."
As King says, that chapter and others are an absolute must-read. There's more than just football. Zimmerman details his experiences about being a 15-year-old sparring partner for Ernest Hemingway. He shared his grim recollections of covering the murder of the Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. Zimmerman has led a big and highly interesting life on many levels.
Yet this book almost didn't get published. During Thanksgiving, 2008, Zimmerman suffered the first of a series of strokes that left him without the ability to read, write or speak. His wife, Linda Bailey Zimmerman, writes in the book, "His world is closed off." In 2013, NFL Films did a moving feature on his life after the strokes. Now 85, Zimmerman currently lives in an assistant living facility in New Jersey.
King said Zimmerman had completed about 70 percent of the book prior to being afflicted. At the time, no publishers were interested.
After reading the unfinished manuscript in 2012, King told Linda, "This absolutely has to get published. It's too good."
"It's hilarious in parts, and it's historically important in other parts," King said. "They are so many good and vivid stories about people who had been forgotten from a writer who was in danger of being forgotten."
King decided to use his The MMQB site on SI.com as a vehicle with a "Dr. Z Week" in June, 2016. The site published five excerpts from the book and some of Zimmerman's classic Sports Illustrated stories.
"The reaction was really quite strong," King said.
It included interest in two publishers who wanted to do the book. A deal eventually was done with Chicago-based Triumph Books, which specializes in sports books.
King is listed as an editor for the book, but he calls himself more of a "facilitator."
"I helped put the people with Triumph in touch with Linda," King said. "Triumph is the perfect company to do this kind of book. They really took great care in getting this out."
In addition to Zimmerman's recollections for his autobiography (there is a terrific chapter on his insights on sportswriting), the book also includes stories that he wrote for NFL.com in the 2000s that King says provide "historical perspective." A chapter on his Super Bowl memories features a wonderful story of hanging with Hunter S. Thompson at Super Bowl XIII in Houston in 1974.
There also is Zimmerman's classic 1990 Sports Illustrated piece on Joe Montana. Zimmerman's detailed reporting made it the kind of story that King calls "appointment reading for everyone in the sport of football."
In the book, King writes he first met Zimmerman in 1984. As a young reporter for the Cincinnati Enquirer, he asked Zimmerman for some insights about the Bengals' draft. Forty-five minutes later, King's notebook was full.
It was the beginning of a long relationship where the discussion usually was on much more than football.
"We had so many interesting conversations about life," King said. "I really miss being able to talk to him."
However, working on the book did give King a way to re-connect with the way his old friend was prior to the strokes. He hopes Zimmerman's long-time followers will get the same feeling in reading his words, and that it will enlighten a new generation of fans to one of the all-time best.
"It's a shame that most people under 30 don't know who he is," King said. "They don't know this guy's genius. I'm so thrilled people will get a chance to read this book and see how good he was."
A Football Life: Aeneas Williams is the latest subject of A Football Life (NFL Network, Friday, 9 p.m.) The story of how a walk-on at Southern University became a Pro Football Hall of Famer is one few people know. During his playing days, many people were more fascinated with Aeneas Williams' name than his game. However, throughout his NFL career Aeneas would certainly live up to the meaning of his name: Worthy to be praised. The film examines Williams' impact on and off the field, as well as his influence during his retirement and pastoring in the city of Ferguson, Missouri and beyond.
New Timeline: The latest edition of NFL Network's *The Timeline *is "'91 Falcons", telling the story of "the most fun team ever in pro football," and how a city and football team forged an identity and created a legacy felt to this day.
The film examines how the Falcons and its stars reflected the style and swagger of the city of Atlanta, culminating in a special season that defined the culture of a city and team. The one-hour show features interviews with former Falcons players such as Deion Sanders, Brett Favre, Andre Rison and Chris Miller, former Falcons head coach Jerry Glanville, hip-hop artists MC Hammer, Jermaine Dupri, Big Boi and T.I., Dominique Wilkins and others.
The show airs Thursday after the New Orleans-Atlanta game; Friday, at 10:00 p.m. ET; and Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on NFL Network.
Extra Points:Fox NFL Sunday will originate from the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sunday, site of the Philadelphia-Los Angeles Rams game.
Week 14 announcer lineup
NBC, NFL Network, Amazon Prime 8:25 p.m. ET
New Orleans at Atlanta: Mike Tirico, Cris Collinsworth
CBS 1:00 p.m. ET
Minnesota at Carolina: Jim Nantz, Tony Romo
Indianapolis at Buffalo: Spero Dedes, Adam Archuleta
Oakland at Kansas City: Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon
CBS 4 p.m. ET
Washington at Los Angeles Chargers: Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts
Tennessee at Arizona: Andrew Catalon, James Lofton
FOX 1:00 p.m ET
Detroit at Tampa Bay: Kenny Albert, Ronde Barber
Dallas at New York Giants: Kevin Burkhardt, Charles Davis
Green Bay at Cleveland: Thom Brennaman, Chris Spielman
San Francisco at Houston: Dick Stockton, Mark Schlereth
FOX 4:05 p.m. ET
Philadelphia at Los Angeles Rams; Joe Buck, Troy Aikman
Seattle at Jacksonville: Chris Myers, Daryl Johnston
NBC 8:30 p.m. ET
Baltimore at Pittsburgh: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth
ESPN 8:30 p.m. ET
New England at Miami: Sean McDonough, Jon Gruden