Triumph Books Paul Zimmerman

Paul Zimmerman, better known to Sports Illustrated readers as Dr. Z, began writing his memoir in 2006. Zimmerman had nearly completed his work when a series of debilitating strokes in 2008 left him largely unable to speak, read or write. His SI colleague Peter King finished the project by compiling and editing the manuscript. The result is Dr. Z: The Lost Memoirs of an Irreverent Football Writer, published by Triumph Books, in which Zimmerman shares never-before-told stories about the likes of Vince Lombardi, Walter Payton, Lawrence Taylor, Joe Namath, Johnny Unitas and more. This excerpt involves an exchange with former Ravens defensive lineman Tony Siragusa and Donald Trump's decision to cancel an interview.

Disappointment is always part of the business. If you can't handle being put in your place from time to time, don't be a sportswriter. In the mid-1990s I was in the Colts' camp, doing my interviews for my scouting reports for Sports Illustrated's pro football issue. I was almost through for the day when Tony Siragusa, their right defensive tackle, asked if he could speak to me for a moment. He took me down to the deserted weight room and talked for 40 minutes; I guess he didn’t want his teammates to see him spending that much time with a writer. I always enjoyed the way Goose played, a little over 300 pounds, technically correct against the run (I had been arguing for years that the Vikings' great interior pass rusher, John Randle, never would make my All-Pro team because he was such a liability facing the running game), seldom out of position, almost impossible to trap.

Dr. Z: The Lost Memoirs of an Irreverent Football Writer

So we talked about why the things he did were held in such low regard, why the pass rushers got the big contracts and all the publicity, how coaches always stressed a rm run defense but then gave all their praise to the sackers. I agreed. I hated it almost as much as he did. He was passionate on the subject, and I liked that about him. The place was practically locked up by the time I got out of there.

Move ahead a few years to the Wednesday press interview day before the 2001 Super Bowl, Ravens vs. Giants. The Baltimore players were being interviewed at their special tables in the ballroom of the Hyatt Westshore Hotel. The two tables that commanded the biggest collection of writers belonged to Ray Lewis and Siragusa, a full-blown 350 pounds now, raconteur, storyteller, future color commentator for Fox. He read a newspaper during the Q&A session, establishing obvious unconcern. His answers drew quick laughs, but I noticed that his eyes never seemed to move downward from the one area on which they were focused. Ah, well, if that's his shtick.

"Is this Ravens defense the best in history?" someone asked him.

"Name a better one," he said.

"Steel Curtain Steelers," I said.

"What are you, from Pittsburgh?" he said, looking up from his paper.

"No, from Jersey, same as you," I said. A few writers laughed.

When the meeting broke up, the Goose came over to me, plainly annoyed.

"What did you want to do that for, break up my act like that?" he said. I waited a moment, just to see if there was any recognition at all.

Brooklyn Decker, Paul Zimmerman

"You don't remember me, do you?" I said.

"No," he said. "Should I?"

Strangely enough, I liked that exchange. I liked what it did for my ego, or against it. It helped keep things in perspective. Some writers like to present themselves as characters in the drama. Newspapers discourage it, magazines encourage it to a certain extent (subject to review), but books, ah, you'll get encouragement on that level, if, truly you have something to say, presenting a point that cannot be made without your presence.

***

Sometimes, in the buttoned up world of corporate sports, my built-in loony streak has backfired. When I reported to the office of Donald Trump for a previously set-up interview concerning Trump's team in the USFL, the Jersey Generals, I first had to face Trump's PR man.

He told me, "Mr. Trump wants to know the tenor of your questioning."

I said, "'Tell Mr. Trump it's not a tenor, it's a baritone.'" I waited for the laugh that never came.

He said, "Just a minute, please," and disappeared. Two minutes later he's back out.

"Mr. Trump says he can't do the interview at this time."

-- Excerpted by permission from Dr. Z: The Lost Memoirs of an Irreverent Football Writer by Paul Zimmerman. Copyright (c) 2017. Edited by Peter King. Published by Triumph Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Available for purchase from the publisher, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes. Follow Peter King on Twitter @SI_PeterKing.

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