A word of warning: Do not try to call, page or in any way communicate with SI senior writer Paul Zimmerman, a.k.a. Dr. Z, when there's an NFL game on television. "I won't let him take calls then because he's so rude," says Zimmerman's wife, Linda. "If you interrupt him during a game, you wouldn't want to talk to him again." The good doctor doesn't just watch the games. He charts them with a devotion to detail worthy of Vermeer. On his play-by play sheet, for example, Zimmerman uses blue ink for one team and a black pencil for the other; he notes injuries in red and employs green for anything out of the ordinary, including bad calls, fights and coaches' challenges. He also keeps what he calls a field chart, which lists eligible receivers and shows the defenders who covered them on each play. ("So I know who the offense is picking on," he says.) On top of all that Zimmerman maintains his own set of stats for the simple reason that, as he says,
"I don't trust the official statistician."
By his own estimate Zimmerman has charted 6,000 games since he first broke out his pens and pencils while attending the 1947 Columbia-Penn clash as a teenager. Since coming to SI in 1979 he has refined the system, and these days, using two satellite dishes and three VCRs hooked up at his Mountain Lakes, N.J., home, he watches and charts, live and on tape, eight games per week, or about 150 per season. Apart from his sheer passion for football, what motivates the doctor is, he says, the hope of catching something significant that everyone else missed. "Catching five of those missed things a week gives me an edge," he says.
That edge is what distinguishes his weekly "Dr. Z's Forecast," which in this issue focuses on Super Bowl XXXVII (page 54). After Sunday's conference championship games, in which he batted .500, Zimmerman was 118-78 for the season, a .602 average.
He has about five careers packed onto his résumé. He has covered the Blue Jays for Toronto's Globe and Mail and served as that paper's Beijing bureau chief. He has worked as a correspondent for CBC news, written documentaries for The Discovery Channel, written four books, hosts segments for Hockey Night in Canada and even put in a stint last summer as a park ranger at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, near his home in Page, Ariz. Then, a few months ago, Allen Abel, 52, found his curiosity leading him in yet another direction. "I wanted to write about the basketball diaspora," he says, referring to the increasing number of Americans playing overseas. "When Yao Ming came over here," Abel says, "I thought it was only natural to look the other way, at the American on Yao's former team." Abel's profile of Dan McClintock, Yao's replacement on the Shanghai Sharks, starts on page 63 and tells the story of a 7-footer and former Denver
Nugget who is trying, despite limited basketball skills, to adjust to a culture that still reveres Yao.