Paul Zimmerman, one of the greatest NFL writers ever, dies at age 86

Among all the men and women who have written about professional football, few made a mark like Paul Zimmerman.

Fans from the 1970s to the 2000s learned more about the NFL through reading Zimmerman, often on the pages of Sports Illustrated and later on Zimmerman died on Thursday at age 86, according to longtime Sports Illustrated co-worker Peter King.

For many football fans from ages 25 to 75, it’s a sad day. Zimmerman, affectionately known as “Dr. Z,” was one of the most influential voices of the NFL during its massive growth.

“He’s the Godfather of modern pro football writing,” King told in 2017.

Paul Zimmerman was an icon in football writing circles

Zimmerman suffered a series of strokes in 2008, which left him unable to speak or write. That was a heartbreaking loss to the sportswriting world.

Before the strokes, Zimmerman was the template for much of the analysis we see on the NFL today. He was an analyst first, able to break down the Xs and Os of the game at an expert level. And he expressed himself without pulling punches or playing favorites.

Zimmerman’s 1970 book “A Thinking Man’s Guide to Pro Football” and the 1984 sequel “New Thinking Man’s Guide to Pro Football” are considered two of the most influential books on football ever written. For some of Zimmerman’s best magazine work, did a “Dr. Z Week” in 2016 and linked to some of his best stories and some tributes here.

Zimmerman’s style is still impacting NFL writing today

Zimmerman’s style was gruff, blunt, smart, funny and entertaining. He’d reference “the Flaming Redhead,” his wife Linda, and talk about wine. When Zimmerman got down to the business of football there was a gravitas to it, because he studied the game like a coach. His All-Pro teams, his Super Bowl prediction pieces and even his annual ranking of television announcers were all built on a foundation of writing about football in a matter-of-fact way, with his opinion always very easy to determine.

Zimmerman wasn’t writing about football for the last 10 years of his life. But it’s easy to still see his influence everywhere on the modern NFL writing landscape.

Former Sports Illustrated writer Paul Zimmerman died Thursday at age 86. (Getty Images)
Former Sports Illustrated writer Paul Zimmerman died Thursday at age 86. (Getty Images)

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Frank Schwab is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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