The most memorable -- and harrowing -- experience I had while working as an editor and columnist for SI.com (then CNNSI.com) in the late 90's was being bawled out by Dr. Z.
I edited his columns, both his weekly Power Rankings and his weekly, often epic Mailbag. Generally, I used a light touch -- read: None at all.
One day, I saw something online that I thought he would find interesting, so I faxed it to him. Big mistake. Huge mistake. All of a sudden, I get this phone call and he's on the other end of the line, screaming at me -- literally raging at me. I don't think I've ever been spoken to in that way in my life, up til then or since. I tried to stammer out an apology -- an explanation. Then, as quickly as it came, he hung up on me.
Shortly after, the phone rang again. I saw it was his number on the caller ID and you know I let that sucker go to voice mail. I winced as I retrieved the message; he was calling to apologize, which I appreciated, but my hand was still shaking. But, looking back now, I had a great story -- my "Dr. Z story."
Frankly, Z's voice (when not used to holler at me) was perfect for online -- given that he was doing his column in '98 and '99, he was as much of a pioneer of the distinct online-journalism form as anyone coming from mainstream sports media in that era, including Peter King (I also edited MMQB. Yes, really.)
Zimmerman possesses two critical elements for compelling online writing: Expertise and authenticity. Together, he is a must-read (if an acquired taste).
His reporting on the inner workings of the Pro Football Hall of Fame vetting process -- which I believe got him censored by his PFHOF peers -- was about as fascinating a backstage story as I have read. His game-charting (way ahead of its time) and draft analysis was legendary.
His book, "The Thinking Man's Guide to Pro Football" -- which is SO due to be reprinted and re-released -- might just be the greatest book about pro football ever written.
Is Dr. Z the greatest pro football writer of all time, as Peter King argues? It is probably enough to say that he is in the conversation, particularly given the way his career has spanned a half-century, from print to magazine to online.
You all know I love a good superlative, and this is one I can support.
Get well, Dr. Z.