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Nothing inspires more fear in the heart of a young SPORTS
ILLUSTRATED reporter than the following news: "You'll be
fact-checking Dr. Z's story this week." As word of the
assignment spreads, colleagues stop by the reporter's office,
proffering words of sympathy and perhaps a copy of the NFL
Record & Fact Book. Senior writer Paul Zimmerman's love and
respect for football border on the monomaniacal, and woe unto
the reporter who questions the veracity of a Dr. Z fact. "I
wrote it," responds Dr. Z, whose Dr. Z's Forecast, a preview of
upcoming NFL games, appears in each of our INSIDE THE NFL
columns and who also contributes a weekly column to our Web site
( "What other source do you need?"

After all, Dr. Z, an 18-year SI veteran, is the man who wrote
both A Thinking Man's Guide to Pro Football and its sequel; who
each week during the football season views--either in person, on
television or on tape--at least eight NFL games and as many
college football games as possible in their entirety; who, when
watching any game, charts it as minutely as if it were the
Pacific and he Magellan, using four colored pens. "One team's
drives are noted in black pen, the other team's drives are in
blue," says Zimmerman. "Injuries are in red, freakies--bad calls
by officials, fights, players getting put out--are in green."

It's Zimmerman's passion with all matters pertaining to the
gridiron that led this week to his ranking of the top 10 big
backs in pro football history (page 38) and his feature piece on
the Notre Dame teams of 1946 and '47 (page 104). Thirty years
ago, while drinking beer at The Olympic Club in San Francisco
after playing in a rugby match, Zimmerman found himself
discussing the afterlife with another patron. "In my dream of
the first day in heaven," Zimmerman told his companion, "I'm
sitting at a table with a box of cigars on one side and a bottle
of brandy on the other side, getting ready to chart a game, and
a curtain unfolds before me to reveal that it's a game between
the Notre Dame and Michigan teams of 1947."

When the newfound acquaintance, John O'Connor, informed Dr. Z
(not actually a doctor, though he does have a master's in
journalism) that he had been a reserve for the 1946 and '47
Irish, a story was born. Zimmerman first wrote about the '46 and
'47 Notre Dame teams in a column for the New York Post. Earlier
this year he was asked to expand the story for our pages. In
May, Zimmerman traveled to South Bend with his new bride, Linda
Bailey, whom he had met two years earlier at the NFL meetings in
Phoenix. Bailey visited family in the South Bend area while
Zimmerman hunkered down for a week of exhaustive research. "The
people at Notre Dame had reams of old files in a basement on
campus that nobody had perused for years," says Zimmerman. Not
surprisingly he proceeded to peruse them microscopically.

Bill Colson

COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER Dr. Z smoked out old files on Notre Dame's best team. [Paul Zimmerman]