The death of Dr Z adds extra motivation for six of the Eagles as they prepare to take on the Maori All Blacks at Soldier Field.
One by one they have gone, and today the last of them took his final breath. Paul Zimmerman, known to anyone who ever took a passing interest in the NFL as Dr Z, has died. He was 86, and had lived with aphasia for the past decade. What a cruel fate to befall a man whose thoughts once danced off the page and rolled so mellifluously off the tongue. Silence.
He was the Grand Daddy of the now ubiquitous power rankings, a Sports Illustrated staple, a best-selling author, a pundit who didn’t so much mince his words as pulverise them. His take on any given week could run a course from soulful nostalgia to stone cold assassination. He was a man who consumed the history of the NFL and reconstituted the context for a market that grew ever less capable of cutting through the hype.
He was much and many things to NFL, but he was also a rugby man. You see, Paul Zimmerman was one of six founders of the New York Old Blue Rugby Club, which just last week was crowned Elite Cup Champions of the United States of America and which this weekend will supply six of the Eagles’ 23-man squad, including the skipper, for the match against the Maori All Blacks.
I have written of the club before, most recently a couple of years ago when another of its founders, Bill Campbell died. The “Coach of Silicon Valley” as Campbell was often referred, loved his rugby club. He once told me that winning the Ivy League Football Championship with Columbia and founding Old Blue were his greatest achievements. Considering this man put the “1984” Apple commercial on the world’s televisions, served the board of that company for 17 years, and mentored the biggest names in tech, it was quite the surprising revelation.
Bill Campbell, Dick Donelli, Billy Smith, John Wellington, Pat Moran, and Paul Zimmerman. It was their club, Old Blue. It still is, and always will be. But it is also the club of Luke Hume, the Eagles’ starting fullback and an Australian expat who runs his mouth off high octane gasoline and seemingly spends most of his spare time in a tattoo parlour. It is the club of Dylan ‘The Butcher’ Fawcitt, an Irish hooker who now captains the MLR team, Rugby United New York. It is the club of Ryan Matyas, a nuggety winger who first represented the USA in sevens back in 2013 and whose quest to play provincial rugby for North Harbour was ended when he could not get clearance from NZ Rugby.
It is the club of Cam Dolan who’s had more clubs than Captain Caveman and who is a hard nosed loose forward with the unenviable task of looking after Akira Ioane this weekend. It is the club of Anthony Purpura, a front rower who was capped in 2010 and then spent seven years in the international wilderness before being selected again by John Mitchell in the Eagles lineup. And it is the club of Nate Augspurger, the Eagles captain and a five-foot-seven Minnesotan. There is probably no nicer man in all of rugby than wee Nate Augspurger.
All of them have other clubs of course. Old Blue is still an amateur side in the fast-changing American professional environment. Still, once an Old Blue, always an Old Blue. Whether you’ve been through the club for a game, a season, or just an Old Boys’ Weekend, the Wild Mountain Thyme stays in the nostrils. As does the pride the club feels about its players succeeding at every level of the game, and there are none bigger than a national representative fixture at Soldier Field.
So Brian Murphy will be sad this week to know those originals are all no more. He is the Chairman these days, having made a promise to Campbell that he would take care of the place. He’s done more than that. He has ensured Old Blue remains a perennial powerhouse in the club competition; that it stands as the apotheosis of the amateur tradition. He is a man of his word.
And Paul Zimmerman was a man of many words. How fitting, that in the week his long-silenced life comes to an end, his club he helped give birth too will be so well represented in a rugby match, on an NFL field. I wonder where this would have placed in Dr Z’s personal power rankings. Highly, I hope.
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