Paul Zimmerman has been with SPORTS ILLUSTRATED only two months, but the 46-year-old former semi-pro tackle, 6'2", 230 pounds and still growing, has already made a hefty impression. His story on lawyer Howard Slusher, beginning on page 88, is written in the distinctive spare style that perhaps rubbed off on him at the age of 15, when, already a heavyweight, he boxed at a Manhattan gym where he was invariably paired with a big man, much older, nicknamed Broadsides, a/k/a Papa, a/k/a Ernest Hemingway.
If you expect from that to find Zimmerman a full-fledged sportswriter in the next chapter, forget it. The road from Hemingway to SI was long and lumpy. In 1949, when he was 16, Zimmerman went to Stanford, where he played football briefly; after suffering a concussion, he left and spent two years as an ordinary seaman and as a copyboy on the now defunct New York Journal-American. He then enrolled at Columbia (where he was refused credit for his Stanford phys ed courses, including pro shop management and fly casting), but a failure in Spanish meant a failure to graduate, and the Army drafted him. Zimmerman was sent to Germany, where he played tackle for the Western Area Command Rhinos, who reached the European quarterfinals; he won All- Europe Honorable Mention.
Discharged in 1957, he returned to Columbia, where he had played football for Lou Little, and finally got his B.A. in liberal arts. His undergraduate career had spanned nine years; it took him only one more to get his masters in journalism. He then sent job applications to 64 newspapers, got four responses, all refusals, and went West, where he was also not hired by a paper in Seattle. Years later he was covering the Tokyo Olympics for the also dead and gone New York World-Telegram and Sun, working next to a man who couldn't seem to get his facts straight. Zimmerman gave him a hand, and finally the man said, "Don't I know you from somewhere?" "Yes," Paul replied, "you turned me down for a job in Seattle."
For the last 13 years Zimmerman had worked at the New York Post, specializing in pro football. He also covered three more Olympics, including Munich, where he was one of the few journalists who worked their way close to the Israeli compound; Paul bucked two lines of security guards and took a rifle butt to the head.
Zimmerman had continued to play football in a variety of semi-pro leagues. Forty-five dollars a game was the most that ever brought him. In 1968, while playing for the Morristown, N.J. Colonials, he decided to wrap up his career at age 36. A co-founder of the Columbia Rugby Club and a member of the first U.S. team to tour England, Ireland and Wales, he still turns out for an occasional old boys' game.
His happiest exertions these days involve uncorking wine bottles. An enthusiast for 30 years, he is now at work on a book and he writes a column on wine for the Mt. Kisco, N.Y. Patent Trader. "It's like sports," says his pediatrician wife Katherine. "Every time he opens a bottle, it's a new game."