Saturday, April 08, 2006

Why Dr. Z is the best

All over the internet, most bloggers love nothing more than to criticize sportswriters. I don't blame them. Most sportswriters simply recycle received wisdom through inelegant prose. But I think it's worthwhile to take the time to praise those sportswriters we admire and respect.

Which brings us to my man-crush on Dr. Z. The received wisdom means nothing to him. He poses real questions to real football minds, and in his commentary he relies on two things that make him unique among sportswriters.

1. Immense knowledge of football history.
Dr. Z is untouchable here. He loves the history, he knows it, and he tries to learn more. He always brings an historical context to contemporary football discussions. How many sportwriters could give us the following bit of wisdom, from his most recent mailbag?

Red Hickey did NOT invent the shotgun in the 1950s. He just gave it a catchy name, the newspapers picked it up, and lo, an invention. In the same decade that the T became popular, the '40s, teams went into the same formation on long yardage. It was called The Spread and it was no big deal. In the '20s and '30s it was called the Pop Warner Double Wing. Same thing. But Red used it more or less as a regular formation, you say. Well, I once saw one of Weeb Ewbank's 1930 playbooks from Oxford-McGuffey High in Ohio and he had a series called the 30, which sent five receivers downfield, with the tailback throwing from a deep set.

You want to learn about the history of pro football? Dr. Z should be on your regular reading list.

2. Rigorous Technical Analysis

If you read Dr. Z, you know he frequently writes about his tapes and his charts. He doesn't rely on the conventional ideas; he goes to tapes and does thorough analysis of the games and players. He knows the technical details of the correct form for different positions and moves. In short, he knows football. When he writes about a player's performance, he's not guessing or looking strictly at numbers or making assumptions based on reputation. He watched the tapes, play by play, and makes comments on what he sees.

These are the two factors that make Dr. Z required reading for any intelligent NFL enthusiast (yes, I feel like a tool for writing "intelligent NFL enthusiast," but I'm leaving it there). Another of Dr. Z's qualities: respect for his readers. So many sportswriters have a "mailbag" in which they demean and dismiss their readers. Dr. Z really engages readers in his mailbag in a manner which shows he respects our intelligence.

Dr. Z is a model sportswriter, and one of my legitimate heroes.


  1. 3) He actually incorporates some solid humor from what I've seen. I agree with you, he's always a good read.

  2. and he writes pretty well. (or he has an editor, unlike peter king.)

    aren't you an english prof? (or an existential educator of some other type?) you should do a breakdown of the grammar and style of the bigger sports writers.