The Football Writers Association of America is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2015. Founded in 1941, the FWAA has served the writing profession and college football during a time when the world has changed greatly and the sport of football has along with it. In an effort to tell the stories of the members of the organization, we will, over the next few months, publish each week a sketch on one of the FWAA’s most important leaders — all Bert McGrane Award winners.
The Bert McGrane Award, symbolic of the association’s Hall of Fame, is presented to an FWAA member who has performed great service to the organization and/or the writing profession. It is named after McGrane, a Des Moines, Iowa, writer who was the executive secretary of the FWAA from the early 1940s until 1973. The McGrane Award was first bestowed on an FWAA member in 1974.
For a list of all the winners go to: http://www.sportswriters.net/fwaa/awards/mcgrane/index.html.
The following is the ninth installment of the Pillars of the FWAA series. Paul Zimmerman was the 1976 winner of the Bert McGrane Award. Thanks to FWAA member Gene Duffey for writing and researching this sketch.
By Gene Duffey
There are no official records of the press corps from the 1932 Olympic Games, but Paul Zimmerman is believed to be the only man to cover both the ’32 Olympics and the 1984 Games, both held in Los Angeles.
Zimmerman covered the 1932 Games for the Associated Press before joining the Los Angeles Times. He became sports editor of the Times in 1939 and held that position until he retired in 1968.
Even though he was retired and in his 80s, Zimmerman wrote several stories for the Times special section previewing the 1984 Olympics and covered the Games for a Japanese newspaper.
Zimmerman covered six other Summer Olympics from 1948 to ’68 and also the 1960 Winter Games, held in Squaw Valley, Calif.
He was best known for his coverage of college football, particularly in the days before all the pro teams began arriving in Los Angeles.
Zimmerman played a part in that, too, particularly with the Dodgers moving from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1958. He received a commendation from the city for helping bringing Walter O’Malley’s baseball team west.
USC opened the 1966 football season at Texas. The Longhorns were led by a heralded sophomore quarterback (when freshmen were not eligible for the varsity) named Bill Bradley. Zimmerman made it to Austin the Thursday before the game to write previews.
Bradley turned out to be a better punter than a quarterback. USC won 10-6 and Bradley ended up playing defensive back before his college career ended. Zimmerman was so well connected that he attended a buffet at Texas coach Darrell Royal’s house after the game.
Zimmerman covered most of the big events in the Los Angeles area for several decades. He wrote about Seabiscut’s win in the Big Cap Race at Santa Anita in 1940. He covered the first Super Bowl between the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs, played at The Coliseum in 1967, before it was even known as the Super Bowl.
He died Jan. 28, 1996, the day they played Super Bowl XXX.
Zimmerman, who won the Bert McGrane Award in 1976, showed his true talents as a sports editor with everything that went on behind the scenes at the Times.
“Paul was noted for his editing,” said Furman Bisher, a contemporary of Zimmerman’s and the 1982 Bert McGrane winner. “Writing wasn’t one of his leading qualities, but organizing and producing a sports section was. He’d make these present day sports sections look like wrapping paper, which most are.”
“The writing was the part I liked,” Zimmerman once said.
He was a 1927 graduate of the University of Nebraska before heading for Los Angeles.
“Zimmerman typified the old-time sports writer and editor who emphasized the nuts and bolts of a sports section and was straightforward in his writing style,” said Murray Olderman, the 1991 McGrane winner. “There was still a lot of Nebraska in him in his approach to sports.”
He gained the respect of others in the business. Pete Rozelle was once publicity director of the Los Angeles Rams, beginning in 1952, and became commissioner of the NFL in 1960.
“I wanted to take his job away someday,” said a young Rozelle, who worked weekends at the Long Beach Press-Telegram while in high school in Compton, Calif.
Zimmerman also served as Director of Charities for the Times and as a director for the Helms Foundation Hall of Fame, which began in Los Angeles in 1936.
He was no relation to the Paul Zimmerman who wrote for the New York Post and Sports Illustrated.
Paul Bechler Zimmerman watched Los Angeles grow into a major metropolis. The city is home to two NBA teams and at one time hosted two NFL franchises when the Oakland Raiders moved there in 1982 to join the Rams.
But the Rams left for St. Louis in 1995 and the Raiders returned to Oakland the same year. USC and UCLA took over the town, at least in terms of football. Zimmerman probably would have liked it that way.
“He was particularly fond of college football,” said Olderman.
Zimmerman was named to the National Football Foundation Honors Court in 1951. He was named winner of the Jake Wade Award (CoSIDA), given to a media person who has made an outstanding contribution to intercollegiate athletics, in 1968. The first winner of the Jake Wade Award, in 1958, was Bert McGrane.