LA JOLLA, Calif. —
Bob Zeman will do the same as millions Sunday. He will grab the remote, find an easy chair and turn on the Super Bowl.
“I still like the drama of the game,” he says.
He won’t exactly be a fan. More like an observer. He knows too much and has seen all too closely the underbelly of a National Football League that has successfully romanced an adoring public while chewing up some of its past and spitting it out.
Zeman is part of that past.
He played six years in the American Football League, which joined the NFL in the 1970 merger. He was an all-AFL defensive back in 1962 with the Denver Broncos. He began and ended his pro playing career with the Chargers in 1966.
“The last play of the last game of the season was my last play,” Zeman says. “I tried to tackle Mike Garrett (Kansas City Chiefs). He went one way, my left knee went the other, and my career was done.”
For the next 34 years, Zeman lived the nomadic life of an assistant coach. He coached at his alma mater, the University of Wisconsin, and went to Northwestern and even to the NFL’s experimental league in Europe.
But most of his time was in the NFL. He was with the Raiders when they beat the Vikings in Super Bowl XI in 1977, then along the 49ers sidelines 13 years later when they beat the Broncos. With the Raiders, he was hired, and eventually fired, by Al Davis.
“Many days were 18 hours,” Zeman says. “You didn’t leave until Al dismissed you.”
It is with this history that Zeman will watch the Super Bowl here. Also with baggage.
Zeman is 75. He has had nine surgeries for football-related injuries. The knee that was injured when he tried to tackle Garrett has been repaired twice. He has a new hip and ongoing shoulder problems. Also, a drop foot brought on by back injuries not properly addressed.