LA JOLLA — 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 his pro playing career with the Chargers in 1960 and finished with them 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."
Get breaking news alerts delivered to your mobile phone. Text BREAKING to 52669. You will receive up to 30 msgs/mo. Msg&data rates may apply. Text HELP for help. Text STOP to cancel.
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.
"On days where I couldn't run," he says, "they'd put me in a whirlpool."
A few years ago, he was in a crosswalk with his wife and tried to run as the light changed.
"I couldn't move my legs," he says.
The back surgery that resulted leaves four rods and eight screws in his back and a hopeful diagnosis that, with time and nerve-healing, the drop foot will improve.
Still, Zeman is among the lucky ones. His brain still works. He doesn't forget any more than anybody who is 75. He has no tremors, no signs of depression that many think triggered recent high-profile suicides of NFL players Dave Duerson, Ray Easterling and Junior Seau. All played defense; like Zeman, all were hitters rather than hittees.
Did he have concussions? Not officially.
"I got dinged a lot," he says. "Lots of 'Oh, wow, that was a bad one.' Once, I got knocked out in a game but played the next week. I didn't remember what had happened the previous two weeks. But it all came back, little by little. "
Even Dr. Phil could get that one right. Concussion.
Zeman is like most from his generation. He played a tough game, maintained a stiff upper lip and kept going. He knew there would be injuries. What he didn't know, nor was anybody telling him, was that they would bring life-altering years of pain.