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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Goodbye Vikki -- An Inspiration

The Passing of Vikki Zimmer

Mike Zimmer, a 10-year defensive coordinator in the NFL in his second season with the Bengals, arrived home last Thursday evening and found his wife of 27 years, Vikki, dead of natural causes. The Zimmers had been married for 27 years, with three children. Vikki Zimmer, 50, was born in Layton, Utah. She and Mike had met during his coaching tenure (1981-88) at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah.

Vikki Zimmer understood what coaches, players, and football families need to survive the tough life of moving, criticism and absences. Bengal's head coach Marvin Lewis, who has known the Zimmers since Mike coached at Weber State and he coached at Idaho State, understood the tremendous positive impact Vikki had on football teams. He recalled on Monday the get-togethers she would have for the coaches’ wives during away games.

Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer (October 9, 2009) reported Vikki was beloved by the team and the defensive players. She routinely baked cookies for the players, which Mike Zimmer would bring to meetings, a custom that was shown late during one of the episodes of HBO's "Hard Knocks: Training Camp." Vikki Zimmer became the unit’s unofficial den mother.“You know how Vikki felt about all of you,’’ Marvin Lewis told his players Friday. Soon, Mike and Marvin were to see just how much the players felt about her.

It is widely known that Coach Zimmer is a demanding taskmaster, a sort of archetype of the stereotypical intense, vocal football coach. To counter this, Vikki made those great cookies for the team and Mike delivered them with the sheepish admission that his wife wanted to do something nice for the players because she saw the show and thought her husband yelled too much. (Chris Chase,, October 11 2009)

“Mike tells me, ‘Those kids work so hard and so long. They really like it when you make them that stuff,’” Vikki related to the team’s official website about the cookies. “They’re worried about putting on weight, so I want to make it a little bit healthy but he tells me they destroy whatever it is no matter what they say.”

Very Personal Connections

Geoff Hobson of (October 12, 2009) reported that the Bengals who knew her best, head coach Marvin Lewis and safety Roy Williams, summed her up best as the team prepares to say goodbye to Vikki Zimmer at Tuesday’s Mass at Holy Cross Immaculata Church in Cincinnati.

Williams has known Vikki and Mike Zimmer since 2002, when he was a first-round draft pick of the Cowboys. Mike was his defensive coordinator, and Vikki would send encouraging notes, not to mention those sumptuous baked goods her husband never wanted Williams to touch because he’s always watching his weight.

“She was like a mother figure to me,” Williams said Monday. “Being a rookie and then coming here to Cincinnati with Zim and the family ... I was shook. Thursday and Friday nights, I didn’t go to bed until the time I had to get back up.” (Geoff Hobson,, October 12 2009)

Williams could still taste her brownies with the marshmallow frosting she baked last Monday after the Cleveland win.

“I didn’t have any until after he left the room. A couple of days, they were still good. They were sitting in our DB room,” Williams said. “Miss Zimmer was the rock of that family holding them together. I’m not saying that they’re going to fall apart now. That was the bright spot in Zim’s life. You could really feel it. He was shook.”

Mike Zimmer's Decision To Coach Sunday

Paul Daugherty (, October 11 2009) reported that Mike Zimmer, in the midst of the recent tragedy had to make a decision. According to Daughterty,  "After that, all he really wanted on Sunday was to be with his family. And so he was: His dad, his son, a daughter. . . and 53 players and a bunch of coaches.It was one hell of an awful way to find inspiration. It was also a heavenly respite from what happened, and what is to come, when the noise dies down, the adrenaline ebbs and the mind has time for pain."

Mike Zimmer, keeping his family close during the trip to Baltimore Sunday to coach in a battle for first place in the AFC North , traveled with his father, Bill, son Adam and daughter Corri. Before the game, Zimmer's defense dedicated their effort to the memory of Vikki. And for three hours on Sunday afternoon his team and his cheering family gave Coach Zimmer all the love they could.

The Bengals won the football game in Baltimore 17-14 on Sunday as Zimmer's unit held the AFC's best offense to just 14 points and led the Bengals to the franchise's biggest win in years. The game left the once-lowly Bengals with a 4-1 record early in the year, having won three division games in a row in a fashion no one could have predicted. Partly because of Coach Zimmer, the once-negative term “Bengalized’’ is taking on a radically different meaning.

Carson Palmer is becoming The King of Late Game. Cedric Benson is Rudi Johnson with a burst. Chad Eight-Five is up to his old tricks. The offense is Swiss-efficient when it matters.Benson ran for 120 yards Sunday, against a defense that hadn’t allowed a 100-yard runner in two and a half years. This time last year, Benson was home in Texas, watching the NFL in his living room.

But, according to Chris Chase of Yahoo Sports (October 11, 2009) it was the defense – Zimmer’s defense – that defined the Bengals on Sunday and brought pride and an identity to this formerly forlorn franchise. Chase reported, "It is Zimmer’s attacking style that fairly screams, 'The Cincinnati Bengals aren’t taking this stuff anymore!’ It is his cajoling, blunt manner that has prodded his players to be better than anyone else thought they could be." Other than rookie Ray Rice’s 48-yard catch-and-run TD, the Bengals shut down the Ravens completely.

Coach Zimmer's Summer Message For the Team

“Nobody wanted you guys’’ Zimmer would say all summer in Georgetown. He’d go down the list, from safety Chris Crocker to rookie linebacker Rey Maualuga, a first-round talent who dropped to the second round. Dhani Jones, Tank Johnson, Roy Williams. Personnel directors might have thought of them. Then, they thought of something else.

The Bengals play like a team glad for the boulder on their shoulder. They practice like it, they come in early to push the boulder around. Zimmer has helped cultivate this adage of "desperation loves company." Players who have seen the end of the road aren’t eager to get there. They appreciate the life they almost lost. “Talent is overrated’’ is what some have reminded Marvin Lewis, all fall. (Chris Chase,, October 11 2009)

After the Game

The team awarded Mike Zimmer the game ball. With his voice cracking and his head coach, Marvin Lewis, tearing up in the background, Zimmer told the team, "My wife loves all of you. Win or lose, she's proud of you. And I just appreciate all of your effort." The Bengals then surrounded their coach in a group hug. Watching the moment on television, even a Ravens' fan would have had tears in their eyes.

Zimmer chose not to speak publicly after the game. The result spoke loudly enough. The Baltimore Ravens came into the game known more this year for their offense than their defense, which is an altogether astonishing thing to say. And the Bengals shut them down.The Ravens averaged 413 yards in their first four games; they had 257 Sunday. It was a dominant performance by Zimmer’s crew. And totally a tribute to him.

You have to figure Mike Zimmer likes this. You have to think it brings him some peace. His extended family, the players nobody wanted, wanted him on this day. They rallied around him, protected him from hurt for three hours. They honored Vikki with their play.

The Locker Room on Monday

John Erardi (, October 12 2009) reported, "The Bengals locker room Monday had none of the day-after exuberance one might expect following such a potentially watershed victory. The somber tone was in keeping with the continued disbelief on the part of a young and extremely close team over the death of Vikki Zimmer. Despite the overall somber mood in the locker room Monday, those who knew Vikki Zimmer best just had to smile at times during their recollections.

“(Coach Zimmer) told us that his wife would have wanted him to coach,” said defensive tackle Domata Peko. “Coming down toward the fourth quarter (Sunday), I remember being in the huddle and a lot of guys were reminding each other, ‘Remember, man, let’s do this for Zimmer.’ It really just helped us push ourselves even more.” Peko said it was one of the most emotional football games he’d ever experienced.

“(Coach) Zimmer was so excited at the end, and everybody was just loving on him,” Peko said. “To (be able to) give him the game ball was real big (for him) … and real big for us.”

Peko said he first met Vikki Zimmer at the “Taste of NFL” two years ago when he was hosting the event, and the Zimmers had recently come to town. “Coach Zim said, ‘Hey, Domata, my wife really wants to meet you – she says you’re her new favorite player,’” said Peko, who of course couldn’t resist such an entreaty. “I met her, and she was a sweetheart.”

“Coach Zim would talk about her, kind of letting us know how much she really cared about us,” said cornerback Leon Hall. “Those snacks she’d (send in) on ‘victory Mondays’ – which were delicious by the way – we’re all going to miss that, and we’re going to miss her.”

Erardi said, "One could tell from the players’ words and body language in the locker room that the team has been brought even closer by Vikki Zimmer’s passing. Oh, how approving she would have been of that."

 There will be pain ahead for Mike Zimmer, private moments after the games stop and the lights go out in the coaches’ offices for another year. No one envies him that. But tragedy is not empty of grace. When a people hurt, their families hurt with them. They are not alone.

“You never know when your day is to get called back home,” Williams said. “You always have to make sure to let people know they’re loved and cared about. Football is our job, but at the end of the day, it’s family.”

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