Gary Zimmerman Denver Broncos & Minnesota Vikings
"Winning the ring, doing what nobody thought we could do, that's what I'll always remember. That's what you play the game for."
Offensive tackle Gary Zimmerman is one of just a handful of players to earn the honor of being named to two National Football League All-Decade Teams. His superior play earned him a spot on the NFL's 1980s All-Decade Team even though he played just four seasons during the decade. Following the 1999 season, he was named to the 1990s All-Decade Team as well.
Originally selected by the New York Giants in the first round of the 1984 supplemental draft, Zimmerman's signing rights were traded to the Minnesota Vikings for two second-round picks in the 1986 draft. Also drafted by the Los Angeles Express of the failed United States Football League, Zimmerman spent two seasons with the Express before reporting to the Vikings in 1986. Gary was later acquired by the Denver Broncos in a trade with Minnesota prior to the last preseason game of the 1993 season.
After joining the Vikings in 1986, Zimmerman began a streak of 169 consecutive starts that lasted until 1996 when late-season shoulder surgery sidelined him. Along the way he earned first- or second-team All-Pro honors eight times. During the same period he was selected to play in seven Pro Bowls.
In Minnesota, Zimmerman anchored an offensive line that helped the Vikings lead the NFC in rushing in 1991. In Denver, with Zimmerman blocking, the Broncos recorded their most successful offensive output in franchise history. The Broncos led the AFC in total combined yards in 1995 and led the NFL in that category in 1996 and 1997. The team also led the NFL in rushing in 1996.
Zimmerman was equally adept at pass blocking, as evidenced by the fact that Minnesota and Denver quarterbacks led their conferences in passing in 1986, 1988, 1993, and 1996.
Although Zimmerman managed to play in 169 consecutive games and a total of 184 games during his career, he was no stranger to injury and pain. In 1996, the durable lineman played with severe pain in both shoulders. His consecutive game streak reluctantly came to a halt when late-season surgery on one of his injured shoulders forced him to the sidelines.
Zimmerman's ability to persevere and his desire to play, earned him the respect and admiration of teammates and opponents alike. Even though he missed the final two games of the 1996 season he was still selected to play in the Pro Bowl and was voted first-team All-Pro honors.