KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Football guys know.
Mike Zimmer and son Adam Zimmer have been talking football since Adam can remember, and since he's now 28 and in his eighth season himself as an NFL assistant coach to go along with his dad's 19, it just seemed natural that they wouldn't talk football this week.
Not with Mike Zimmer's Bengals out here to take on Adam Zimmer's Chiefs on Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) in a nice respite for both in the middle of tough seasons.
"We talked about everything but football," Mike Zimmer says with a smile, the Bengals defensive coordinator joking that he tried. "I was trying to pry some information out of him but I didn't get anywhere."
"It would be hard if he was an offensive coach because I would be directly trying to beat him," says Adam Zimmer, the Chiefs assistant linebackers coach. "I'm just trying to stop the danged offense. I'm not worried about what the defense is doing."
It's at moments like this that you can hear the words of Vikki Zimmer a month before her sudden death three years ago. She recounted a recent dinner she had with her husband and as they talked about their son Adam, she suddenly asked Mike, "How honored do you feel that your son wants to be just like you, idolizes you and even has your mannerisms?"
Three years later Mike Zimmer has to agree.
"We're a lot alike," he says. "We see some things differently, but we're a lot alike."
In the last two weeks Adam Zimmer has taken on a more varied role with linebackers coach Gary Gibbs becoming the Chiefs defensive coordinator. Gibbs, Adam's coordinator during part of Adam's tenure in New Orleans, knows him well. They split the duties in practice with Adam in charge of the inside backers, but both work with all of them in drills and meetings.
Adam Zimmer has been getting some good production out of his players with veteran inside backer Derrick Johnson putting up Pro Bowl numbers, but Kansas City's 1-8 record has spoiled everything.
"We've got good players; we've done some dumb things," Adam Zimmer said. "The offense isn't the only reason we're losing, believe me."
(Footnote: Two outside backers had a big penalty and fine Monday night against the Steelers. Justin Houston started the group celebration on a touchdown that got wiped out on review and Tamba Hali was fined $25,000 for a helmet hit on Pittsburgh quarterback Byron Leftwich.)
If that doesn't sound like a carbon copy Mike Zimmer paragraph, how about this take on the Bengals offense?
Both teams were supposed to make the playoffs. The Chiefs won't and the Bengals are trying to get to .500 first Sunday. It is the son that has been a comfort to the father.
"He texted me before one game and said, 'I get so nervous before the games,' " Adam Zimmer says. "I told him, 'You've done everything you can do. You've practiced everything there is to practice, now go out and enjoy the game.' I told him to go relax. Go run a lap or something. Run the stadium stairs."
That's how they're different. Mike Zimmer takes misery to an art form.
"But he's always looking for the positive," Mike Zimmer says. "He'll say, 'you guys did that well and you guys played that well,' and I'm thinking about ways to fix it."
And they keep an eye on each other. Adam Zimmer has the NFL TV package at home and he makes sure he watches the Bengals, especially when they win.
"I always root for them when they're not playing us," Adam Zimmer says.
Mike Zimmer hears things. He doesn't have to brag about his kid. Others do. Not long ago a former Chiefs linebacker named Mike Vrabel who played for Adam Zimmer, sent word to Mike Zimmer via Bengals offensive assistant Brayden Coombs. Vrabel wanted Zimmer to know how much he thought of Adam as a coach and passed on his thoughts to fellow Ohio State assistant coach Kerry Coombs, Brayden's dad.
"It's always good to hear," Mike Zimmer says. "He works hard at it. What's nice is that it's people coming up to you saying it."
Remember, when the Saints won the Super Bowl following that 2009 season of both pure happiness and devastating grief, New Orleans linebacker Scott Fujita credited the defense's young quality control coach. After the game Fujita swore that Zimmer had picked up enough of quarterback Peyton Manning’s words off TV scouting that it helped them break some codes.
“A lot of it was spot on,” Fujita said that night. “You wonder during the week that you got these code words you hear about other teams from scouting and watching TV copies. But a lot of them were pretty accurate. We came out and we were calling out some of the plays on the field.”
This is the first time the Zimmers have coached against each other in the regular season during Mike Zimmer's five seasons in Cincinnati. The last time their teams played each other was two months before Vikki died in the 2009 preseason. They went at it once each in 2006 and 2007 when Mike coordinated the Cowboys and Falcons, respectively.
But this is different. This is the first time without Vikki and it is here, where Zimmer's brother Bill lives and where Vikki's brother Bruce Black is joining them for dinner Saturday night, along with Adam's sister Corri.
This Saturday night is a rare night for two football guys during the season.
"Before our meetings, I'm going to be able to see Adam," Mike Zimmer says. "Then we're all going out to eat after meetings. It's nice."
It is rare if they don't text daily. But this is a lift for Adam.
"I haven't seen him since training camp," he says.
Adam Zimmer had a ritual when he was working in New Orleans. Every night he left the office he'd give Vikki a call.
"It never gets easier," Adam says."We know she's with us, watching over us, and hopefully she'll start letting one of us win a little bit."
Vikki Zimmer knew all the time. That could have been Mike or Adam talking before a game.