Jim Schwartz has been coaching in the NFL for over 25 years. He doesn’t hesitate when asked to attribute credit for his lengthy career.
“Alex Trebek and ‘Jeopardy!’ trained me to be a football coach,” Schwartz told Peter King of NBC Sports on Sunday.
Trebek, the long-time, beloved host of “Jeopardy!” died Sunday morning after battling pancreatic cancer. He was 80.
Schwartz elaborated: “When I was a sophomore, junior, and senior at Georgetown (’86-’89), every night after dinner me and a big group, maybe six guys, would watch the show. Very smart guys. We were speed-readers, very competitive.
“It was a challenge to see who could blurt the answer out faster. You might know the answer, but if you don’t do it very fast, you’d lose. With my friends, if you were a little slow, you’d get steamrolled.”
Turns out that was perfect training for a coaching career. “In football, as a play-caller, you’ve got to be very quick,” Schwartz continued. “You’ve got to enunciate the play well when you call it; you can’t make errors. Those are all things Alex was so good at. His command of the show and the contestants was incredible. You need that kind of command when you’re in charge of a team, too.”
A former head coach of the Lions, Schwartz is now in his fifth year as the Eagles defensive coordinator. Obviously, his time spent watching “Jeopardy!” has served him well.
That’s a sentiment shared by millions of fans across the nation. Alex Trebek and “Jeopardy!” were really one and the same, and an indispensable part of our daily lives.
Unlike so much of the mindless fare offered through the medium, “Jeopardy!” challenged us nightly to think, think fast, and then explore new horizons that had been missed or forgotten.
The show was conceived in 1963 by television host Merv Griffin, who missed the quiz shows of the ‘50s. They died when reports surfaced that contestants were given the answers beforehand. It was Griffin’s wife, Julann, who suggested simply giving contestants the answers on the air, and then requiring them to supply the question.
Originally airing on March 30, 1964, with host Art Fleming and announcer Don Pardo, the first incarnation of “Jeopardy!” ran until ’75. NBC, in its infinite wisdom, sought a younger demographic.
“Jeopardy!” returned for good in 1984, and consistently ranks as America’s top-rated quiz show, and second-rated game show, behind Wheel of Fortune.
And Trebek hosted every single episode, except one. On April Fool’s Day 1997, he switched roles with Pat Sajak, Wheel’s host. He’s hosted over 8,000 episodes of “Jeopardy!” In 2014, he topped Bob Barker’s record of 6,828 appearances on “The Price Is Right.”
“Jeopardy!” has won 35 Emmy Awards, more than any other game show. In 2017, “Jeopardy!” won a Daytime Emmy for outstanding game show, an incredible feat for a show three decades old.
Trebek himself has won six Emmys for outstanding game show host, as well as a lifetime achievement award.
Perhaps the show’s finest accolade was bestowed in 2011, when “Jeopardy!” won a Peabody Award. It marked the first time in over 50 years a quiz show was recognized. The citation noted that the award was given “for decades of consistently encouraging, celebrating, and rewarding knowledge.”
In March 2019, with typical candor and humor, Trebek delivered an online video. “Just like over 50,000 other people in the United States each year, this week I was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Normally, the prognosis for this is not very encouraging, but I’m going to fight this … Truth told, I have to, because under the terms of my contract, I have to host ‘Jeopardy!’ for three more years!”
Ken Jennings, the show’s greatest champion, told Fox News that while Trebek was a true professional, he was very relaxed and friendly during commercial breaks. “He’s actually loose and goofy and telling jokes, and he does accents. He is much more the goofy uncle than the stern father stereotype”
Jennings also shared a lesson Trebek taught him. “He was having a rotten day. He was just feeling lousy. But then the music turned on and the announcer said his name, and he just turned into Alex Trebek and walked out there.
“I asked him about it later, and it was not a performance. You know, he’s somebody who actually feels best and is at his most confident and capable when he’s doing his job, when he’s hosting ‘Jeopardy!,’ because that’s the thing that he has made himself best in the world at over the last 37 years. I really admire that, just the idea that the thing you love, the place where you feel like you’re at home, can keep you going.
“Alex wasn’t just the best ever at what he did. He was also a lovely and deeply decent man, and I’m grateful for every minute I got to spend with him.”
Aren’t we all.