We lost an icon this weekend when Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 80.
The Canadian-born Trebek’s influence in the United States was massive thanks to his 36-year run as the host of Jeopardy! And that influence was felt even in the NFL world.
NBC Sports’ Peter King spoke to Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz on Sunday about Trebek’s role in Schwartz’s life.
“Alex Trebek and Jeopardy! trained me to be a football coach,” Schwartz told King on Sunday.
“When I was a sophomore, junior and senior at Georgetown [in 1986-89], 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 the fastest. 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.
“In football, as a play-caller, you’ve got to be very quick, 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.”
That makes sense and a lot of us probably have similar memories, trying to blurt out answers before friends and family members. And you can see how it would be a training exercise for a future NFL coach.
Back in the mid-80s when Schwartz was starting out at Georgetown, Trebek was pretty new to Jeopardy! as well. Trebek began hosting the show in 1984.
After Schwartz’s days at Georgetown were over — he was a linebacker for the Hoyas — he began his coaching career in the college ranks before entering the NFL as a scout. He worked his way up through the ranks, eventually becoming a head coach in Detroit and a defensive coordinator at a few stops, including the last five years in Philly. Schwartz has been coaching in the NFL now for over 20 years.
During his news conference on Monday, Schwartz elaborated on what Jeopardy! and Trebek taught him:
“I think just looking back, that had a lot to do, and then just Alex Trebek in general his command over the game. I thought it was always interesting, you never knew if he really knew the answer or it was just he sold it because it was written on his card. You know, oh, no, Henry the VIII, Henry the VI, that kind of thing, just having command over the game and the players.
“I think the other thing, he did it for so long, he had such consistency and it didn't happen by mistake. He was such a professional. He never flubbed a word. He never flubbed a syntax. So you knew that every question he had read probably 20 times, and that's a lot of questions on the board. He prepared himself, and it showed in his performance.
“So I think there's some carry overs, practice is important. Big news flash there. Command is important. Thinking quick is important. Competitiveness is important. Those are the lessons that I learned from just watching a silly game show on TV.”
Jeopardy! tapes in advance and the final episodes featuring Trebek will run through Dec. 25.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.