By Al Thompson
This week, America fondly remembered the life and legacy of Alex Trebek, a Canadian-American television personality known best as the host of the syndicated game show Jeopardy! for 36 years. Trebek hosted the show from its revival in 1984 until his death on Sunday.
There were over 8,000 episodes of Jeopardy! over the years. The game was simple but, to the average viewer, was seemingly impossible to win. Three contestants would try to answer questions on subjects including history and current events, the sciences, the arts, popular culture, literature, and languages.
Some questions Trebek would ask, you’d think the contestant had a computer operating in his or her head. The show intrigued America for generations.
One of the show’s biggest fans has always been Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. In an interview over the weekend, longtime national columnist Peter King asked Schwartz about the influence Trebek and Jeopardy! had on his life and profession.
Some of King’s audience may have thought Trebek helped train Schwartz as a football coach. That was apparently not the case. Schwartz was asked during his Monday video conference to talk about that influence, and if it was a tribute to the iconic game show host.
“Obviously, I didn’t think he was training me as a football coach when it was going on,” Schwartz said. “I was a sophomore and junior in college. I didn’t even know I was going to go into coaching. We were just playing for fun, and it was an ultra-competitive environment.”
Schwartz said there were real lessons from the show that can be carried over to sports.
“You look back and see lessons learned from stuff like that and you see the carryovers to football,” Schwartz said. “It’s not just getting the right answer. It’s getting the right answer quicker than everybody else. I’ve always talked to football players about this. It’s like, hey, what’s two plus two; four. And somebody else says two plus two and they go (counting on fingers) one-two-three-four. Well, both of them got the right answer, but the other one, the ball was snapped and the running back just ran right past you. There’s that, and when you’re a defensive coach in particular, you’re reacting when you make your play calls. You guys see, I very rarely have a play sheet or a call, I might have some notes written down on one small page but that’s about it. The reason is, you have to react to what personnel group you’re getting, the down and distance, all those different things. You can’t pick a play the way offensive coaches do.”
And then there was Trebek. The 80-year-old worked the show to near perfection until his passing from stage IV pancreatic cancer. Schwartz said he admired Trebek for his incredible consistency and always being prepared
“I think just looking back, that had a lot to do, and then just Alex Trebek in general his command over the game,” the coach said. “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 carryovers, 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.” ••
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii