NEW YORK -- As part of my interview for a job with ESPN, back in the spring of 2000, I had to take a sports knowledge test. Despite being an avid sports fan, I felt it was one of the toughest tests I had ever taken. I thought I might have bombed it. I never was told my final score, but apparently I didn't do badly enough to stop them from hiring me.
Anyway I thought I was done taking sports tests. But my boss at Page 2, Dave Schoenfield, had other ideas. He thought it'd be fun(ny) if I tried out for "Stump the Schwab." I couldn't say no.
"Stump the Schwab," for those who don't know, is ESPN's version of "Jeopardy" -- except Stuart Scott plays Alex Trebek, and the ultimate goal is to outsmart not only your opponents but also Howie Schwab, ESPN's human sports encyclopedia. The show's fourth season debuts Monday at 7 p.m. on ESPN Classic. This season's contestants were culled from several casting calls held across the country this summer -- including one at the ESPN Zone in Times Square on June 29.
I arrived at the Zone that day just after 4 p.m., and I'll admit I was a tad nervous -- even though, as an ESPN employee, I couldn't actually be a contestant on the show. My pride was at stake! I'm an employee of the Worldwide Leader. I felt a lot of pressure to put up a good showing.
Part 1 of the casting process is a 30-question test, which you have eight minutes to complete. There were six people in my group, and we took the test at a long table in the back of the restaurant, right in front of a huge New York Knicks collage. As a huge Knicks fan, that didn't exactly put me in a good frame of mind, since it was less than 24 hours after the NBA draft and Isiah's brilliant first-round selections of Renaldo Balkman and Mardy Collins. Hopefully that'll be a trivia question one day: Who were Isiah Thomas' last two draft picks as Knicks GM?
You needed to get 18 out of 30 questions correct to move on to Part 2 of the casting process. Sounded easy enough. I turned over my test and dug in. I went through the whole test once very quickly (it covered a wide range of sports), and answered about 10 questions confidently right away. Then I went back to work on the others. I'm not allowed to reveal any of the actual questions, so those questions can be used again in future castings. But I can tell you some of the questions were particularly hard because they were in multiple parts. And some of them were difficult for me because they were about sports I don't really follow, like hockey.
And then there was the only question I didn't even have a guess for. The category? Let's just say it sounds like "mice glancing."
I finished the test with a couple minutes to spare. The test administrator scored our tests right away. She walked over to me first, and flipped my test over so I could see the result.
My ego was definitely bruised. But afterward, the "Stump the Schwab" people told me that's actually a very good score, which softened the blow somewhat. And they allowed me to move on to Part 2 of the casting process anyway.
I had to wait a little over an hour upstairs by the second-floor bar at the Zone before my name was called. I desperately wanted to drown my disappointment in a tall mug of Bud Light, but I resisted the urge. The group of other Part 2 contestants waiting around me was an interesting crowd. There were the serious types, like the 30-something guy in a suit sitting at a table and studying Sports Illustrated like it was the Bible. And there was the guy the size of an O-lineman in shorts and a T-shirt with a Yankees visor hanging out of his back pocket.
We all were rewarded for our long wait. In the room adjacent to us, ESPN NBA reporter Chris Broussard was doing a live interview on ESPNews. After that, out of nowhere, two guys showed up with a large blue box. Turns out they were Carolina Hurricanes. Can you guess the contents of the box? That's right boys and girls, it was the Stanley Cup! Suddenly everyone swarmed around the room's glass windows, with camera phones out. I stayed in my seat, trying to stay focused -- plus, I'm pretty spoiled, the Stanley Cup has been in our offices before.
Soon, I was finally motioned upstairs. I started getting nervous again. This time I was alone in a room with two casting associates, and they were filming the proceedings. They fired a bunch more trivia questions at me -- harder ones than the questions on the test -- and I'd say I did decently. Then they had me try a couple of "leadoffs."
Leadoffs, long story short, are when you have to go back and forth with the other contestants (and Schwab) naming things on a particular sports list. I went back and forth with one of the casting associates. My first category? Name the last 22 winners of the Indianapolis 500. My heart sank. I haven't watched more than a few laps of car racing in my life.
By sheer ESPN osmosis, I came up with two correct answers: Emerson Fittipaldi and Al Unser Jr. I'm not exactly sure why I didn't guess Al Unser Sr. as well -- I later found out he's won twice as many Indy 500s as his son. I'll chalk that up to nerves.
For my second leadoff, I was asked to name the last 22 Heisman Trophy winners. My heart sank once more. I'm a huge college basketball fan, but not nearly as much of a college football fan. Still, I was able to remember several Heisman winners -- for some reason, Heisman-winning QBs who went on to have dismal NFL careers kept popping in my head, like Gino Torretta and Danny Wuerffel. Kind of sad, though -- I panicked a little and couldn't even remember who won it last year, Reggie Bush or Vince Young.
After the second leadoff, I was done. I didn't ask whether I was Schwab-worthy -- I felt pretty confident I wouldn't have made the cut, and wanted to preserve some semblance of dignity. But before I left the Zone, I decided to get reactions from a couple other contestants.
First I approached John Edwards, a 27-year-old financial analyst who'd been in my test group and had scored a 22 to advance to Part 2. "I've always loved sports trivia games," Edwards said. "I thought the test was pretty easy."Showoff. Then I figured I'd test him with a really hard question: "Who's the worst GM in the NBA?"
"Oh, man, Isiah Thomas! There's not even a question!"
Next I talked to Dan Pisani, whose Eli Manning jersey hadn't helped him crack the magic No. 18. "The test was hard, although not quite as hard as I thought it would be," he said. Then I asked him the same question I asked Edwards. His response?
"I don't even like the Knicks. But of course, Isiah Thomas!"
I think that question should be the first one on the test -- if you get it wrong, you're immediately disqualified.
With that, I headed back upstairs to track down one of those tall Bud Lights. The Knicks were a laughingstock. It was pouring rain outside. I didn't have an umbrella. But I had plenty of time to start studying for next year.
Kieran Darcy is an associate editor at ESPN.com. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.