By Bill Simmons
Page 2

Editor's Note: This column appears in the August 2 edition of ESPN The Magazine.

"Jeopardy!" answer: he dutifully followed the game show exploits of a grating software engineer from Salt Lake City.

"Jeopardy!" question: who is ... aw, forget it. It's me, okay? I'm obsessed with the Jeopardy Guy. Watching this Mormon assassin emerge as the MJ of nerds has been the highlight of my summer. He's earned the coveted No.1 spot on my TiVo Season Pass, as well as acronym status: the Sports Gal and I refer to him as the JG. I wish I were kidding. Watching him pocket a million-plus during his astounding 35-game winning streak -- still going as I write this -- we alternately revered him and hoped Alex Trebek would punch him in the face.

Ken Jennings
Ken Jennings, also known as JG.

Yes, he's a smarmy know-it-all with the personality of a hall monitor, the kind of guy everyone hides from at a Christmas party. But he has "it" -- that indefinable quality you have when you know you're good, when you're in the zone and taking everyone for a ride. The '86 Celts had it. They toyed with teams before ripping their hearts out, Temple of Doom style. The JG does too. Not since the pre-nanny Tiger has somebody laid the smack down like this. He doesn't beat people, he dismantles them.

There's something comforting about seeing the JG's smiling, Stepford mug every night, and the way he shakes his head in disbelief as Trebek announces his absurd money total. (Of course, the number should be higher. Isn't this streak 10 times more impressive than someone rattling off 10 answers on Regis' Millionaire show?) Maybe he's boring; maybe he's unlikable. But like the truly great ones, he raises his game when it matters. Who else can you count on to do that these days?

I can remember him being tested only once in the past month. On June 25, a bald musician named Michael pulled within $200 near the end of Round 2. It was like seeing Douglas whistling jabs at Tyson. The normally unflappable Trebek pulled a Kevin Harlan, yelping, "We got a game!"

Not for long. The JG calmly padded his lead heading into commercial, then fended the bald guy off in Final Jeopardy. Definitely an ESPN Classic moment. As we awaited his final answer (What is leprosy?), the JG stared into the camera like Stephen A. Smith, playing up the drama before breaking into an exaggerated Dr. Evil smile when the correct response was revealed. As always, the Sports Gal summed up everyone's feelings: "I hope he gets eaten by a tiger."

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He chugged along untouched for the next three weeks, nailing every category imaginable, TV's version of DiMaggio. Searching for challenges, the JG honed some annoying ploys, including expressing doubt when he responds (you know, to raise everyone's hopes before dashing them); adding drawings to Final Jeopardy answer cards (like Jimmy Carter's front teeth); and his "Oh, what the heck?" arrogance during Daily Doubles, when he says stuff like, "I don't know the first thing about the history of nuclear fusion in Croatia ... I better wager just $9,500." There hasn't been a villain this good since Billy Zabka. Even Alex seems to enjoy him; their dorky Ali-Cosell routine is funnier than any sitcom.

At this point, the JG is doing everything but making cell phone calls or throwing in a load of laundry during the show, as he goads opponents into taking crazy risks. Last Thursday, a competitor named Tom wagered all but $200 of his $6,200 nest egg on a Daily Double. You do that when you're going against the best. It's like bunting to break up a Koufax perfect game. Tom heard the question, hemmed and hawed, winced a few times, then threw out a "guess" ... and nailed it. Uh-oh. That's the JG's move. This was like John Starks sticking out his tongue and dunking on MJ. Certain lines should not be crossed. Even Alex's voice hushed.

You can guess what happened next. Trailing by $1,400 with half the board remaining, the JG rolled up the sleeves of his professor's jacket and went to work: six straight answers for six grand. When a flustered Tom botched the next one, the JG answered it correctly, exhaling for good measure. By the end of the second round, he'd tripled Tom's total, practically preening as they headed into commercial. The lesson, as always: don't wake up a sleeping corduroy giant.

Will the JG ever lose? I see it ending like Gagne's save streak -- a close game, then some sort of fluke and everyone standing around in disbelief. Either that, or one of the other contestants pummels him to death. "I can't even look at him anymore," the Sports Gal hissed last week. "His face is so punchable." But isn't that the point? We need villains, even if they come in the form of a wispy computer geek.

That's why I will always remember the summer of the JG.

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN the Magazine.




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