Howie Schwab, ESPN Researcher and Trivia Star, Dies at 63

Howie Schwab, ESPN Researcher and Trivia Star, Dies at 63

By Oghale Apr24,2024

Howie Schwab, a sports nerd who parlayed his love of statistics into a long stint at ESPN that was most notable for his starring role as the ultimate trivia expert on the game show “Stump the Schwab,” died on Saturday in Aventura, Fla. He was 63.

His death was announced on social media by his wife, Suzie Davie-Schwab. His mother, Dona (Bressner) Schwab, said he was in a hospital being treated for an infection when he died, apparently of a heart attack.

Mr. Schwab had been at ESPN for 17 years in behind-the-scenes roles as a researcher and producer when he was tapped in 2004 to star in his own show.

On “Stump the Schwab,” three challengers vied to outdo Mr. Schwab in answering questions posed by the host, Stuart Scott, in the opening rounds. In the final round — called the Schwab Showdown — the best of the three went head to head against him for a $25,000 grand prize. Mr. Schwab almost always won.

In the episode that decided the 2005 season’s champion, Mr. Schwab entered the studio at the start of the show wearing a red boxing robe, with a woman on each arm; he then doffed the robe, revealing a Derek Jeter jersey, and shadowboxed.

“I am ready to rumble,” he told Mr. Scott.

Mr. Schwab did not look like a typical television star: He was overweight, wore glasses and sported a goatee.

In a review of “Stump the Schwab” for The New York Times in 2005, Marc Weingarten wrote: “The appeal of the show lies in its carefully cultivated reverse snobbery. Watching Mr. Schwab gun down all comers is a bit like watching Homer Simpson prevail over Ken Jennings, the all-time ‘Jeopardy!’ champion, in a college quiz bowl.”

The show ran from 2004 to 2006 and was then seen in reruns.

“Everybody wants to stump me,” Mr. Schwab told The Tampa Bay Times in 2007. “People come up and say, ‘What shoe size was So-and-So in 1941?’ I’m like, ‘Got me.’ See, I don’t know everything.”

The depth and breadth of Mr. Schwab’s sports knowledge translated into providing statistics “that made sports fans smarter every night, the kind of information really good sports fans could use when talking to other fans who loved sports,” John Walsh, a former executive editor of ESPN, said in a phone interview.

As ESPN’s first staff researcher and then as the manager of its research department, Mr. Schwab contributed to various programs, including “SportsCenter” and “College GameDay,” and worked with individual sportscasters. He was particularly close with the college basketball analyst Dick Vitale.

Howard Arlen Schwab was born on Sept. 17, 1960, in Brooklyn, and grew up in Baldwin, N.Y., on Long Island. His mother was a high school teacher and administrator, and his father, Theodore, a German immigrant and Holocaust survivor, owned a wholesale photographic accessory business.

Dona Schwab said that as a child Howard “was a terrible athlete, but he enjoyed playing in the street,” where he was the goalie in street hockey games. At summer camp, he delivered the previous day’s scores to other campers over a loudspeaker.

“He had a photographic memory,” she added. “He could tell you every seat he sat in for every game he attended.”

At St. John’s University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in athletic administration, Mr. Schwab wrote for The Torch, the campus newspaper, and broke the news in 1981 that the hotly recruited high school basketball star Chris Mullin was going to play for the university.

After the school’s basketball coach, Lou Carnesecca, read the article, Mr. Schwab told the St. John’s website in 2019, he called Mr. Schwab into his office and said: “It’s not a done deal. What if he changes his mind?” Mr. Schwab stood by the story. And Mr. Mullin signed the next day.

After graduating in 1982, Mr. Schwab was hired by College & Pro Football Newsweekly, where he was a senior editor from 1982 to 1985 and the editor in chief from 1986 to 1987.

ESPN hired him in 1987 as a freelance researcher, promoted him to staff researcher the next year, and put him in charge of its growing research department in 1991. Four years later, he was named coordinating producer of espn.com. He moved up to coordinating producer of studio production in 1998.

Keith Olbermann, the former “SportsCenter” anchor, wrote on the social media platform X, “Simply, ESPN never rises to the heights it did, nor exists today, without him.”

Dan Patrick, another former ESPN anchor, said on his radio show on Monday: “Howie was Sports Google before Sports Google. Google would have Googled Howie Schwab.”

In 2013, Mr. Schwab and about 300 other ESPN employees were laid off. Angrily, he wrote on Twitter, “I was a loyal employee, displayed respect for others, worked with numerous charities, represented the company well. I always did everything asked of me and more. What did I get in return today … Word that I should get lost.”

In the following years, Mr. Vitale hired him to help with his game preparation, as well as with his books, his website and his charitable work to defeat pediatric cancer. Mr. Schwab was also on the board of Make-A-Wish Connecticut.

Mr. Schwab was hired in 2014 as a consultant to “Sports Jeopardy!,” a game show Mr. Patrick hosted on the digital service Crackle. He was also the bracketologist for Fox Sports during its coverage of the N.C.A.A. men’s basketball tournament in 2018 and 2019.

In addition to his wife and his mother, Mr. Schwab is survived by his sister, Elysa Schwab. His father died last year. His first wife, Jodi Singer, died in 2014.

About a decade after “Stump the Schwab” ended production in 2006, Mr. Schwab reprised it when a friend, Jerry Capozzalo, whom he knew from a fantasy sports league, invited him to his daughter Denise’s engagement party and asked him to stage a “Stump”-like contest. She had been a fan of the series.

“He couldn’t attend, but he sent her a tape where he posed trivia questions for the group at the party,” Mr. Capozzalo said by phone. “They loved it. They got some of the answers, but he stumped most of them.”

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