Green Bay and “Jeopardy!” fans alike are enjoying quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ successful stint as guest host. An avid fan of America’s favorite quiz show, and a “Celebrity Jeopardy!” champ, Rodgers has proven himself a natural fit for the gig.
Yet as fruitful as the unlikely matchup has proven, it’s not the first time it’s happened. “Jeopardy!”s long-running counterpart, “Wheel of Fortune,” brought in another charismatic, handsome NFL legend to host many years ago.
One-time placekicker for the San Diego Chargers, Rolf Benirschke, now 66, held a one-year run for the daytime version of “Wheel of Fortune” in 1989. At the time, “Fortune” aired twice daily, with both daytime and evening versions. Up until Benirschke’s tenure, Pat Sajak had hosted both incarnations. Once the beloved host left the daytime spot to host a talk show, however, “Wheel of Fortune” was in need of a second host.
And if any have found Aaron Rodgers an unlikely host for “Jeopardy!” (he’s not, really, the guy is as sharp as he is tall), Rolf Benirschke was a far more risky venture. In fact, the NFL star had just come off his ten year stint in the league – and had zero experience with television, game shows, or anything of the sort.
That year (1989), Benirschke made an appearance on a local LA morning show on behalf of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. Watching the live taping was none other than legendary “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune” producer Merv Griffin. Just a few days later, Benirschke would receive a call from Merv asking if he was “interested in auditioning for a new game show.”
“I was transitioning out of football, I had ideas of what I wanted to do but I wasn’t exactly sure, so I was curious,” ESPN cites of Benirschke. “I met him a couple of times.”
WATCH: NFL Legend Rolf Benirschke Hosts ‘Wheel of Fortune’
“So I go up there and I meet Vanna [White], I meet the cast, I meet Charlie the voice, I meet the different producers,” he said. “The next thing I know, I’m coming back from giving a talk in New York on a Sunday and on my answering machine was a message:
“‘You’ve been selected to be the next host of the daytime version of “Wheel of Fortune.” Please show up at the studio on Thursday for the taping of the first five shows…” Benirschke recalls.
“I’m laughing. It’s Sunday night, you’re going to put this rookie in front of your audience on Thursday.”
And that’s exactly what happened. With an introduction from Vanna White herself, Rolf took the stage and stuck around for a full year of syndication.
Benirschke Hasn’t Watched Aaron Rodgers’ ‘Jeopardy!’ Stint Yet
While Benirschke has yet to catch any of Aaron Rodgers’ “Jeopardy!” episodes, he is unsurprised that the quarterback is enjoying it immensely.
“Here’s the thing: He’s a bright guy, and I think he enjoys that,” Benirschke continues. “It gets to show the world that football players aren’t just football players. There are some really bright guys in the league that do other things.”
Benirschke is additionally curious, however, how Rodgers would ever manage to host “Jeopardy!” full time while also continuing his NFL career, as the current guest host has said he would like to.
“We taped a month worth of shows in a week,” Benirschke recalls of “Wheel of Fortune.”
“Five on Monday, five on Tuesday, five on Wednesday, break Thursday and do the last five on Friday. So I’d go up there a week a month to do that. People probably don’t know that’s how it works. It’s an interesting situation. I remember I got laryngitis, I got hoarse one week and America thought I was sick for a month because you’re taping 20 shows in a week,” he laughs.
“You can’t do that obviously during the [NFL] season, and it’s year-round,” Benirschke notes in earnest. “So I’m not sure how you’d do that.”
While Benirschke says “Wheel of Fortune” was a “side street” for him, he says Aaron Rodgers may be more suited to the “Hollywood” lifestyle. Only time will tell.