Q&A: Peter Dyakowski, CFL player and game-show master
The Hamilton Tiger-Cat isn’t your average left guard. He has a Mensa-level IQ, won Canada’s Smartest Person and is prepping for his appearance on Jeopardy!
You’re an offensive lineman in the CFL and you recently won the CBC competition Canada’s Smartest Person, beating a physicist and a quantum chemistry PhD. How dare you repudiate the stereotype of athlete as meathead?
Yeah, I get that a lot. I’m like the Jackie Robinson of dumb jocks, breaking down barriers. The good thing was that no one expected me to win, so I felt no pressure. My opponents, on the other hand, couldn’t afford to get beaten by some big stupid animal.
What kind of smart are you? Do you hear colours or smell sounds, or have an eidetic memory or something?
No, I’m not a savant. I can’t look at a saxophone and instantly know how to play it. I’m just a good problem solver and have a knack for trivia.
Is there a secret to recalling trivia?
People usually know the correct answer; the trick is locating it. When I’m not sure, I’ll search the question for landmarks—a time period, a key figure or event—that will trigger something and put me on the right path. When it’s a logic puzzle, the key is to implement some sort of method for solving it. Trial and error is not a good approach.
You qualified for Jeopardy!, which is no easy feat: out of 250,000 applicants, only some 400 qualify each season. What are you doing to prepare?
You can’t cover everything—there’s just too much subject matter. Geography and British history are my strongest areas, but I’m hoping I get categories like Canadian Football Rules and Tim Hortons Pastries. I learned at the audition that if you try to buzz in while Trebek is talking, you get locked out for a quarter-second, which is a lifetime. So when I watch the show I hold a pen and practise my timing.
What are your worst categories?
Contemporary theatre. Pop culture. Anything celebrity related. If they ask who played Doctor so-and-so on Grey’s Anatomy, I’ll be in serious trouble.
You grew up in Vancouver. Were there early signs of your budding brainpower?
When I was a kid, my dad had me write the Mensa test and I qualified. In Grade 4, I was reading at a Grade 12 level, so they put me in the gifted program. I got kicked out a year later for not completing my homework—any of it. I was happier reading on my own and playing football. I guess I was a bit of a wild child. In high school they called me Mullet due to the beautiful flowing mane I sported. I also drove a white ’79 Firebird and listened to hard rock, so I really embodied the whole stereotype.
You took chemical engineering at Louisiana State University. What was the career plan?
I wasn’t really sure. I just loved making things. I figured I’d get my master’s, but because of football practice, I couldn’t get any lab time, so I switched to history. That’s helped with the whole trivia thing, but not much else. Then I got drafted to the CFL.
Are you spewing eloquent trash talk on the field?
Not so much eloquent, but I do try to be surprising. In my rookie year, a linebacker from the Alouettes was going off on me, saying terrible things about my family—including some racial slurs that didn’t even apply to me—so I told him, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, you really shouldn’t say anything at all.” My linemates started cracking up—so did the referee—and the guy was so rattled he didn’t say anything else to me the whole game.
I have to ask: what books are on your bedside table?
A non-fiction book called All the Tea in China, about a guy sent by the East India Company to China in the 1840s to procure all of the best tea plants from under the nose of the emperor. I also like science fiction and war histories—not so much popular new fiction, though my guilty pleasure was reading the Hunger Games series.
What do you plan to do after your playing days are over?
I’m involved in Glimmis, a children’s reflective gear company. I’m also the co-owner of the Oxford Learning Centre in Hamilton, where I’ve done some teaching. It’s nice to do things with my head aside from bashing it into people.
What’s the smartest thing you’ve ever done?
Proposing to my beautiful wife, Rachel. We got married in January. She’s from St. Catharines and has a master’s from U of T in urban design.
And the dumbest?
Oh, that’s a long list. I tore my patellar tendon in the Grey Cup—I’m rehabbing now—so playing football for a living is probably a good place to start.