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At 6'3", Fred knew he would have to make a transition from frontcourt to back if he chose to play basketball in college, so he very coolly chose football for his scholarship. But he thinks Eddie should have opted to play basketball in college. At 6'1", he was the shortest of the three brothers, a natural guard, but he chose football and went up to Morehead as a wide receiver, catching spirals from a quarterback named Phil Simms, who was good enough to go on and make a name for himself with the Giants.
Then, too, Pineville is just plain a football town. You say Kentucky, you think basketball, but that has never been the case in Pineville, The Gem City of the Cumberlands. Pineville High has long been the smallest school in the state to play football, and through the years it has raised up some hellacious teams.
Bobby Madon, the mayor, recalled that in glory times—like coach Bill Adams's heyday in the '50s and '60s—when the Mountain Lions played a big road game, there'd be bonfires on the courthouse lawn, all the stores would close, and the people in Pineville would nudge each other and say, "Last one to leave, please, you turn out the lights." At the Friday night home games, the stands would be packed, and the fans would ring the rest of the field four and five deep.
The '67 team was touted as being as good as any in the state. Adams had the team make trips in gray slacks and maroon jackets, with team bags, before a lot of college teams were doing that sort of Eddie Bishop thing. And the Pineville Athletic Boosters Club—"the finest boosters club in the state of Kentucky," many people said—even presented Adams with a brand-new automobile one year. "This is just a football-crazy town," says Wayne Knuckles, the editor of The Sun-Courier.
The best football of all was played by Fred, No. 81 in the maroon and gold, and Eddie, No. 14, holding on to the glory for Pineville, even as the coal played out and the number of good athletes dwindled. Then, after his older brother had gone to college, Eddie kept things going by himself, a one-man team, darting about in that pigeon-toed manner so many great athletes have, slashing down the field, bouncing back to the huddle. His greatest game may have been when he led Pineville past Twigg County High, state champion and 28-point favorite. Even better was beating Middlesboro. That's the town down the road, Route 25E—five times larger than Pineville, the one everybody in Pineville wants most to beat. "The man who did that magic is now the head coach. Maybe Coach Eddie Bishop can come up with another magic trick," The Sun-Courier wrote, years later, still savoring the 6-2 victory over Middlesboro in 1973.
Retha was there that night. She'd been the girl down the street all Eddie's life, but it was only when he was the football hero in town and she was one of the cheerleaders that they fell in love, she in her maroon-and-gold sweater and her pleated skirt, he in his maroon-and-gold uniform and his gladiator's helmet. All the folks in Pineville cheered off her cues, as she cheered for him, both of them in love, and neither of them knowing that it never gets any better than in high school, in the autumn, when it's the cheerleader and the one-man team.
Robert Roan was the quarterback that night, handing the ball to Eddie, or tossing it to him. "I'm happily married now, and we're having a baby, and I've been successful in business," Robert said one night recently, sitting over at Eddie's parents' house, out on the porch with the bugs and the memories. "But I'll tell you, still, the greatest thrill of my life was when we beat Middlesboro. That game. Isn't it funny the way a high school football game can stay with you?" He sighed. "But then, every memory of high school, and a lot of college, too, is of Eddie."
Now, Pineville happens to rest in the hills, where the Cumberland River cuts toward the Gap below, but it wouldn't matter if Pineville were in the hollows of Kentucky or on the plains of Texas, or in the mountains of Colorado or in the suburbs somewhere. It's all the same where Friday nights matter only for football, and the boys are made heroes before they are men.
On July 19, 1956 Edward Anthony Bishop was born at home in Pineville, the fifth of seven children. Inez (pronounced EYE-nez), the remarkable woman giving birth, remembers how curiously the father reacted this one time. "Why, Fred started chilling," she says. "And pretty soon he had that heater cherry red. The middle of the summer! And me burning up just from the hurting."
Fred Jr. had been born barely a year before, and the last two children, Jennifer and Jan, would follow in such quick succession that Inez would bear four children, all single births, in a 42-month period.