SI Vault
 
A Twilight's Last Gleaming
Frank Deford
November 19, 1984
The story of Eddie Bishop, small-town football hero, was an American classic—until he came home to Pineville, Kentucky as the high school coach
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
November 19, 1984

A Twilight's Last Gleaming

The story of Eddie Bishop, small-town football hero, was an American classic—until he came home to Pineville, Kentucky as the high school coach

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

The mountain folk around the Gap aren't profligate people, and they've always been a cussedly independent lot, either living off the land or of it, cutting timber, or digging coal. Football is Pineville's game. Let those bluegrass panty-waists have their hoops.

Like a lot of small-town kids, Eddie did some of everything there was to do. Because Fred was barely a year older and they were both outstanding athletes, they had a lot in common and shared a lot of friends. Still, everybody who knew the Bishop boys recognized the differences between them. Fred was more contained, less demonstrative, while Eddie, unlike most top athletes, was full of fun, never self-conscious, both a leader and a comic. The word "clown" is regularly summoned up to describe him, but always in a complimentary way.

Beaver Combs, who played center for the Mountain Lions, was one of Eddie's best friends, and he retains two visions of his old pal. The second one is of Eddie dashing about the field, the one-man team. But first, there was a Christmastime when a bunch of the guys went up to Lexington to go shopping, and Eddie decked himself out in black-and-orange shoes, green pants and a red shirt. When he got separated from his friends, all the others went about laughing and asking strangers, "Have you seen a Christmas tree walking around?"

"Eddie just had a way of laughing everything off," Knuckles says. And he was carrying a lot: the fifth child in a proud family of achievers, the smallest brother after two distinguished athletes, a black in a predominantly white society. But he kept passing every test. He could charm anyone. Jennifer, his younger sister, even straight-out asked her mother once, "Why do you favor Eddie so?"

Only Fred Jr., looking back, sees him differently. "Eddie had a more serious attitude toward his relationship with people," he says. "I learned at an early age not to take people seriously. But, you see, most people didn't realize this because when they saw Eddie play, he was the one who always had a smile on his face. And I didn't. But, in reality, Eddie was the serious one."

It was in April of '79, after he'd been back at Pineville High for three months, teaching health and physical education, serving as an assistant coach for the basketball team, that Eddie was named head football coach in his hometown. He was just short of his 23rd birthday.

Eddie had been reluctant at first to apply for the job, but once he was appointed, he threw himself into it. He went over to the school by himself and painted the lockers and lined the field. Nobody expected much from this edition of the Mountain Lions. There were only four seniors on the slim 22-man squad. Even The Sun-Courier, which would become Eddie's most conspicuous critic, acknowledged that "the team is small and thin in numbers."

And so, everybody was perfectly delighted when Pineville beat Evarts 6-2 in Coach Bishop's inaugural on Aug. 18, 1979. He won his second game, too.

And if Pineville then got whipped 27-0 by Corbin, Corbin is a Class AA school—Pineville is a Class A. And although hated Middlesboro also beat the Mountain Lions, the score was only 9-8, the closest that Pineville had come since the classic victory of '73, when Eddie had run wild in the maroon and gold. The team finished 5-6, which seemed, on paper, to be as much as anyone could have expected.

But behind Eddie's back, in certain precincts, there was criticism. The code word was "discipline." Had Eddie had control of the team? The issue was of particular concern because drugs had finally reached Pineville. Adams, the former football coach and the Pineville High principal since 1977, agrees that the problem had begun to surface about the time Eddie took over. "It takes about 10 years for something to get here...even a fad," he says.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8