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

During Adams's tenure as the coach, he could lay down the law. He wouldn't let players ride in cars during the season, except on weekends, and parents would call him up in the summer to ask him when the car rule would start. But now there was gossip that some Mountain Lions were messing around with dope. And while everybody would acknowledge that the times had changed, a lot of folks in Pineville, like a lot of folks everywhere, somehow wanted to believe that football coaches, and football coaches' authority, were exempt from the tides of change. They're supposed to be able to hand out backbones and gumption with the shoulder pads.

Inez can see it now: "There were some parents who couldn't control their children the way it used to be. So they wanted Eddie—they wanted the football coach—to do what they couldn't."

The 1980 squad was larger, with 31 players, but only half a dozen were seniors, and privately Eddie told friends that there were only two or three real athletes on the squad. Still, for whatever reasons, much more was expected of this team, especially by The Sun-Courier.

The general manager of the newspaper was the same Bobby Madon who was, and is, the mayor of Pineville. Madon is a one-man town. At the time, he wrote not only the weekly editorial column (entitled LIKE IT is) but also the opinion column on the sports page (SPORTS SLANTS), and he broadcast the Pineville games on the local radio station. Moreover, his son was co-captain of the 1980 Mountain Lions, and the father expected a great deal of the lad. Very soon, Madon was describing the previous so-so season as "disastrous," and he declared, "A losing football season is probably the most difficult thing to swallow in Pineville." And "I remind you, when football dies at Pineville, so does the school."

In retrospect, Eddie's fate was all but sealed in the first game of the season, when Pineville was shut out 28-0 by Fleming-Neon High in the Laurel Bowl. Madon wrote, "This Laurel Bowl has been discussed over every cup of coffee in town...and no one can figure what's wrong with the 'Lions.' ...This is certainly no criticism of anyone...but never have I seen a group with so much give so little.... We let a disciplined ball club control the ball all night."

Pineville fell to 1-4 and then 2-6. Worse, Middlesboro creamed Pineville 30-0, so that the final 34-22 victory over Bell County was bitter consolation, and the season ended 4-7, 9-13 for Eddie's two years. Disgraced and disgruntled, Pineville cried for a new coach, one who could discipline its youth, the way it used to be. Cloud says, "I honestly think everybody knew how mediocre the material was that Eddie had. And they knew about the drugs when he came in. But people around here expect miracles in football."

The winter was long for Coach Bishop. The handwriting was on the wall. He wasn't allowed to return as basketball assistant. There were public meetings at the school about the drug problem, and that only generated more talk about how Eddie's team had been infected by drugs. In fact, there was never any proof of drug use among the Mountain Lion players.

As was his nature, Eddie maintained a happy hero's face. When alone with his friends and family, he did complain sometimes that the Boosters and old supporters—like Adams and Woolum—hadn't given him the backing he'd expected, but he never dwelt on the subject. He kept almost everything to himself.

Woolum went out of his way to try to counsel Eddie. As a member of the school board he was aware that Eddie was in trouble. "But as far as I know, right up to the accident, no one ever actually asked Eddie to resign," Woolum says. "I felt as responsible as anyone about what was happening, and the gist of what I said was: 'Eddie, I'm not sure your future is at Pineville.' What I thought he should do—and I told him—was to get a fresh start somewhere out of this town where he was only remembered as a little boy. He agreed with me in some ways, too. But he didn't want to admit that he had been a failure in something he wanted to do."

Still, nobody had any idea how deeply that failure was wounding Eddie. "If I had to pick someone who did what Eddie did," Lee says, "Eddie would be the last one I'd pick."

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8