The Enforcer

Baylor grad Keith Bishop played in three Superbowls. Ten years later, he's become a star again -- this time, by fighting Dallas drug dealers.

As the agents announce themselves to the vagrants inside the trailer, they hear clamoring but no audible response. No one bothers to answer the door (if you were making a bunch of illegal narcotics and someone yelled "Police!" outside, would you play Suzie Homemaker and see who'd just come knocking?).

Needless to say, the raiding party has to double as its own welcoming committee.

"Yeah," says Jimmie Spencer, a captain with the Navarro County Sheriff's Department, who regularly works with the Dallas DEA and Bishop and was present that night, "we had to go and open the door ourselves."

In 1997, Bishop worked on Operation META, the largest methamphetamine sting in DEA history. During this sting, 99 kilos of cocaine, above, were recovered in the Dallas bust.
In 1997, Bishop worked on Operation META, the largest methamphetamine sting in DEA history. During this sting, 99 kilos of cocaine, above, were recovered in the Dallas bust.

That, Spencer says, is when things got animated.

Once inside, the agents order the suspects to stay where they are and raise their hands. They comply. That is, most of them comply. While the others stand motionless, one of the "chemists" chooses a more proactive option, grabbing a nearby rag and setting it aflame.

"He was trying to blow us all up, the lab and all of us," Bishop says. No doubt some of his graying, thinning hair comes compliments of the incident. "All that stuff is very combustible, not just the chemicals, but the vapor. If there had been ether where he was aiming that rag..."

He trails off, but you know the rest. There's no ref here, no one to call a penalty for unnecessary roughness by a meth freak. The consequences could be dire.

Fortunately, as the suspect does his best to flambé the unwanted guests and everyone else present, Bishop notices the individual and immediately responds. At 6-foot-4, 275 pounds, the 43-year-old still has the quickness that made him one of the best linemen in football nearly a decade earlier. Bishop swiftly reaches the would-be pyro and "detains" him (which is probably DEA-speak for "ass-whuppin' ") before the trailer home goes kaboom. No one was there with a stopwatch, but you suspect it would have made for an impressive time in the 40. Good thing, too, because if Bishop had been a second or two too slow, they might all be fricasseed.

"That situation kind of aroused our attention," Spencer, who's been with the Sheriff's Department for nearly 27 years, says matter-of-factly. "There's always that chance that something could go wrong. Luckily, we've all come out OK. DEA does one thing: It takes great precaution in protecting their agents and accompanying law enforcement. They're highly trained."

Maybe, but that wouldn't make the average Joe sleep any more soundly if he'd almost gotten killed on a drug raid. Too much drama. But Keith Bishop isn't most of us, he's always been special in one way or another. He says he doesn't think about that stuff. Says he doesn't let it bother him. Says if he did, it would affect his job and the livelihood of his group.

"It's a team effort," Bishop repeats through gray-blue eyes. Wearing a baby-blue button-down shirt, blue jeans, and reptile-skin cowboy boots, he looks and talks like the Midland native he is, though his wit and intelligence belie any stereotype you can think of about country boys. "In those situations, you revert back to your training. Hopefully, you've trained well and you've developed good habits. You hope your team has, too. There's a lot of trust that goes into it. It's not about one person, it's about the team."

It's a cliché, that team thing, but you excuse it because, well, in Keith Bishop's world it's not rhetoric, it's truth. Always has been.

While most NFL players worry about contracts and endorsements, television appearances, and statistics, Bishop managed to avoid all that hubbub. Some of it had to do with the anonymity associated with the position he played--how many high-profile offensive linemen can you name off the top of your head?--but most of it had to do with the kind of person he is. Ask around and you quickly discover that Bishop was the anti-neo-jock, that he worried about the Broncos and his family more than he worried about himself. Strange, especially seeing how plenty of athletes would gladly Gillooly their mothers for an extra hundred grand in signing bonuses.

It's that quality, that us-first-me-never attitude, that no doubt endeared him to his teammates, the Denver faithful, and his coaches. In a 1997 Denver Post story, Adam Schefter wrote that "there was a reason offensive line coach Alex Gibbs loved Keith Bishop; though he had limited skills, Bishop was a massive overachiever and a two-time Pro Bowl selection."

Neither of which defines his career on the field. Rather, Bishop will forever be remembered for one particular sequence of one particular game.

In 1986, with 4:25 remaining and 98 yards between Denver and the end zone, the Broncos had the weight of the world, or at least the mile-high community, on their shoulders in the AFC championship game at Cleveland. Things seemed bleak at best, hopeless at worst. The team was tight, unsure, nervy. To compound their problems, the Dawg Pound (the Browns' notoriously vocal cheering section) began throwing batteries and eggs at the Broncos. Both found their mark, intermittently smashing against Bishop's helmet.

With chaos surrounding him and plenty of tension in the huddle, Bishop broke a glacier's worth of ice in the huddle with a joke, saying "We've got 'em right where we want 'em." Everyone laughed. Funnier still, his statement proved prophetic. The Broncos, thanks to some theatrics by Elway, moved smartly down the field for a game-tying score that eventually propelled them to their first Super Bowl. It was such an incredible comeback that the feat is simply and widely referred to now as "The Drive." (Meanwhile, in the Mistake by the Lake, they still hold support groups for disconsolate fans.)

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