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.

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.)

After that, all anyone wanted to talk about was "The Drive" and "The Quote." Did you really say that, Keith? Huh, huh, did you say it, huh? Come on, you didn'treally say it, did you, huh?

Lots of press for a solid but otherwise unnoticed offensive lineman. Lots of opportunity to lose sight of himself and bask in the warm glow only a camera crew's lights can afford. He could have done it with a little help, could have sold out and parlayed the celebrity into serious coin and a famous mug. Surely a lot of us would have been tempted.

Not Keith Bishop. Not his style.

Instead, he answered questions in a polite Texas drawl and kept to himself, all the while delving into his newfound "hobby."

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Some of us paint, some listen to music or jog or lift weights. Some of us do drugs or drink or go whoring. Again, Keith Bishop's not most of us. He didn't do any of that as stress relief. He rode in police cars.

Now, upon hearing that, what with him being an NFLer and all, you'd think he was getting a lift to the Pokey. (Considering all the trouble players and former players like Rae Carruth and Michael Irvin have had, the boys in blue are more chauffeur than peace-keeper to the National Football League these days.) But no, it was nothing like that. He was merely interested in what they did, wanted a first-hand look, a behind-the-scenes COPS episode for himself.

When Bishop was playing, NFL teams began using off-duty police officers to serve as plain-clothes, unarmed bodyguards of sorts. The Broncos employed several of these, including now-Deputy Chief Dave Abrams, Sgt. Mark Lewis, and technician Kenny Overman. In time, the trio was taken on the road, acting as liaisons to security details in other cities. Through the course of their travels, and during home games at Mile High Stadium, each of them became friends with Bishop, who, according to Spencer, "never meets a stranger." Being curious about law enforcement, Bishop asked if he could tag along one night. His new pals were only too happy to oblige.

"I was working night shift back then," says Lewis, who has been in Denver's Metro SWAT for 13 years, "so he'd come along usually on a Monday because they'd have off the next day. If anything major happened while we were out, he'd sit in the back seat.

"But he was always very professional. He always wanted to know how we did things. He'd inquire about the ins and outs, how paperwork got done or how it went through the court system. And when we'd see him after a game, he'd ask us about such-and-such a case, wanting to know what happened, who got probation or jail time. He was very good with specifics about cases. He was always interested, especially with the victims. He wanted to know how they were doing, if they were OK. He was concerned about people. You could just tell that."

He wasn't the only Broncos player to garner such special treatment--Steve Watson and Billy Brian, who now works for the FBI, also tagged along at times--but he was the most frequent addition to Denver's Finest. Once or twice a month he'd hitch a ride with Lewis or Overman or someone else and pick their brains. Most of it was routine--bar brawls or domestic disturbances and the like--not quite the sexy stuff you see on NYPD Blue. Regardless, whether he knew it or not at the time, Bishop was going through an informal training that would funnel his post-football career into something altogether different.

"It was kind of like for us, he was so excited to see what we do, and we were so excited to see what he does, so we all got along great," says Lewis, 50. "You could see that he respected us. He never touted himself as a pro player. He never tried to big-time us. You could see the respect was mutual. It was great to know that we got that kind of acknowledgment from him, and then for him to follow up and go into the DEA, that was very rewarding for us."

And so it was for Bishop. Eventually.

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You don't just up and join the Drug Enforcement Administration like you would your local Blockbuster. They don't just hand you a badge and a gun and a book of clever one-liners (for after the really good busts) and send you on your merry way. Even for applicants with a professional athlete's pedigree, there are painstaking steps to go through.
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