The questions started a few weeks ago, out of nowhere, and they were so random, so detached from reality, that they started to feel like a prank.
“Did you play in the NFL?” strangers would ask.
“Did you lose a lot of weight?” acquaintances would say.
My friends found all this hilarious. NFL? I didn’t play football in junior high. Lose weight? Not at the In-N-Out drive-through. But it kept happening, every few days or so, with reach-outs on Twitter, over email, even at the warranty walk-through for the house my wife and I recently moved into. The builder exclaimed, “I knew it!” when he saw me and explained he had seen my Wikipedia page.
To which I wondered: What Wikipedia page?
That’s when all the questions started to make sense, when I looked my name up on Wikipedia (don’t judge) and saw my picture next to this description: Gregory Lawrence Bishop is a retired American college and professional player who was an offensive tackle in the NFL. He was drafted in the 4th round of the 1993 NFL Draft by the New York Giants.
I knew that Greg Bishop! Well, I didn’t know him, per se. I knew of him. Cover sports long enough and the names of athletes begin to mark life milestones, from the last story I wrote before my wedding (Bart Scott) to my first SI cover subject (Robinson Cano). But one name stuck with me, for obvious reasons, even though it belonged to a relatively anonymous lineman who I had never interviewed or written about. That’s hardly surprising. If I forgot his name, I would also forget my own.
I knew the other Greg Bishop played six seasons for the Giants and one season for the Falcons and that he retired in 1999 after 101 games played and 67 starts. I knew that he was 46 years old, 6' 5", 305 pounds; everything—big, athletic, accomplished enough to have a Wikipedia page—that I am not.
Naturally, or perhaps strangely, I went looking for him. The email addresses I found on public records searches bounced back, as did two messages I tried sending to his father, Larry. At that point, I needed a Hail Mary, so I reached out to the University of the Pacific—not to be confused with Pacific University—where Bishop played college football for a program that no longer exists. “I don’t like our chances,” responded Kevin Wilkinson, the school’s athletic media relations manager, while joking that he knew one email address for Greg Bishop, providing mine.
An hour later, Wilkinson sent another email: We’re hunting down details.
An hour after that, he provided an address for Bishop’s parents, which I used to look up his sister, Erin, who responded quickly saying she teases her brother occasionally about his non-existent journalism career. She’s not the only one.
Her brother called a few hours later. I missed the call, and he missed my return call, and the voicemails we traded back and forth strained the confines of believability with awkwardness. “Hi Mr. Bishop, this is … Greg Bishop,” he said. “Greg, hi, it’s … Greg,” I responded.
I flew on Monday morning, for an unrelated assignment, and when I landed, we finally connected on the phone. I asked if he was familiar with the other Greg Bishops that I’d become aware of over the years—the high school football coach in Maryland, the radio host in Illinois, the UFO expert. I get Tweets intended for that guy all the time. The football playing Greg Bishop was not aware of them. “But I do tell people that I don’t write for Sports Illustrated regularly,” he said. “Even the principal at my high school asked.”
“I’m not much of a writer,” he confessed, as I copped to my lack of athleticism. We laughed, because it was true that we all have our strengths. His being, you know, actual strength.
I figured we’d talk for a few minutes, find we had little in common and go on with our lives, two Greg Bishops doing Greg Bishop things that confused even Wikipedia. That was not the case. We both grew up on the West Coast (him in Lodi, Calif.; me in Tacoma, Wash.). We’re both named Gregory (him after Gregory Peck, his mother’s favorite actor) but go by Greg. Both sets of our parents are teachers and most of them have backgrounds in special education (his mother, both my parents). Both of our fathers coached high school football and we both grew up immersed in the game, hanging out at practice, watching film. One of my father’s favorite players, the late linebacker Lewis Bush, played for the Chargers against Greg Bishop’s Giants.
The football Greg Bishop is older than I am, but we both went cross-country to New York for our careers, for the NFL teams in that market. I moved from Seattle to Manhattan to cover the Jets for The New York Times. He moved from California to New Jersey to play for Big Blue, drafted the same year (1993) as Michael Strahan. He never thought he’d play in the NFL; I never thought I’d write for the NYT. He lived in a Holiday Inn in Secaucus, N.J., for four years. We lived in the East Village, in an apartment smaller than most hotel rooms. He wanted to move back. So did we. We both moved home, eventually, and both to start a family (him after retirement, me more recently).
This reminded one of my editors, on a much smaller, less poignant scale, of a book from 2011, titled The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates. It was written by Wes Moore, obviously, and was about two boys with the same name who grew up in similar Baltimore neighborhoods, ran with rough crowds and had trouble with police. The author became a Rhodes Scholar and a war veteran. The other Wes Moore was convicted of murder. One name. Two fates.
The story of two Greg Bishops was not that. Their fates were more similar than different. I asked Greg Bishop, the New York Football Giant, what happened to him after he left football. He returned to Lodi and became a substitute teacher, corralling elementary school children or tutoring high schoolers in science for less than he used to make in per diem on road trips. He’s still involved in football, coaching now as an assistant at Lodi High School, and mentoring his three boys: Benjamin, 17; Isaac, 14; Nathan, 12. He has been married to his wife, Julie, for 23 years.
Last fall, those Bishops traveled back to New York for the Giants’ alumni weekend. The football Greg Bishop had spent the previous 17 years raising children. He didn’t watch too many NFL games. He had his right hip replaced a few years back, following surgeries on both feet and his right elbow. “It’s the first time I really felt like myself in a real long time,” he says. “And that stadium, it was like the Taj Mahal.”
We hung up after about half an hour, one Greg Bishop saying goodbye to another Greg Bishop. It felt strange and somewhat cosmic, if that makes sense. Here were a football writer and a football player providing more proof that the world is always smaller than we think. I’d never spoken to Greg Bishop before that day. But I felt like I’d known him my whole life.