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?" some acquaintances would say.
My friends found all this hilarious. NFL? I didn't play football in junior high. Lose weight? Not from frequenting 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 walk-through for my new house. The foreman exclaimed, "I knew it!" when he saw me and explained he had seen my Wikipedia page.
That's when I Googled myself (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."
I didn't know that Greg Bishop. But I knew of him. Cover sports long enough and the names of athletes begin to mark milestones, from former linebacker Bart Scott (the last story I wrote before my wedding) to the Mariners' Robinson Cano (my first SI cover subject). But one name stuck with me, for obvious reasons, even though it belonged to a relatively anonymous lineman who I had never written about.
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 and 67 starts. I knew he was 46 years old, 6'5", 305 pounds; and everything—big, athletic, accomplished enough to have a Wikipedia page—that I am not.
I went looking for him. Emails sent to several addresses bounced back. I reached out to the University of Pacific, where he played college ball for a program that no longer exists. "I don't like our chances of finding him," wrote Kevin Wilkinson, one of the school's athletic media relations managers.
An hour later Wilkinson sent another email: "We're hunting down details."
An hour after that, he provided an address for Bishop's parents. I also contacted his sister Erin who responded quickly, saying she teases her brother about his nonexistent journalism career. A few hours later I received a voicemail: "Hi, Mr. Bishop, this is ... Greg Bishop."
Eventually we connected on the phone. I asked if he was familiar with the other Greg Bishops that I'd become aware of—a high school football coach in Ohio, a radio host in Illinois, a UFO expert in Los Angeles. He was not cognizant of them. "But I do tell people that I don't write for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED regularly," he said, while confessing, "I'm not much of a writer." Hey, we all have our strengths. His being, 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 that Wikipedia melded into one. That was not the case. We both grew up on the West Coast. We're both named Gregory but go by Greg. Both sets of our parents were teachers (and three of them worked in special education). Both of our fathers coached high school football, and we both grew up immersed in the game, hanging out at practice, watching film.
We both went cross-country to the New York City area for our careers, for NFL teams there. 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. He never thought he'd play in the NFL; I never thought I'd write for the Times. He lived in a Holiday Inn in Secaucus, N.J., for four years. My wife and I lived in the East Village, in an apartment smaller than most hotel rooms. He wanted to move back to the West Coast. So did we. So Greg and I both returned home, eventually, and started families (him after retirement, me more recently).
We hung up after about half an hour, one Greg Bishop saying goodbye to another. It felt strange and cosmic, a little fateful. The world seemed that much smaller that afternoon. I'd never spoken to that Greg Bishop before. But I felt like I'd known him my whole life.
Do you share a name with someone famous?
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