ATLANTA—Fans who loved the rags-to-riches story of Dolphins running back Bernie Parmalee will enjoy the tale of his ex-college teammate playing Sunday in Super Bowl XXXIV.
Tennessee Titans strong safety Blaine Bishop didn't achieve NFL success via the exact same path as Parmalee, who worked as a manager at a bowling alley and delivered packages for UPS before latching on with the Dolphins in 1992. But Bishop had to overcome knocks from the same scouts who missed the boat on Parmalee coming out of Ball State University.
At 5 feet 9, Bishop was labeled too small before shedding the stereotype by reaching two Pro Bowls in his seven NFL seasons.
"It's typical of Ball State and (the Mid-American Conference) conference," Bishop said Thursday. "There are a lot of great players who come out of there who don't get the opportunity. We were just fortunate to get the opportunity."
Bishop, though, had to fight just to reach the Ball State campus.
Bishop was a running back and cornerback for Cathedral High School in Indianapolis, yet he didn't receive any scholarship offers from Division I schools because of his height.
"I went to a private high school, we won state when I was there and I was one of the major players," said Bishop, who cried because of the lack of interest. "I don't understand (the lack of offers), but it really hurt. I wanted to prove I could play Division I football."
Bishop decided to play one season at St. Joseph's University -- a Division II program in Indiana -- to see if any bigger schools would take notice.
At the urging of high school coach Mike McGinley, Ball State finally came through. But there was a catch: Bishop would have to walk-on the team. He didn't care.
"When I saw the guys they had ahead of me as a redshirt freshman, I just knew I was going to start," said Bishop.
Bishop did just that and received honorable mention on the All-America team as a senior. But size again came into play during the 1993 NFL Draft.
"I was considered a tweener," said Bishop, who earned a bachelor's degree in insurance in case he didn't play professionally. "I was considered a step too slow to play corner and too short to play safety. That hurt, too."
Bishop finally was chosen in the eighth round by the Houston Oilers (the Titans' name before this past season), but even that provided angst.
The Oilers said they would draft him in the sixth round but didn't, causing Bishop to turn off his television in disgust. And after he was picked in the eighth round, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams admits he thought the franchise had made a major mistake.
Bishop didn't need long to earn Williams' respect.
After serving as a solid backup as a rookie, Bishop became a starter the next season and was in the Pro Bowl in 1995. That year, Bishop established himself as one of the NFL's hardest hitters by forcing three fumbles and defensing 11 passes.
"He's probably my favorite guy I've ever coached," Williams said. "People tell you all the things he can't do -- he can't backpedal, he can't turn his hips -- but he really gets after it. My opinion changed completely when we put him in a helmet and pads."
So does the demeanor of the normally soft-spoken Bishop.
"He's one of the guys that slaps you around, gets in your face, cusses or talks crazy depending on what the situation may be," Titans right linebacker Joe Bowden said.
Fire and Ice was the nickname given to Bishop and Titans free safety Marcus Robertson, another standout player who has a calmer on-field approach. With Robertson out for Sunday's game because of a fractured fibula, replacement Anthony Dorsett knows what Bishop expects from him and the consequences if he fails.
"He's not a guy who's worried about your feelings," said Dorsett, who will be making his second NFL start. "If he doesn't think you're going to get the job done, he will let you know. Fortunately, he does instill a lot of confidence in me."
Even though he has gained the respect of his peers, Bishop still will draw inspiration from his past struggles before playing St. Louis.
"I always think about it, even today," Bishop said. "Any time that I think about slacking, I think about how far I've come.
"I won't let it slide away. I've worked too hard to get to this point."