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Ex-Cal linebacker in super spotlight

By: Cecil Conley, Sports Editor
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One scoop of coffee ice cream was all Desmond Bishop could afford. There will be plenty of time for the Green Bay Packers linebacker to splurge on sweets once the season comes to an end. Even NFL tough guys have to watch their figures. “I’m on a diet,” Bishop joked during a telephone interview last week. “But I’ve got to treat myself.” This season has been the longest of his four-year NFL career. It also has been the most productive and rewarding for the 6-foot-2, 238-pound Bishop, who went from Fairfield High School to San Francisco City College and Cal on his way to being a sixth-round pick in the 2007 draft. When opportunity knocked, Bishop not only rushed to the door. He ripped it right off the hinges. Season-ending injuries to Nick Barnett and Brandon Chillar provided an opportunity for Bishop to become a starter at inside linebacker. He took full advantage of it, recording 103 tackles. His emergence has been a surprise to most everyone except the man who wears No. 55 for the Packers. Bishop has known along he could play. It is difficult to prove it standing on the sideline. “It’s not a surprise to me and the people who really know me,” he said. “I’m doing what I’ve been doing since I was 8. It took an unfortunate circumstance so my talents could really come out.” Bishop’s performance this season is one reason why the Packers will face the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV on Sunday in Dallas. Maybe by kickoff, Bishop will realize he has made it. “It still hasn’t hit me,” he said. “It feels so surreal.” And maybe by then, it will hit Bishop that the Packers have invested millions of dollars in his future. The 26-year-old Bishop has gone from fighting for a roster spot each season to signing a four-year, $19 million contract extension last month. In the NFL, that is the closest it gets to job security. Bishop does not think of it that way, however. NFL contracts are not guaranteed. He can only count on receiving $5 million in one lump sum. The rest of his pay will be determined by his play. Nothing has been given to Bishop since his name was called during the 2007 NFL draft. He never expected to wait so long to be selected. Bishop took it as a slap in face to go in the sixth round. He has yet to turn the other cheek. That slight continues to serve as Bishop’s source of motivation. “It’s always going to be there. It’s never going away,” he said. “No amount of success or money can erase it.” That anger fueled Bishop through three seasons of contributing on special teams and playing sporadically on defense. He was stuck on the depth chart behind Barnett, Chillar and A.J Hawk. The Packers added another linebacker in 2009 when they drafted Clay Matthews in the first round. Barnett was a first-round selection in 2003. Chillar waited until the fourth round in 2004. Few sixth-round picks survive three years in the NFL unless they prove they can be ready when needed. When the Packers lost Barnett and Chillar, Bishop climbed to the top of the depth chart. Chances are he will stay there. There are five million reasons to think he will be a starter next season. “I could visualize (starting). I could actually see myself doing it,” Bishop said. “When the opportunity actually came, I never even thought about it. It was second nature. I’ve never looked back.” His view these days is from “the inside looking out.” Second- and third-string players do get much attention from coaches and front-office folks. As a starter, Bishop is finally getting recognized. “That’s so true, even with the players. They couldn’t relate to me and I couldn’t relate to them,” he said. “The personnel people call me by my first name. I didn’t know they knew I existed.” The same goes for fans. Bishop can go out for a scoop of ice cream and not be asked for an autograph. “Only the real fans know who I am,” he said. His new deal will not change Bishop’s approach to his job. He knows better than to take it for granted. “I’ve got to stay pretty much on my toes,” he said. “There’s no way I can relax. There’s no way I can change. I’m fighting for a job. I’m fighting to make the team. “I’m going to keep the same mentality. “It’s not like I’m good to go now.”