The punt hangs at its apex, as if momentarily weightless, before turning over and dropping suddenly in a nose-down spiral from the dark, mountain sky. On the floor of Colorado's Folsom Field, Jeremy Bloom fixes his eyes on the football, shuffles his feet and takes one last look at the tacklers rushing upfield. This is the moment he lives for, when all his talents--the fearlessness honed on ski slopes with SUV-sized moguls, the water bug's acceleration, the cartoonish breakaway speed--come together in a blur that finishes in an opponent's end zone. ¬∂ Except that on this October night Bloom is just a twitchy spectator on the Colorado sideline, dressed not in the black-and-gold of the Buffaloes but in jeans, white cross-trainers and a trucker hat. He can only watch as the ball plummets to the grass, lands with a dull thud and bounds away from Colorado's sophomore return specialist, Stephone Robinson. He can only find Robinson in the middle of the Buffaloes' bench and talk into his ear hole about how to catch punts and run them back. For touchdowns. ¬∂ He can only wander away from the players' section of the bench and hear somebody suggest that it's cool to be on the sideline again, so close to the action, so close to where he played for two seasons. "It's not cool at all," Bloom says. "It totally sucks." He delivers the line with an impish smile and the painfully gained knowledge that even a man who can do everything can't do everything at once.
Bloom, 23, is watching Colorado's game against Texas A&M instead of playing in it because he is a skier now, the morning-line favorite to win a gold medal in moguls next February at the Olympics in Turin. He would like to be a college football player and a skier, but 16 months ago he lost the last round of a two-year battle with the NCAA and was declared permanently ineligible for college athletics because he had accepted skiing-related endorsement money.
Hence, Plan B. Forced into skiing full time for the first time in his life (he had been a member of the U.S. team since eighth grade but always split time between moguls and football), Bloom last winter crushed his opponents on the World Cup moguls circuit. He took the 2005 title and during one unreal, 23-day stretch won six consecutive events in a judged sport that is part style, part athleticism and vigorously resistant to consistency. "Jeremy used to be great, and now he's just dominant," says Jonny Moseley, U.S. gold medalist in moguls at the '98 Nagano Olympics. "He's always had the skill, and he's an amazing competitor, and now he's reached the point where he can just make magic happen."
For Bloom, snow magic isn't enough. The Olympic moguls competition, on a mountain 50 miles outside Turin, will take place on Feb. 15. Bloom will leave Italy immediately afterward and one week later will participate in the NFL scouting combine at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis; the onetime Big 12 return leader hopes to be selected as a wide receiver--kick returner in the draft on April 29-30. "Football, for me, is unfinished business," says Bloom. "It was taken away from me."
In this way Bloom provides one-stop shopping for young male fantasies. Globe-trotting ski star? Absolutely. NFL game breaker? Just maybe. Model who makes women swoon? Check. The U.S. ski team's marketing slogan is Best in the World! "With Jeremy, never mind best in the world, moguls," says Moseley. "It's best in the world, period. In everything."
As a professional skier Bloom has elevated his event--a mix of high-speed bump skiing and two freestyle jumps--with power and raw athleticism. "He's the best natural talent I've ever seen in our sport," says U.S. moguls skier Travis Cabral, who has been competing against Bloom since both of their ages were in single digits.
Says World Cup Alpine champion Bode Miller of the U.S., who has done dry-land training with Bloom, "You can see that he's a great athlete, and when great athletes come to skiing, they usually kick ass."
Bloom's talents and appeal stretch beyond moguls. In the current Warren Miller ski movie, Higher Ground, Bloom not only skis massive, deep-powder lines while heli-skiing in British Columbia but also becomes the first athlete to co-narrate a movie with the 81-year-old Miller. "Jeremy just brought so much to the table in terms of seeking his own higher ground that we thought he was perfect for this," says the film's producer-director, Max Bervy.
As a football player at Colorado for the 2002 and '03 seasons, Bloom, who's just 5'10" and 170 pounds (he says he'll weigh more by the time NFL training camps open in July), scored five touchdowns of at least 75 yards on returns and pass receptions. "We had games in 2003 where we put an offense on the field with two receivers [D.J. Hackett and Derek McCoy] who both [went to] the NFL," says Buffaloes coach Gary Barnett, "and teams would single-cover them and double Bloom because he was the guy they feared could beat them."
Tony Davis, who was a running back at Nebraska and for six years in the NFL, and who worked with Bloom as a volunteer assistant coach at Loveland (Colo.) High from 1998 to 2001, says, "Jeremy has killer acceleration. I'll bet there aren't five guys in the NFL who can match him in the first 20 yards."
As a model, the buff Bloom has appeared in photo ad campaigns for Tommy Hilfiger and Abercrombie & Fitch. He has turned down numerous other opportunities. "There's something about the word model that bothers him," says Bloom's mother, Char. Among the companies Bloom does model for--gigs that earn him in the upper six figures annually--he is most comfortable with Under Armour, the athletic-apparel line. "Under Armour says athletic performance," says his agent, Andy Carroll. "That's Jeremy."
Besides impressionable young males, another lucrative demographic appreciates Bloom regardless of what sport he plays or what product he sells. "There were always lots of women around, whenever we went out," says Colorado senior quarterback Joel Klatt, one of Bloom's closest football friends. "And we would mock him mercilessly."
Bloom's girlfriend of 18 months is Cameran Eubanks, 22, one of the stars of MTV's Real World San Diego. When she stands with Bloom on the Colorado football sideline, there are as many frat boys screaming their affection for Eubanks--and with good reason--as there are young women voicing theirs for Bloom. Amid such clamor he exudes boy-next-door charm and poses for every picture that's requested.
Bloom squirms at selling his image. "It makes people think they know you, when they really don't," he says. "But as long as the public gravitates to looks and celebrity, it's not going to change." Despite his qualms, he has signed with powerhouse Hollywood talent firm Creative Artists Agency, which will guide him toward television and movies.
All of this started innocently enough, with a battered old green motorcycle helmet, a tattered Superman cape and a gnarly bump run called Ambush at the Keystone Ski area in Colorado. Bloom's parents, Larry and Char (who would separate when Bloom was a high school freshman and later divorce), bought a condo at Keystone and lived there on the weekends, riding to the lifts while Larry blasted Michael Jackson on the radio. They taught Jeremy and siblings Molly, now 27, and Jordan, 25, to ski the bumps. (Char became an instructor.) Jeremy wore the helmet and the cape while bombing down the black diamond run to the amazement of recreational skiers sprawled out in yard sales.
"First ones on the lift, last ones off the mountain," says Jeremy, describing the Blooms' routine. "If it was snowing, we skied. If it was cold, we skied. This was not about sipping hot chocolate and waiting for apr√®s-ski. It was great family time. And I loved going fast."
In moguls Jeremy became a prodigy with a great head for competition. "He has what I call a quiet brain. Nothing bothers him," says Larry, a psychology professor at Colorado State. Jeremy got free goggles from Oakley at age 11 and earned a place on the U.S. team at 13. Coincidentally, that is when he also started running wild as a slippery quarterback on the youth football fields in Loveland, a city of a little more than 50,000 north of Denver. Bloom excelled at both sports and would surrender neither. "He would draw pictures when he was young," says Char. "One day a skier with a medal around his neck, the next day a football player. I guess he was trying to tell us something."
There were epic juggling acts as Bloom shuttled between ski training camps and football practices. "He'd blow in from Norway or somewhere and catch touchdown passes," says John Poovey, who as his head coach at Loveland High shifted Bloom to wide receiver. In October of Bloom's senior year Barnett offered him a scholarship, and when Bloom arrived in Boulder in the summer of 2001, teammates were momentarily taken aback. "Jeremy comes in, and he's, like, five-foot-two," says Klatt. "I'm saying, 'That's the big-play guy?' But when the lights go on, he's unbelievable."
Barnett says, "He's a ferocious competitor. If he got beat in a drill, he would insist on doing it again, and he would just physically annihilate whoever came up against him."
It was during that first Colorado training camp that Bloom decided to quit skiing. Despite solid results he had remained buried on the U.S. C-level team, with little hope of getting World Cup starts or reaching the Olympics. Then came a call from U.S. moguls coach Donnie St. Pierre, inviting Bloom to the team's summer training camp in El Colorado, Chile; the 2002 Olympic carrot was dangled. Bloom went with Barnett's blessing (and a redshirt) and drilled tirelessly on the Southern Hemisphere snow. At the end of the camp St. Pierre offered Bloom a World Cup start at a December event in Tignes, France, and told him that if he finished in the top 12, he would be elevated to the freestyle moguls A team. Bloom finished third. The next month he was named to the Olympic team.
In Salt Lake City, Bloom was favored to win a medal, but on his second jump in the finals he wobbled high on the steep course at Deer Valley, costing him time and points, and finished ninth. "It was a small mistake, but freestyle skiing has a high risk-error factor," says Bloom. "It was disappointing."
"He blew it," says Moseley. "That was his gold medal to win."
Nevertheless, the Olympics thrust Bloom into a world of commercial opportunities that complicated his life and his two-sport career. Thinking he was in compliance with NCAA rules, he signed several endorsement contracts after the Games, with plans to return to Colorado to play football. The NCAA ruled that he was not permitted to accept endorsement money (as opposed to salary) while playing college football. Bloom sued in the summer of 2002 and lost. He dumped his endorsement contracts while appealing the ruling, spending two years playing for the Buffaloes in the fall before joining the World Cup circuit in the winter. In a 22-day stretch in December 2002, Bloom scored against Oklahoma on an 80-yard punt return in the Big 12 championship game, took four final exams three weeks early so that he could travel to Finland for a World Cup event (he finished fourth, wearing his signature helmet, modeled after a Colorado football helmet), then played for the Buffaloes in the Alamo Bowl four days before New Year's. "Insane," says Bloom. "I don't know how I did that."
Although his coaches will debate the point, Bloom says each sport helped the other. "I never skied better than when I was in great football shape, and fighting the NCAA for two years gave me all kinds of mental clarity," he says. "Training for moguls helps my foot quickness and vision for football." His skill set is unique. He spent last summer training daily in Los Angeles with UCLA speed, strength and conditioning coach Doc Kreis, who previously held that position at Colorado. "I concluded that he had to be trained like a football player who is also a hurdler, like Willie Gault," says Kreis. "We put together a brutal little program, almost vicious really, and Jeremy exceeded it."
In Bloom's two-sport life, the ultimate tipping factor was economic. Most top-level skiers use endorsement money to fund private coaching or trips to find snow, or for training on water ramps (used for practicing jumps into water, the ultimate soft surface for learning jumps). Bloom needed the money to cover his mounting legal bills. In the spring of 2004, despite the possible consequences, he signed endorsement deals with Under Armour and Bolle Eyewear; he has since added Rip It, an energy drink, which bought his headgear sponsorship. ("No more CU Buffs helmet," he says. "Maybe a CU Buffs sticker.") Three courtrooms later the NCAA declared him permanently ineligible, ending his college football career.
"My time is over on this issue," Bloom says. "But the problem is not going to go away. There are going to be more nontraditional athletes competing in the NCAA."
Freed from other worries, Bloom had a breakthrough season in moguls. Judges evaluate the technical quality of competitors' turns and skiing (50% of the total score) and do likewise with their jumps (25%). Elapsed time counts for the final 25%. Bloom has long excelled at the pure skiing and turning. "Great dynamic skier," says St. Pierre. "He needed to get current on his jumps."
The sport changed dramatically in 2003. During the '02 Olympic year inverted jumps such as Moseley's Cork 720 (nicknamed the "dinner roll") were illegal if a skier's feet went even marginally above his head. The following year rules against inverted jumps were rescinded. Last year, with extensive training on water ramps, Bloom upgraded his jumps to include a D-Spin 720 Iron Cross (a single inverted backflip and two spins with skis crossed) and a 720 Iron Cross (a double, off-axis spin from an upright launch). "You never know what people will come out with every year," says Moseley. "But Jeremy caught up last year. And the way he picked up the new jumps, like overnight, was a total joke."
While Bloom is the favorite to win the gold medal, there's also a chance he'll miss the powerful U.S. team altogether. The four-man squad for Turin will be named on Jan. 25, with three members culled from World Cup results and a fourth selected at a wild-card competition. Assuming nothing, Bloom won't allow friends to buy tickets for Italy until he is named to the team or clinches a spot.
After the Games he will rush toward the NFL. "He's a guy you have to look at," says NFL personnel evaluator Ron Hill. "He's smallish but athletic, plays at a fast pace." At the combine Kreis expects Bloom to run exceptionally fast in the 40--perhaps as fast as 4.2 seconds--and to lift 225 pounds as many as 18 or 19 times, very good for a small man. It is risky to attend the combine so soon after skiing and without intense football training, but Bloom has told Tony Davis, "To heck with it. I'll still blow them away."
It is likely that after the Games, Bloom will be finished with ski competitions. "I love the ski lifestyle," he says. "But there's nothing like being around a team. And think about it. What's the biggest sport in America? College football. Pro football." Of course, it once seemed likely that Bloom was finished with skiing, and after that it seemed likely that he was finished with football.
On a fall Sunday he sits on the couch in his Denver condo. Eubanks is asleep in the bedroom. The Broncos are winning on the flat screen, and a freak October storm is dumping wet snow on his beloved mountains. He fidgets, taking it all in, a man who cannot sit still.
"Football, for me, is UNFINISHED BUSINESS," says Bloom of his aborted college career. "It was taken away from me."
Last year, "the way Jeremy PICKED UP THE NEW JUMPS, like overnight, was a total joke," says former gold medalist Moseley.
Photographs by Michael O'Neill
MICHAEL MARTIN/ICON SMI
As a Buffalo, Bloom scored five TDs of 75 yards or more.
Bloom's explosive jumping has vaulted him over his foes.