For Jeremy Bloom, the Road to Stardom is Worth Risks


January 28, 2006

(AP by Eddie Pells)-The easy path for Jeremy Bloom would have been to concentrate on football and leave skiing and the Olympics behind.

Football is, after all, America's favorite sport _ a place where stars can be born and millions can be made.

Becoming a freestyle skiing ``star,'' on the other hand, can make a guy famous for a day, a month, maybe a year or two if he's really lucky. And yes, it can make a guy rich, too.

So far, Bloom has been lucky in both respects.

Yet for all the hype and glamour of the Olympics, everyone knows _ even Bloom _ that once the games are over, they are over. Sure, skiing is much more popular in Europe and elsewhere overseas, even during non-Olympic years. But football is always on America's mind. And Bloom's.

``I'm very happy to make the Olympic team and that's my focus now,'' Bloom said in late December when he qualified for the Turin Games. ``But whenever someone brings up football, I get a big smile on my face.''

Bloom, who was training and unavailable for interviews for this story, figures to be smiling much more in the very near future.

His big Olympic shot comes Feb. 15, on the mountain in Sauze d'Oulx in the men's moguls competition. After that, it's back to Los Angeles to train and try to get into some semblance of football shape. And then, off to the NFL scouting combine, where the 23-year-old's future as a pro football player will begin to be decided.[pagebreak]``I represent a lot of players and, by far, I've got more people coming up to me asking me what's going on with Jeremy than anyone else,'' said his agent, Gary Wichard, who has been overwhelmed this week as he walks around in Mobile, Ala., the home of the Senior Bowl.

Bloom could be at the Senior Bowl this week, running and catching passes for pro scouts, improving his draft position. In two seasons as a receiver and kick returner at Colorado, he scored five touchdowns on plays of 75 yards or longer.

``He's an explosive playmaker,'' Wichard said. ``That what people want in the NFL.''

But while everyone knows Bloom has the speed and playmaking ability, there's no denying the fact that he hasn't played football in 26 months. That surely won't help his status in the draft _ where the difference between being chosen in the first and third rounds is millions of dollars.

Given that, some might say Bloom's decision to put football on hold was more a big-time risk than the easy way to fame.

``I can literally see Jeremy almost start to laugh at that whole idea,'' said Joel Klatt, the quarterback, an ex-teammate and a good friend of Bloom's at CU. ``He's always kind of defied, not necessarily logic, but the norm. He's going to do what his heart tells him to do and what's best for him and those around him.''

Doing what's best for him led to, among other things:

A drawn out and eventually unsuccessful legal fight against the NCAA, which ruled he couldn't play college football and accept endorsement money for skiing.

A passel of tortured Saturdays standing on the Colorado sideline, or sitting at home, watching his former teammates play. ``There's something about the team dynamic he loves, and really misses, when he's skiing,'' Wichard said.

Skiing in relative obscurity in Europe, risking his football career with every jump and bump on the moguls course. OK, so maybe it wasn't torture, but it wasn't the path of least resistance, either.[pagebreak]``The fact that he ended up skiing, not playing football, was a choice that was forced upon him,'' said Bloom's father, Larry. ``It's more a statement of belief on his part that led him to go the route he went.''In other words, he wasn't going to let the NCAA strip away his dream of doing both.Had things worked out better for Bloom at his first Olympics, in 2002, he might not have gone that route.``I know if he'd won a gold medal in 2002, things might have been different,'' said Andy Carroll, the agent who hhandles Bloom's endorsements. ``But there's a sense of unfinished business, and Jeremy has a tendency to very much go with his heart.''The unfinished business resulted from his ninth-place finish at the Salt Lake City Games.Bloom made the trip to Utah just as the fight with the NCAA was starting to develop.The NCAA said Bloom shouldn't be able to accept endorsement money and still keep his eligibility. Never mind that the NCAA had let athletes in similar situations slide before and that it had cleared pro baseball players to keep their eligibility in football. And never mind that freestyle skiing isn't an NCAA-sanctioned sport and that Bloom's skiing endorsements would have had nothing to do with his status as a football player at CU.``He was faced with choices he had to make, and he has made those choices,'' Erik Christianson of the NCAA said, citing bylaws stating that ``student athletes cannot trade on their reputation to then receive money to endorse products.''Bloom made the best of it for a while in a very expensive sport, and did it pretty much on his own dime. He paid his way to Europe to ski during the football offseason. He hired trainers and physical therapists, bought state-of-the-art equipment and scraped by.[pagebreak]``It's not just the kind of thing where I can go knock on my neighbor's door and sell candy bars,'' he said in an interview last year.He took his case to court, but didn't win. Though he doesn't rule out taking up the cause in the future for some athlete who is put in the same position, he quickly realized there was no sense in pushing that issue.``The NCAA sits there and says, `Hey, you can't make any money,''' Carroll said. ``And then it's, `Oh, by the way, good luck trying to sue us because we'll drag you down on the legal expenses.' That's how much money they've got. At that point, Jeremy got himself into a hole.''Forced, in Bloom's words, by the NCAA to choose between skiing and football, he chose skiing to start, football for later.He turned pro, began accepting endorsements and has since gotten rich.``I don't know that they want me to get into specific numbers, but he has a yearly income that's substantial,'' Larry Bloom said.He has enough sponsors to more than cover a helmet that once had a ``For Rent'' decal on the front.He does magazine covers _ Wichard met him at a ``Sports Illustrated For Women'' photo shoot of the sexiest men in sports _ and has a Website that plays up his image as a successful two-sport sex symbol.Still, there's something very down to earth about this wildly successful millionaire, a man whose face will be seen countless times on TV between now and Feb. 15.Last year, he won an unprecedented six straight World Cup events, establishing himself as clearly the best in the world and the guy to beat at the Olympics.Nobody in his circle seems to worry much about what might happen if he gets hurt in Turin, only a few days away from starting the second, and potentially most lucrative, part of his sporting life.He has, after all, been taking chances his whole life.``I wouldn't change anything I did,'' he said in an interview about 18 months ago. ``That's the most sobering fact of looking back at all this. I feel good about myself for fighting for what I believe is right. A big reason I'm not playing football right now is because of principle, and I wouldn't change that.'' Copyright (c) 2006 The Associated Press