The skier comes back to his true love – football
DENVER – The skis are in the closet. The book is closed on the hundreds of successes and many fewer disappointments he accumulated during all those trips down the slopes.Jeremy Bloom is a football player now. Could be a pretty good one, too.Very soon, the now-retired freestyle skier will find out exactly what the NFL thinks of him and how far his rusty, but still significant skills can take him in his other sport – the one he loves the most.”It’s so funny because it’s such an unknown where I’m going,” Bloom said Thursday, after working out for the Pittsburgh Steelers, one of many teams he has visited since returning from the Olympics. “It’s hard to say where I’ll be, but one thing’s for sure – it will be a competitive situation, which I love, and a team environment, which I sorely missed.”In the fall of 2004, the receiver/kick returner was forced to abandon football at the University of Colorado, where he was a burgeoning star. The NCAA ruled that because he accepted endorsements to keep his equally successful career as a skier on track, he couldn’t be eligible for the football team. It was, he said, very painful to stand on the sidelines.”I don’t know the correct way to classify the feeling I had after I wasn’t playing football anymore,” Bloom said. “There are 5,000 fans watching on a good day in skiing. In football, it’s 16 games a year and it’s bigger than the Olympics as far as the fans. It was something I really missed doing.”
Having made his choice, however, he now has a few things nobody else in next weekend’s NFL draft can claim: Two World Cup championships and two trips to the Olympics. Not a bad resumé for a kid trying to show he can compete in the big-time.He is 5-foot-9, 184 pounds – 12 pounds heavier than when he returned from the Turin Olympics in February and headed straight to the NFL scouting combine, where he ran a 4.4-second 40-yard dash.He’s really faster than that.”But that’s not a bad time for five days after getting off a plane from Torino and being in ski boots for the past year,” said Bloom’s agent, Gary Wichard. “It’s past the point of anyone needing to give him the benefit of the doubt. These people know. The bottom line is, they can watch him on tape and he runs away from people.”Five times in his two-year career at CU, Bloom scored touchdowns of 75 yards or longer. Wichard compares that to Sinorice Moss, the Miami receiver who many project as a first-round draft pick. Over four years, not two, Moss had one touchdown of more than 75 yards, against Temple. Bloom’s five came against Florida State, Oklahoma, Kansas State (twice) and Colorado State.”People are aware he’s got game-breaking ability,” Wichard said of his client, who has been working out with former NFL star Rob Moore.
Still, the NFL is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business and Bloom hasn’t done much on a football field in a while. Even had he stuck with football, his size would have hampered him come draft day. Having been out for so long – well, it’s hard to know how that could affect his draft status.It’s a sure bet, though, that he’ll get a chance in the NFL, probably with a team that needs a game-breaking return guy. Although he’s got a huge upside, there are no guarantees – and there’s a chance Bloom will have to fight hard just to earn a roster spot.Draft guru Mel Kiper calls Bloom “probably an early second-day guy,” which means fourth or fifth round.”He’s a good punt returner, has good hands, can catch the football,” Kiper said. “He’d probably start as a fourth or fifth option as a receiver and grow into that. He can take a lot of attributes from skiing and apply that to punt returning.”Indeed, there are some skills from skiing through the moguls that will presumably help Bloom return kicks in the pros: explosiveness, field vision, ability to change direction. The 24-year-old from Loveland has all that and he hopes to find a team that likes the package and wants to take a chance.He doesn’t regret his skiing career, one he prolonged for many reasons, not the least of which was that he refused to let the NCAA dictate his future. It may have lessened his value come draft day, but he insists he wouldn’t change a thing.
“I took the different road to be an NFL rookie,” he said. “I took the scenic and amazing road.”Bloom finished ninth at the Olympics in 2002. Another part of the decision to stay with skiing was to try to do better the next time he reached the sport’s biggest stage and to show that, yes, he could have it all.But that part ended in less than storybook fashion Feb. 15, when he bobbled slightly after his second jump on the Olympics moguls course in Sauze d’Oulx and finished sixth.Again, he insists he wouldn’t have changed anything.”Obviously, I wanted to win the gold medal,” Bloom said. “But not everyone can reach the pinnacle of your career on the last day you compete. Not everyone can go out like John Elway.”That’s the beauty of Bloom’s story, though. He’s off on another road now – with another chance at that elusive perfect ending.
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