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The Inside Track

Colorado's Bloom Has No Regrets

October 06, 2002|MICHAEL DOBIE | NEWSDAY

He could have been wearing Tommy and cavorting with supermodels.

He could have been in the Chilean Andes, carving trails through deep moguls and hanging with his U.S. Ski teammates at night.

He could have been an on-air celebrity for MTV, swimming in the adoration of fans enamored by his hot looks and cool intensity.

Jeremy Bloom could have had it all.

Instead, he's stretching muscles and bruising bones he never knew he had. He's getting reamed every day by cantankerous coaches. His life is a regimen of practice, classes and sleep. His return-that-call list is 100 people and growing.

And Bloom has never been happier.

"It's going great," Bloom said. "I'm just having the time of my life."

Bloom, 20, burst onto America's sporting consciousness as the football-playing freestyle skier at last winter's Salt Lake City Olympics. Now he's blossoming in Boulder, a skiing football player making a different kind of name for himself at the University of Colorado.

It's a two-sport parlay reminiscent of Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders with one important difference: Neither Jackson nor Sanders ever faced the kind of sacrifice Bloom was forced to make this summer.

Last year, Bloom was a high school grad who put his football scholarship on hold to pursue an unlikely berth on the U.S. Olympic team as a moguls skier. He made it, and came in ninth in Salt Lake. Then he ripped through the World Cup season, finishing as champion, the top-ranked moguls man in the world.

The spoils, such as they are for skiing, were there for Bloom's taking. But he also was ready to return to his first love: playing football for the Buffaloes. That's where Bloom ran afoul of the NCAA.

Among the organization's many bylaws governing amateurism is one which says you can be a professional in one sport and an amateur in another, but you cannot earn anything more than salary as a pro. Endorsements are taboo.

In real life, that means Serena Williams could go to college to play basketball, continue as a tennis pro and win $900,000 at the U.S. Open. But she would not be able to hold up her brand-name racket and say, "This is what brought me the title."

Bloom went to court. Although the judge chastised the NCAA for inflexibility, he agreed with its stance. If Bloom wanted to play football, the endorsements had to go.

"When the decision came down," Bloom said, "it was like a ton of bricks."

Endorsements are manna in skiing, where there are no salaries. National teams pick up travel costs and training expenses but top skiers otherwise support themselves with sponsorships. With his sudden success and matinee-idol potential, Bloom had deals signed or pending with Tommy Hilfiger, Oakley, Under Armour, Nike, Dynastar, MTV and Nickelodeon. Bloom's agent, Andy Carroll, estimates the total package as "easily hundreds of thousands of dollars."

Tough choice?

Not really.

"College football was something I dreamed about my whole life," said Bloom, raised as a gridiron runt in Loveland, Colo.

"He hadn't grown up being an MTV person and a model, that's not who he is. That's what he had a chance to be," Colorado Coach Gary Barnett said. "He's a product of 19 years of growing up and being on teams and being in a community and state where football is important and loving that sport as much as he did anything else. You just don't walk away from that, especially Jeremy."

Bloom's lawyers filed a motion to reconsider. But Bloom was bound for Boulder and two-a-days. After a year away from the game, his impact has been startling.

A wide receiver/punt returner, the 5-9, 165-pound freshman scored touchdowns on a 59-yard punt return and a 65-yard reception in Colorado's intrasquad scrimmage. In the season opener against archrival Colorado State, he was third on the depth chart, but Barnett played a hunch and inserted Bloom in the fourth quarter. On the first punt he handled as a collegian, Bloom reeled off an electrifying, 75-yard return for a touchdown.

He returned two the next week for a total of 36 yards against San Diego State but broke a toe and missed the game against Southern Cal. He played in last week's victory over UCLA, but the Bruins kicked away from him all day.

Barnett says Bloom has paid dividends in the locker room, too.

"I told my players repeatedly: How many times have you had a chance to be around a world champion?" Barnett said. "You have a chance to get inside a guy's head about what he thinks about before he goes out and does what he does better than anybody else in the world. ... Pick his brain."

What Bloom thinks now is that he'll finish the semester and the season at Colorado, then take correspondence classes and return to the slopes for the rest of the World Cup. He hasn't figured out yet how he'll finance that. A call to the NCAA is in the offing. Then it's back to Boulder for summer camp.

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