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."