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Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

QB Thriller: Josh Freeman summons inner King of Pop for ESPN Magazine



Josh Freeman was born six years after Michael Jackson's Thriller album debuted in 1982, but he's always been down with the King of Pop.

"I've always been a huge fan of Michael Jackson,'' Freeman said. "He's an icon. The way that he took so many different styles of music and dance. He almost created his own genre.''

In the upcoming ESPN The Magazine Music issue, the 25-year-old Bucs quarterback is transformed into an MJ look-a-like, posing for a duplicate of the Thriller and Off the Wall album covers.

The concept of the music issue and recreating album covers with athletes was the idea of ESPN The Magazine contributor Stacey Pressman. Originally, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was a candidate to pose as Michael Jackson. But while having dinner with Bucs fullback Erik Lorig and his sister, Elise, a friend of Pressman, they suggested Freeman.

"Right then, it just clicked,'' Pressman said. "That was kind of the catalyst for this.''

The photo shoot was done in December on a Tuesday, players' day off, at a studio in Tampa and took only four hours to complete.

In a behind the scenes video for ESPN, Freeman talked about the challenge of becoming Jacko.

"It all started with the hair,'' Freeman said in the video. "You know, you've got to get the hair right. I'm getting there. Just need a few things. It's all about getting dressed, getting the outfit right, it's little subtleties of looking more like him. You're like, "I don't look like him.' Because you look at yourself almost every day. But the pics came out and I was like, 'Wow, that's crazy.'"

On the Thriller cover, Jackson laying on his side with a tiger cub on his knee. Yes, ESPN used a real tiger cub in the Freeman re-make. Pressman said they discovered 'there's a lot of retired performers from Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus living in central Florida and one had a tiger cub.  

"What you don't realize is how difficult it is to stay slightly propped up with your shoulder right here and your head kind of titled, not too far, while you're balancing a tiger on your knee,'' Freeman said. That was probably definitely an experience I'll never forget.''

Freeman also dons an Alfro wig and poses in a black tuxedo to duplicate the Off the Wall album, which was released in 1979.

"My favorite Michael Jackson song is Black or White,'' Freeman said of the Jackson hit released off the Dangerous Album in 1991. "Because I am black and white. My father is black, African American, and my mom is caucasion. So it's a nice split right down the middle.''

During the video of the magazine shoot, Freeman attempts the signature vocal and some dance steps made famous by Jackson -- with little success.

"Ooh, whoo!' Freeman belts off-key. "I can't get the notes, but you guys know what I'm going for.

"I appreciate great dancing. The moonwalk, you get that nice little tight spin, the leg kick and end it.''

A little history lesson. Freeman had some similarities to the Jackson family that was first spotted by former Bucs coach Raheem Morris, who nicknamed him Tito while he was a freshman at Kansas State and Morris was the defensive coordinator for the Wildcats.

But Freeman was stunned to see the striking resemblance between him and Michael Jackson after artists had applied the wigs, make up and clothes.

"I think it kind off scared him when he saw himself,'' Pressman said. "He said, "I do look like him.' He was a great sport. He hasn't done a lot of lifestyle stuff and I think they told him, "you never do anything fun.'

"I think a selling point for him to do it was we told him the issue came out in Feb. He was worried about it coming out during the season. So he said, "okay.' Incidentally, the Bucs lost all four games played in December. 

Tampa Bay had its QBKILLA, Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp. Now comes the QB Thriller.

Then again, since Freeman is in the final year of his contract, he needs a good performance in 2013 of the Bucs may say Beat It.

[Last modified: Tuesday, February 5, 2013 9:00pm]


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