It may take another season for Josh Freeman to resemble one of the NFL's elite quarterbacks. But he's a look-a-like for the King of Pop. • In the upcoming ESPN The Magazine music issue, the 25-year-old Freeman is transformed into Michael Jackson, posing for duplicates of the Thriller and Off the Wall album covers. • Freeman was born six years after Jackson's Thriller album debuted in 1982, but he always has admired the King of Pop's music. • "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."
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 Pressman was having dinner with friends, Bucs fullback Erik Lorig and his sister, Elise, they suggested Freeman.
Rays All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria also made the magazine's music edition. Longoria helps duplicate Devo's Freedom of Choice album along with MLB's Justin Upton, Brandon Phillips, Giancarlo Stanton and Shane Victorino.
The photo shoot was done in December on a Tuesday, the NFL players' day off, at a studio in Tampa and took 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 album cover, Jackson lay on his side with a tiger cub on his knee. Yes, ESPN used a real tiger cub in the Freeman remake. 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.''
"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.'
Freeman also dons an Afro 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 off of the Dangerous album in 1991. "Because I am black and white. My father is black, African American, and my mom is Caucasian. 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."
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 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 February. He was worried about it coming out during the season. So he said, 'okay.' "
Tampa Bay had its QBKILLA, Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp. Now the QB Thriller.
Then again, since Freeman is in the final year of his contract, he needs a good performance in 2013 or the Bucs might say Beat It.