Saturday, January 19, 2008

On the Bull Draft

We have survived both the PBR event at Madison Square Garden, which featured six hours of televised action, and the Worcester Classic in Massachusetts last weekend, but though we were pretty much sated by last Sunday night, we are already rarin’ to see the event in Sacramento. The big news of the past two events was the bull draft, in which the riders got to choose their bulls for the second round, starting with the top scoring rider and working down.

Throughout both broadcasts and in online forums since then, I’ve heard a lot of talk about how great the bull draft is because it allegedly has resulted in more qualified rides. Frankly, I am skeptical. It’s true that there were more qualified rides than usual at both events, but that’s because the bulls were not, er, first rate. In fact, for the most part we saw what the Stockyard Queen very impolitely labels “the pussy pen.” The only bulls I’d rank as exceptional at both venues were Big Bucks, Copperhead Slinger, and Scene of the Crash. In fact, it seemed like a lot of bulls who usually do better had lackluster trips. Maybe the water on the East Coast doesn’t suit them!

And I am most certainly not convinced that the reason for more qualified rides is that the riders had figured out which bull would guarantee them the best trips. Certainly I think those boys have it in them to choose their bulls based on research, but I doubt very much that’s what’s going on, at least not yet. I don't think bull riders are any less astute than other professional athletes, but I also doubt they spend a lot of time figuring the odds. I know for a fact that Brian Cantor pays no attention to the track record of the bulls, and I know, because I heard it with my own ears, that some of the riders think the draft is a bad idea. They’d much rather show up and take the luck of the draw, which suggests a kind of existentialistic fatalism that I like rather a lot.

So I will withhold judgment on whether the draft is going to make a significant difference in the overall result—I'll need at least one more event. One reason I’m suspicious it is because I am pretty sure that many guys are going to play it safe rather than go for the gold. They will pick the bull they can ride rather than the bull that could make them famous.

There was a notable exception to my cynical assessment last weekend, and that was when Adriano Moraes picked Buffalo Bob, a bull who had thrown him off decisively the two previous times they had met. You can criticize Moraes’ on-again, off-again performances over the past couple of seasons as much as you want, but I say that when he makes up his mind to ride a bull, he is nearly unstoppable. The first time he picked Buffalo Bob in the draft, he didn’t have much choice, since he was picking next to last, and on that occasion, the bull promptly tossed him off. But the second time he had plenty of other options, and Moraes chose the bull he had an uncomfortable history with and rode him for eight seconds.

Josh Peter, who wrote the highly entertaining and informative Fried Twinkies, Buckle Bunnies, & Bull Riders: A Year Inside the Professional Bull Riders Tour, has commented that this sport is about facing your fears, and Adriano showed us just that kind of grit last weekend. Adriano has said on several occasions that when he bucks off, it’s because he gets scared, and you can always tell when his fears are getting the better of him. When he looks off to the left or right in mid-ride, you can pretty much bet that he’s going to land in the dirt. When he tucks his chin and keeps his eyes on the back of the bull, I know he is centered psychically as well as physically, and most likely he will still riding when the horn blows. He is most certainly an exceptional athlete and I am starting to wonder whether he isn’t an artist as well.

The other ride that supports my wait-and-see attitude was Cord McCoy’s astonishing trip on Big Bucks, which, again, was a choice McCoy made when there were only two bulls left in the draft. I love Cord McCoy’s big wide grin and his enthusiasm for the sport, but he’s always seemed a little erratic to me. Last weekend, he proved he can ride the best in the business, and he did it without the advantage of picking a bull he might have gotten an easier trip on.

I was fortunate enough in graduate school to work with Paul Scott, the esteemed British author of The Raj Quartet, and a sentence he wrote in The Jewel in the Crown has always stuck with me: “She showed courage and that’s the most difficult thing in the world for any human being to show and the one I respect most, especially physical courage.” Last weekend in Massachusetts, Moraes and McCoy were in quite different circumstances, but they both stepped up and showed us what they are made of. That, to me, is the essence of the sport—being willing to put yourself in peril to find out if you are capable of greatness. If you can’t ride through your fears, you have no business climbing on the back of a bull.


Jill said...

I'm not cut out for man vs. beast events. I wouldn't have shown up at the colosseum either.

UB said...

I was watching during the Super Bowl, and they had one bull that refused to do anything. They quickly cut away to a commercial.