Tuesday, September 2, 2008

We Have Drama, We Have Hype, We Have Spin—It Must be Election Season. No, Wait—It’s the PBR!

Several significant incidents took place at the PBR Jack Daniel’s Invitational in Nashville over the weekend, but in the end I find I have to comment on what happened at the very end of the short-go on Sunday. Guilherme Marchi had fallen off his first bull on Saturday, but had ridden the second on Sunday, and then rode Blue Boy for 90 points. Ryan Dirteater rode both his long-round bulls and capped it off by riding Grey Dog for 89.75 points, which sent him to the front of the line. And then came Justin McBride.

I want to make it clear that I don’t dislike McBride. I don’t know him, have never spoken to him, but in general, he comes across as less obnoxious than some of the riders I can barely stand to look at on the tube, particularly this season. If you’re a regular here, you know I’ve given him hell on occasion for making ignorant statements, but then, I’m an equal opportunity hell-giver when it comes to that sort of thing. And I really appreciate the fact that he has consistently said that Marchi is the best bull rider in the world at the moment.

So I don’t have an axe to grind with him when I say he was completely overscored when he rode Billionaire. It was a decent ride, but it was not the ride that Marchi had on Blue Boy, during which he made several big corrections to get himself back into position. It was not the ride that Ryan Dirteater had on Grey Dog. Billionaire didn’t even look like the same bull who had bucked McBride off twice before. He was sluggish and slow and all he did step out of the chute and go into a big, sloppy spin. Even knowing as we do that the judges nearly always score spinners higher than buckers or jumpers, we have to confess that this was not a challenging spin by any stretch of the imagination. It wasn’t fast, it wasn’t violent, it wasn’t even interesting to watch. Where are my grandma and her Sunday hat when I need them? Or my little cocker spaniel Mattie, for that matter, who has recently been diagnosed with a heart ailment and still could have stayed on Billionaire on Sunday.

On the other hand, I do think the judges are taking it personally—I think they gave that ride 93 points because it was Justin McBride riding. I think anybody else would have gotten maybe an 87 or 88 for the same ride. It was a particular kick in the teeth for young Ryan Dirteater, who lost first place to McBride by eight points overall.

It’s also telling that the news release for the event states that McBride has now made enough money to qualify for the finals. Well, we couldn’t have the ex-world champion sitting on the sidelines, could we, even though he was out for half the season with an injury, came back, got hurt again, and was out for another couple of events? We have to make sure he’s there because we’re worried that without a “superstar,” people will start forsaking the PBR in droves for NASCAR or maybe badminton or lawn chess.

Overall, the scoring this season has been either dramatically too high or dramatically too low. We all suffered through that infamous stretch when Guilherme wouldn’t have gotten the score he deserved if he’d ridden a tornado, and now we seem to be in the mile-high city of scores. The cowboys’ riding percentages were abysmal in Nashville. Only 17 riders stayed on during round one; only 10 managed to stick during round two. In the short-go, there were three, count them, qualified rides—McBride, Dirteater, and Marchi. The percentage of qualified rides for the entire event was 19—just a hair over half of the 33 percent I customarily expect to see.

Yet out of those 20 qualified rides, four, or 20 percent, were scored 90 points or better. Justin McKee made the most telling comment when he remarked on Sunday that there had only been one 90-point ride the previous evening.

So what does that suggest to me? I believe that with each event, the bulls are ranker and the cowboys are falling off more frequently, and those few who do manage to stay aboard are being rewarded by much bigger scores than they deserve, just to add to the drama of it all. It’s almost like the judges feel they have to score somebody 90-plus points at each event.

As I’ve said several times, I don’t watch X-Treme Bulls or the PRCA unless Montana Barn Cat happens to settle on them and I have no other option, but I can guarantee you that you won’t see these kinds of scores at those events. A mid-80s score seems more the average over there.

I have to wonder, too, if we’re finally going to see the day when guys who are “ridin’ good” on a spinner will get a score (88 points, maybe?) even when they fall off. If the point is to stay on the back of the bull, then the judges should take into account the degree of difficulty, as they say in gymnastics, in staying aboard, rather than just “whether the rider is in control.” It’s an illusion that a bull rider is ever “in control”—if you manage to look like you are, that’s gravy. And if a rider pulls himself back onto the bull despite the animal’s highjinks, I will always believe he’s a better bull rider than a guy who just sits on top of the bull as it spins around right in front of the chutes. Staying on is always better than “lookin’ good” just before you fall off. Nobody will ever convince me otherwise.


Jean said...

"Staying on is always better than 'lookin’ good' just before you fall off." Here here!!

No, that wouldn't have been a 93 pt ride if it had been any other rider. I'm thinking that Ryan got sandbagged by the PBR that is obviously freight training McBride to the finals, but I'm so used to seeing his scores being padded by 3 to 4 full points that I just never expect anything different anymore. I, in fact, just leave the room when he climbs into a chute. Leaving the room is cheaper than blood pressure pills.

And had Renato chosen Chicken on a Chain, and had he ridden that bull for 93, you can betcher buns that McBride would have scored a 96 on Billionaire.

We haven't noticed the Points Fairy in action in several months (since we started screaming about that). So, I'm thinking it's now the Invisible Points Fairy at play. I swear I can almost hear judges counting on their fingers and toes "How much does McBride need? Quick pull your boot off!" and "Okay, how low can we score Marchi this time?" Either they're counting up points or someone needs to make the judges put their beers down and score the ride, because the scores just kind of straggle in and one is always late.

shannon said...

I'm glad I wasn't the only one who thought that Billionare was a bit sluggish and was surprised that Justin got a 93 (although, after this season and last, I don't know why I was). My exact words to my husband were:

"Wow--that bull's sluggish tonight."

>after the score came up<

"What? That was a 93?!"

*sigh* Poor Ryan--once it was obvious that Guilherme wasn't going to win, I was really pulling for him.

I agree with you both that staying on is better than looking good just before you fall off. I think the ability to make corrections should be a huge part of the score.

Honestly, I'm almost ready for this season to be over with. If Guilherme wins the title, then I can go back to watching hopefully without being too invested in the outcome--unless it looks like Guilherme could be the first in history to get the title two years on a row--then I'll be on the edge yet again. But, time will tell. For now, I wonder if I'll make it through this season w/o needing blood pressure pills myself.

Stockyard Queen said...

Let me paraphrase A.E. Housman:

Jack Daniels does more than Milton can,
To justify the judges' ways to man.

Jay said...

S.Q.: Thanks for another valuable primer on the sport. Even though I'm still a "Bullriding 101" guy, it's EVER so helpful to audit your graduate classes. GRACIAS.

Stockyard Queen said...

Jay, I am always happy to feed a rookie my prejudices, just so *my side* will outnumber anyone who objects. In a bar fight, it's important to have an overwhelming advantage.