Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Church of Mauneyology

The new season is upon us, and as you may have guessed, excitement is in short supply here at THO. A sport that once brought us joy now brings us, well, a sadly unsurprising yet positively unhinged stream of Mauney propaganda.

We begin with an early Christmas present (of coal, perhaps), as a sports marketing and PR roundup site discussed the PBR's "new" strategy.  There is some interesting information buried in there, including that the PBR "has lost its place among the conversation of emerging properties." However, the PBR's plan to get back in the conversation?  A focus on "gritty and intriguing personalities," headlined by the "quintessential swaggering cowboy J.B. Mauney, who rode through pain to win his second PBR World Championship."  Hm, the PBR's "new" strategy sounds an awful lot like their old strategy to me, just now more relentless than ever before.

And more just before Christmas, as Variety covered the PBR's upcoming "Danger on the Dirt" special, which according to them would "highlight the league’s top contenders, who are marquee names on the bull riding circuit: J.B. Mauney, Jared Allen, Jesse Byrne, Tanner Byrne and first-time world finalist Bonner Bolton." Maybe Variety just doesn't know what they're talking about, but two of those names aren't contenders in any fashion, and their definition of "marquee" seems suspect in general. Also, apparently no Brazilians are marquee names or contenders?

Then there was the PBR's own press release about the TV special, which they humbly called "extraordinary."  Interestingly, they actually came out and said it was about "key storylines," which is not a surprise, but it is quite special of them to pump up storylines they themselves created.  Speaking of pumping up, J.B. Mauney is "featured prominently in the documentary" (surprise!), is the "biggest star," and has a "gun-slinging persona." And that's just them getting warmed up!
“Danger on the Dirt” goes even deeper inside the head of a quintessential American cowboy who picks the rankest bulls, does not want your sympathy for his latest broken bone and sets sky-high personal expectations starkly contrasting a softening “everyone-gets-a-trophy” culture.
There's so much to unpack there, I don't know where to start. And that's not the worst of it.
Mauney is elite.  He’s on another level.  There’s no settling back and kicking up one’s feet to admire those trophies.  Win big today, plan to win bigger tomorrow. Following a championship, Mauney’s personal standards merely increase. He wants a few more PBR championships, preferably back to back.
J.B. Mauney's personal goals dovetail so splendidly with the PBR's, I must observe. Having already changed the entire point system to nearly guarantee the conclusion they want, who could be surprised by further engineering from the PBR?  Oh, but wait, we have to make a parting shot at Silvano Alves and his not as great storyline and lack of gun-slinging swagger:
“Having guts and toughness, wanting to slay the dragons, that attitude is imperative to this sport,” Murray said. “You gotta be that fearless gunslinger to be a great bull rider. This isn’t a businessman’s game.”
Glad we had time to squeeze that underhanded moment in, guys.

Apparently that wasn't the full quote, because it gets even better in another press release:
The essence of what J.B. [Mauney] is, is the essence of this sport--having guts, having toughness, wanting to slay the dragons. That attitude is imperative to this sport. You gotta be that fearless gunslinger to be a great bull rider. This isn’t a businessman’s game.--Ty Murray, PBR co-founder and seven-time World Champion Cowboy
Got it, J.B. Mauney is the sport, and "businessmanlike" riders are the worst.

Then the PBR had to again remind us that the "captivating" J.B. is expected to win again this year (and with the new points system tailored just to him, what a surprise that is), in a feature about his 2016 title defense. Also, apparently his "remarkable and historic come-from-behind rally" to overtake Silvano Alves was "emotionally draining for not only Mauney, but fans and fellow riders." I guess they believe that we are all as invested in J.B. Mauney as they are. And apparently J.B. Mauney's injuries are way more fascinating than everybody else's, too!

Mauney is also, it would seem, incredibly oblivious (that's the kind interpretation), because here he is singing the praises of the new points system that was designed to propel him to victory.
The way they have the point system set up now, as long as you make it count at an event you can gather a lot of points for winning rounds,” said Mauney, who explained that it is no longer about who rides the most....It’s about who wins the most.
And who determines who wins the most, my friends? Let us not forget, Lambert, Murray and Mauney all had a part in designing the new point system in the first place! And now, lookee here! The PBR, effective immediately, has given Cody Lambert, Ty Murray, Justin McBride, Luke Snyder and PBR CEO Sean Gleason the power to change (and enforce) the rules at will, starting now (and, in fact, they "will begin procedures effective immediately").

I...somehow think this will not mean increased fairness and transparency (does anyone even know who was on this thing before?). We can question the wisdom of having the guy who chooses the stock and does the draw also getting final say over rules and enforcement, not to mention the CEO being in there, but the gigantic and obvious issue here is that Gleason, Murray, and Lambert have all made it more than clear that they love J.B. Mauney and heavily favor his style of riding; I'm pretty sure that Snyder and McBride, even if they have alternate opinions, could make little headway (and according to another recent article, McBride and Lambert have a close friendship). [Late-breaking news: new rules have been unveiled, and seem fairly decent modifications, even if the underlying system remains flawed and biased.  Not to mention having the same group create, execute and enforce laws is questionable at best.]

So, having pummeled us with a nonstop stream of Mauney media, it's now fairly obvious that if Mauney falters, even with the especially-designed-for-him point system, the ECC could, at a moment's notice, change rules to prop him up or impede others. Will this happen? We shall see. I am not by nature a conspiracy theorist, but the shady way the new point system was designed, the broad powers the ECC apparently wields, and the history of flip-flopping rules do not exactly reassure.

To be clear, I'm not blaming J.B. Mauney here. He didn't make the point system, and he can't help that the PBR won't shut up about him or angling to keep him on top (especially now that he is apparently their entire marketing strategy). As I've said repeatedly, he is a talented rider, and I understand why the PBR likes him. But at this point, assuming I dare attend an event, I am fully expecting Cody Lambert or perhaps Ty Murray to leap out and offer me a free personality profile. Next thing I know, I'll be paying thousands to clear any Brazilian thetans from my aura at the Mauneyology center, and then will deliriously chant, "Dragonslayer! Dragonslayer!" while I jump off couches.

But until such time as I succumb to the brainwashing, there is a whole field of other guys that are getting ignored at best and completely screwed over at worst with this myopic Mauney-mania and endless tinkering with rules to assure an outcome. In a sport where guys get hurt and disappear for months at a time, is this focus on one rider wise? What happens when new viewers picked up from "Danger on the Dirt" tune in to see Mauney buck off, or not appear at all?  What are they supposed to care about then, since the PBR is only interested in J.B., and in a limited fashion, a few other riders? Or what happens when people who want to see a real sport and not an engineered outcome get sick of it all? I guess we'll see this season, assuming we bother to watch.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Deconstructing the Bullshit Narrative

We're mad as hell, and we've through keeping our mouths shut about it. All of us here at THO! got discouraged by the blatantly unfair changes to the scoring system last year, so discouraged that we barely had the energy to follow our favorite bulls and boys at all, let alone muster up the energy to write about any of it.

And maybe, just maybe, we suffered from a little of that obnoxious idea that, as Hillary Clinton aptly observed last week,  "It's just that when women talk, some people think we're shouting."

Maybe we were naive enough to think that having made our points, we could anticipate that the Powers That Be at the PBR might actually think about the situation and back off their cold-blooded plan to elevate J.B. Mauney to world champ no matter who or what got in the way.

We were wrong--on both counts.

And we are through not talking about it. If you want to think we're shouting, be our guest.

Just don't bother to admonish us to be ladylike. We are through with that shit.

So the season dragged on to its dreary, predictable end. J.B. won (or, "won")--the day before the event was over. He didn't even bother to ride on the last day. How, exactly, does that square with the narrative about him being game and having a big heart and riding hurt and always picking the rankest bull every time?

Oh, that's right--that narrative is bullshit, pure and simple. The PBR can try to say that whatever J.B. does is correct and the best decision ever, whereas if another rider makes the exact same decision, he is wrong, wrong, wrong, but that doesn't mean that we have to believe it.

And while we're on the subject of bullshit narratives, let's just go ahead and talk about the fact that J.B.'s apparent fairy-tale marriage, the one that tamed him and turned him into a "mature" husband and father, is either on the rocks or is already over. If you've been around here at all, you know that I'm reluctant to discuss this kind of crap because I think it has no place in professional sports, but let's face it--the PBR keeps shoving this stuff in our faces, so now we are going to go right ahead and rub theirs in it.  If the PBR previously couldn't get enough of spending time on the airwaves and on their website on their favorite Prodigal Son and his magical marriage, they can't expect no one to notice their sudden awkward silence.

We don't know the details and we could not care less about them, but we can tell you one thing--we are offended to the core that J. B. Mauney accepted his trophy and check with a blond woman on his arm who very clearly is not Lexie Mauney. Very, very tacky, J.B. Talk about rubbing somebody's nose in it--we really thought you had more class than that. And your consort should be thoroughly ashamed of herself for stepping into that spotlight with you. We're sure there was no shortage of women willing to stoop to that level, but the one who won the prize also has the chance to withstand the scrutiny of those of us women who are, let's face it, much, much too wise to make a stupid mistake like that one.  And that the PBR allowed this sorry spectacle to play out on the big stage of the world finals and the "triumphant" crowning of their predetermined winner is really quite amazing.

Maybe they thought we all wouldn't notice (which seems to be business as usual: assume the viewers/readers believe everything they are told rather than what they are actually seeing), but they were sure as hell wrong. They've already ret-conned the last few years to put J.B. up among the greats and put Silvano Alves in the rear-view mirror--get your J.B. Mauney championship shirt now! You want a  Silvano shirt from any of the years he won? Yeah, right.

Depressingly, it's fairly certain that the new point system, having achieved its goal (an amazing feat considering the usual incompetence of the PBR), we can assume there will be no changes to it. The PBR will not rest until they can crown J.B. the first something, be it four time champ or first time back-to-back-to-back champ. All the other riders in the organization be damned. Honesty and even having the veneer of a legitimate organization be damned. And that's a damned shame.

Do we have the heart to watch the charade next year? We shall see. If so, it will only be because nobody has gotten through to the bulls that they're supposed to produce both figurative and literal bullshit.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

King Super Saint J.B. Mauney the Dragonslayer

We here at Turn Him Out have been too disheartened by the unfolding of the PBR's master plan to engineer the world championship to even muster the energy to rant about it.  Surprisingly, as inept as the PBR generally is, they successfully managed to gerrymander the point system to secure the "coronation" (in Craig Hummer's words) they so desperately desired, so congratulations to them for that, I guess.

While we are struggling to craft a post that contains more than, "ARGH!" and "SHUT UP, TY!", please enjoy this image sent to us by an anonymous reader, which probably sums the season and ridiculous finals much more elegantly than we ever will.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Burning out on the PBR?

Well, dear readers, if indeed any of you are left, it is perhaps obvious from the lack of posts that enthusiasm for the PBR is waning here at Turn Him Out. An ominous feeling started with all the announcements about the new point system at the end of last year, and has continued to grow with the feeble attempts by TPTB to defend their new system as "simpler" and "easier for PBR fans to follow," besides somehow promising to reward "bull riders who perform at the highest level both within individual events and throughout the season."

First of all, it is completely ludicrous to say that the new system is easier to understand. In fact, it was the old system that was simple to understand-- the points a guy got for a ride were his points. Yes, there were bonus points awarded for placing highly in rounds and for winning, but a guy who rode something at least got some points, and whoever had the most points at the end of an event/season won. Straightforward. The new point system, with its "appropriate" number of points for placing highly in a round is anything but straightforward, and it's insulting for the PBR to assume that everyone is buying it.

In fact, the new system means that guys who place under 5th in a round, and/or 15th in the aggregate, can leave the weekend with basically nothing (or actually nothing), and this could keep piling on for the season. Let me show you an example.

Rider 1
Ride PointsRound PlaceOld SystemNew System
Long Round 181.758th81.750
Long Round 283.256th83.250
Champ. Round013th010
Rider 1 Totals16510
Old SystemNew System
Rider 2
Ride PointsRound PlaceOld SystemNew System
Long Round 188.5188.5100
Long Round 20N/A00
Champ. RoundDNQN/A00
Rider 2 Totals88.5100
Old SystemNew System

In my example, under the new system, Rider 1 scored below the 5th place cut-off for points in both long rounds, so got zero "world points" for two long round rides. He bucked off in the championship round. The total of his two previous rides placed him 13th in the average for the event, which ended up with him leaving the weekend with a whopping 10 points. Meanwhile, Rider 2 got the highest score in the first round, which gave him 100 points. He bucked off in the second long round and did not qualify for the championship round, but of course, still had his 100 points from his one ride.

So, as you can see, under the new system, a guy could ride two bulls and end the weekend with 10 points, while another guy could ride one bull and earn 100 points. (And this is after the PBR changed it-- the initial announcement had only the top 10 in the aggregate getting any points, with #10 getting 5 points, so conceivably, a guy could make the championship round and leave with no points, which was completely absurd; now at least they get a pitiable 10 points for effort, I guess.)

I honestly don't remember the exact bonus points per round by placement in the old system, and I can't find any documentation on the old system, but they did say in one of the articles about the scoring changes:
In the old system, there was only a 10-point discrepancy between finishing first or second in a BFTS round. Now, that difference improves to 40 points. In terms of winning the aggregate in 2015, there will be a 160-point difference between first and second compared to the 30-point (two-day event) and 40-point (three-day event) difference there was for placing the highest in the event average in 2014.
Of course, this doesn't really clarify that the old bonus points were in addition to ride points, rather than the ONLY points.   Even assuming Rider 2 got some amount of bonus points for his long round one placement under the old system, he's making out beautifully under the new system.  Meanwhile, Rider 1 had 155 points of effort disappear under the new system, and he's 90 points behind a guy that he surely would have been ahead of under the old system!

The only way this point system would make any sense is if every bull in every long round had the potential to give a rider the highest score in the round. This is, obviously, impossible. A cowboy can only ride the bulls he is given in the long rounds-- no matter how he flashes it up, some bulls will have borderline re-ride outs, and under this system, that is a severe disadvantage. This system might make sense with the draft, in that it would encourage guys to choose the rankest bull they think they can ride, but when they just get a bull in the draw, well, we're seeing how that goes. The old system allowed fairly easy recovery from a weekend where a guy performed badly or his bulls performed badly; not so much under this one. The new system as it has played out firstly rewards consistent, high-scoring riders, followed by inconsistent, high-scoring riders, with consistent, lower scoring riders trailing ridiculously far behind (with inconsistent, low-scoring riders where they would be under any system).

Now, who would benefit from (and who would be disadvantaged by) a point system that rewards streaky guys who pull off big rides on occasion over guys who consistently ride in a less flashy way? Hmmmm....

I'm not a huge conspiracy theorist, but the fact that the PBR decided that the way some riders were winning was inappropriate and so therefore they were going to redo the entire point system was not as clever and sneaky as they thought. I mean, they pretty much spelled out what they were doing. (from here):
PBR worked with statisticians to analyze the performance of bull riders over the past 10 years and the relationship between event wins, Top 3 event finishes, Top 3 15/15 Bucking Battle finishes, Top 5 event finishes and Top 10 event finishes, among numerous other factors, to ensure that the riders who perform the best are awarded the appropriate level of points. It was determined that under PBR’s old system, first adopted in 2004, riders who placed first, second and third in rounds and events were not being awarded an appropriate number of points in relation to those who finished fourth and below.
So, from this I infer that the PBR looked at what had happened, and what they wished had happened, and changed the system to hopefully get the results they want in the future, which also has the added bonus of forcing the guys to ride the way the PBR wants.  To wit:
“It’s always been about scoring as high as you can on every bull,” Lambert said. “That is the essence of the sport. To get the highest score you can on every bull. The whole foundation of the sport is the guy getting on the toughest bulls and trying to ride him and that was always the best strategy until now. We want it to go back to the best strategy being guys trying to win every time they try to get on a bull. Not just play it safe and get a score.”
Lambert continued:
“Silvano is good enough to win more World Championships, but he is not going to be able to do it by lying back anymore,” Lambert said. “He is going to have to attempt to ride the better bulls, which he is very capable of doing.”
So, there you have it, the goal of the new point system, surprisingly laid right out for all to see.  The PBR runs the show and can do what they want, but that's not leaving me feeling so great about it, that's for sure.

Since rolling out the new system, the PBR has continued to attempt to explain just why this system is so great without explicitly calling out Silvano Alves (although there didn't seem to be a lot of outright fan backlash about the points, probably because no one really understood them, until Kaique Pacheco, a Brazilian, won an event over Stetson Lawrence, an American, based on "world points" from round placement-- make of that what you will). Unfortunately, their attempts to justify the system have been feeble, probably because there is no real way to justify it. Justin McBride posited entirely ridiculous scenarios on the PBR Facebook (this is the second one, on February 20th):
Rider A rides Asteroid and wins Round 1 with 90. He gets bucked off Mick E Mouse in Round 2. He picks Bushwacker in the championship round, rides him for 94 points and wins the round but finishes 2nd in the average with 184 points.
Rider B rides a bull in Round 1 for 80, rides a bull in Round 2 for 58 but declines the option for a re-ride. He is #1 in the championship round draft and picks one of the easier bulls and rides him for 86, does not place in the round but finishes 1st in the aggregate with 224.
Who is the better bull rider under that scenario?
For example: Should Rider B automatically win or should there be an opportunity for another rider who went 2-for-3, selected the rankest bull in the championship round and rode him for 90+ points to have some way to beat him?
-Justin McBride
I mean, really. It would be too exhausting to pick apart everything wrong with this supposed discussion point/justification, but get back to me when a guy draws Asteroid and Mick E Mouse in the long rounds at a regular event. All this unrealistic hypothetical really proves is that getting high-performing bulls in the long round is the key to success, although I think the PBR thought we'd all be cheering, "J.B. Mauney the Dragonslayer rules! Silvano Alves, who never takes re-rides, drools!"

Unfortunately, besides the obvious attempt to get the results they want, in their quest to change outcomes, there have been, unsurprisingly, unintended consequences. One of the guys severely hampered by this new system has been Tanner Byrne, who rode a whole lot of bulls to earn very few points under the new system for a whole run of events. I don't like to name names when it goes the other way, since the cowboys don't make the rules, however, there are some who rode well and then dismally, and are hanging around in the top of the standings because of the disproportionate amount of points round wins awarded and the difficulty this poses for other riders to catch up. (As in, one guy who qualifies for the championship round getting 500 points in a weekend and another guy who does the same getting 10 can really throw things off-- it's a lot harder to come from 490 points back rather than 70-100 points back; have a few weekends like this and it's not looking good.)

I am well aware that with any system, guys who are smart and who consistently ride well will rise to the top... eventually, if there's enough time. I don't think the PBR can change that, no matter how hard they try. But it is disheartening to see the constant undercutting of some riders and the constant attempts to prop up others. I keep saying it and I'm getting tired of saying it: this isn't the WWF. There's no need to create or curate storylines. The sport is dynamic and interesting without interference, and all this ridiculous meddling and sad attempts to spin it are just making me burn out on caring about any of it. I don't like being frustrated and angry when I watch what used to be a sport I very much enjoyed, but sadly, that is the state of affairs, and part of the reason why there has been so little activity here. The new point system is only the most obvious symptom of the underlying problem.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Agony and the Ecstasy

As it came down to the finals, my enthusiasm was flagging, and I was conflicted.  Who to root for to keep me interested?  For Fabiano Vieira, somehow triumphing over his drastically injured shoulder?  Joao Ricardo Vieira, the “wild child” who has given us so many spectacular rides and yet so many befuddling buck offs? Guilherme Marchi, the old guard making a comeback?  Matt Triplett, the enthusiastic young gun?  Or Silvano Alves, our slow and steady back-to-back champ?

Luckily (?) for me, the increasingly obnoxious commentators decided that for me. On Saturday, during the escalating insufferable dude-bro attempt to be like a real sport with a sports talk program, all of the commentators proceeded to do their worst to downplay Silvano Alves and his chances. As the program went on, they became more and more unprofessional, from the usual “not understanding” his strategy and concern-trolling (i.e., backhanded compliments like, “We know he’s better than that”), to one outright saying that he is rooting against Alves. At this point, I was yelling at my television.  What kind of professional sports organization does this?

And then, these lovely individuals couldn’t understand why, when Silvano had just been scored 69 for a ride that was worth at least 79 (did the judges consider that Silvano Alves wasn’t the only one being screwed over by that score? I’m sure the stock contractor was thrilled), that he wouldn’t want to take a re-ride and be judged by the same people?  As he said here:
"Sometimes the judging affects the re-ride situation . . . . The re-ride [bull] may be a bad one, or it might be a good one. I know sometimes they are an 84-point ride, but I also know that sometimes with the re-ride situation and me, the judges may give me a 79 instead of an 80-something. I don’t want the judges to help me. I just want them to be fair."
As far as I can recall, this is the first time Silvano Alves has said something even vaguely critical of the judging, which speaks wonders for his restraint. I, however, am not constrained by being a contractor to the PBR, so let’s continue.

Justin McBride took us to new and interesting territory by musing that perhaps the judges were punishing Alves for not taking re-rides by underscoring him (something that is hardly a new thought to some of us, but not one that we’d expect to be said out loud by an ambassador of the PBR). Cody Lambert blanched and tried to backtrack on that one, and I can only imagine there was some yelling in McBride’s earpiece. You'd like to think it'd be obvious that the job of the judges is to judge the ride they see before them. The judges’ job is not to judge someone’s season-long strategy, their nationality, their personality, or anything other than the ride that just occurred. If they can’t do that, it’s time for new judges and new ways of training them.

On the same note, while it appears to be standard to subtract 10 points for Silvano Alves, the judges were apparently so delighted that J.B. Mauney was coming back to life that they decided each of his rides was worth 10 more points than they would be for anyone else. This is not a slam on J.B. Mauney—he was riding very well and I was impressed with his grit to cheerfully give interviews and to perform at this level with his jaw wired shut.  He’s not a judge, and it’s not his fault if the scoring is insane.

The judging issues were further highlighted by Silvano Alves only being scored 87.25 for being the fourth guy to ride Asteroid. Was it Asteroid’s best out? No.  But numerous guys and bulls teamed up to score above 87.25 at the finals, and for Alves to ride a former bull of the year for a comparatively piddly score just seemed sad and spiteful—he’d already won even before the ride, so attempting to send a message with that score was just bad sportsmanship, if that’s what was happening. And just to make it worse, the other Brazilians were the only ones seen out congratulating Alves when he won (although their celebration was pretty great). Pettiness is not a nice look, boys.

 Realizing they were stuck with Alves as the champ, the delicious commentator mea culpas started coming in, first from McBride (who, it must be said, seemed to think Silvano Alves would win throughout, even if he can’t say the guy’s last name right).
 “You’ve got to put him in the conversation and a lot of people are not going to want to,” McBride said. “People are going to want to put asterisks by his world championships. [They are going to say] ‘he picked his bulls. He did this. He did that.'
“Silvano has won world titles within the rules of the sport of bull riding that were set up for him to compete in. How can you not put him up there with three world championships?"
Of course, he just had to put that asterisk thing in there. Ah, how I remember the days when it was said that Guilherme Marchi wouldn’t have won without the draft, yet somehow it was okay when Kody Lostroh smartly picked bulls that fit him to win his championship. And how it continues with Ty Murray droning on about how Joao Ricardo Vieira isn’t a “whole” cowboy, and people whining that Silvano Alves isn’t doing it how they think it should be done.  Guess what, fellas, your opinion didn't mean diddly in the end.

And here’s Cody Lambert, who begrudgingly got on the “Silvano bandwagon” when he saw the writing on the wall.
“Silvano stuck to his plan—stay on all of them—and there is one guy here that stayed on all of them,” PBR Director of Livestock Cody Lambert said. “You can’t argue with that and he is a World Champion for a third time. 
“You don’t get given World Championships, you have to earn them,” Lambert said. “It was a great feat to ride several of the bulls he rode this week.”
Ty Murray couldn't resist pointing out one more time that this strategy can fail if there is someone consistent and high-scoring who comes along; he seems to forget that it has worked three times out of four, and that other time was pretty darn close.

You can almost hear the glass being chewed by all the commentators in their quotes. And there’s enough glass to go around, with “fans” on Facebook exclaiming that Silvano Alves isn’t a “real” cowboy and he’d never have won without the draft. We’ve been through this two other times before—nobody is stopping any of the other cowboys from using the draft strategically, and it’s hardly Alves’ fault if they don’t, or if they don’t succeed at the level he does. And oh my, what on earth with the fans online saying J.B. Mauney should have been world champ? That wasn’t even mathematically possible! He could have won the finals event, except he fell off one bull while Alves rode them all on his way to winning the event and the title. I guess somehow in their minds, it would be more “fair” to make J.B. Mauney the champ just because he rides the way they like best?

There was also whining that the rules about re-rides should be changed, that they should be mandatory unless there is a doctor’s excuse. Which I’m sure Doc Tandy would just adore—when don’t these guys have some kind of injury? Who would want to be in charge of determining when a guy is actually “hurt enough” to be “allowed” to beg off taking a re-ride? People seem to forget that Silvano Alves went much of his season with a separated shoulder—would that be enough, or are these proposed re-ride rules just somehow going to apply to him always? And I’m sure the people advocating for this rule would really love it until it forced one of their favorites into attempting to ride and getting a big fat zero (or a big fat injury) on the second try.

Regardless, now I doubt Alves is crying into his cash. He’s the second to win the championship three times, and the richest athlete in Western sports history in very short order.  Recall, he is a mere 26 years old, and he’s only been here for about five years. Who’s for championships four, five, six… seven? The PBR better figure out how to embrace Silvano Alves, which would be easy to do (he’s basically the American Dream) if they tried, because he's not going anywhere. But if they insist on fanning the flames of those who resent him, it’s only going to get uglier. I can handle it from the “fans,” but if it keeps seeming to come out of the judging pool and the commentators, this is not going to work for me.

But for a moment, let me bask in the joy of Silvano Alves winning, despite all the commentator bashing, despite the horrid judging, and despite the noisy, nasty fans. And to top it all off, Bushwacker came from behind, after they had more or less written him off, to win his third bull of the year title! Rapture! Although you kind of have to laugh at the PBR declaring Gage Gay the Rookie of the Year on the broadcast, only to find that J.W Harris kept marching through the finals and cashed in on enough bonus points to be the actual Rookie of the Year. Oops.

So, to wrap up, boo to unprofessional dogpiling commentary; inconsistent and suspicious judging; and fans who don’t understand math or how rules work. And yay to Silvano Alves for ignoring the naysayers and coming through; Chad Berger for getting back into the stock contractor groove and being named Stock Contractor of the Year; Bushwacker for triumphing for his finale year; and J.W. Harris, showing us all that guys from other organizations sure can hack it!

It's funny how this finals was a microcosm of all the things we've been railing against for years, and yet, the end result was so wonderfully satisfying.

Now can’t we wait to do it all again?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

S. Goes to Oakland Once Again - Part II

S. has returned to wrap up the tale of her adventure in Oakland!

Usually, a person can feel confident that the championship round night will be a great evening of bullriding, and not having to rush to the arena straight from work, and instead being able to enjoy some Vietnamese food and make our leisurely way, definitely helps. Upon settling into our seats, we noted that the crowd was not giant, but it definitely was better than Friday night's.

I had two newbies in tow, which always makes things more interesting, since I had to be ready to explain the idiosyncrasies of the sport, including some that perhaps I have given up on trying to understand myself. Like why Renato Nunes' hail Mary moves sometimes gain him points and sometimes lose him points, or why the PBR plays so little country music at live events, or why the announcers are so scornful about guys not taking re-rides (I had to limit myself on that on, or there would have been a full-blown rant), or whether everybody is actually named that, or how the hell they come up with the bonus points per round anyway.

My newbies weren't familiar, but we did discover via telephoto lens that Ty Murray was the color commentator (we could see the glint off his glasses across the arena). But mostly I was excited to see that they had some dividers bisecting the arena as the cowboys started marching out for their introductions, and I kind of rudely couldn't wait for them to be done, because I knew what that meant! And yes, out trotted Bushwacker in a spotlight, accompanied by much hyperbole. The bull, just like in Fresno, circled restlessly by the exit gate, probably wondering what on earth this was all about -- he knows his job, and wandering around in the arena isn't it. He certainly is a huge, striking figure.

We also quickly discovered that we were sitting near the family of a guy who had played football with Stormy Wing. They were very, very excited. Not sure how much having a dedicated cheering section may have played into Stormy Wing's mindset, but I guess it could't have hurt. Kody Lostroh managed to put up a very pretty ride despite his hand injury, and Guilherme Marchi got it together to sneak past one, although he wasn't looking as solid and secure as he usually does, unfortunately. And I have to claim a little bit of prescience, because I said to my friends at the event that Valdiron de Oliveira was looking focused and riding like his old self, and Biloxi just totally validated my insight.

Thankfully, there were more rides this evening (and at least one per flight), and that helps keep the energy up. Flint was back to his sing-a-long, although it just was for "Don't Stop Believin'" rather than for an extended set. The Stanley Stud of the night, was, I'm pretty sure, the firefighter who was the Fan of the Night last year, oddly enough. And the Fan of the Night this evening was the most adorable boy. He had longish white-blonde hair, and a hipster ensemble that included a fedora. When Flint gave him the buckle, he excitedly said, "Thank you so much!" There also was a pretty great scene where Silvano Alves bailed off his bull and directly on the shark cage, where Flint said he would "protect" him. I couldn't see what exactly was happening, but Silvano seemed to be doing some good-natured swatting.

But of course there have to be some things for me to grouse about, right? Firstly, I found it agonizing that they keep hyping up J.B. Mauney, complete with all sorts of shouting ("Who's ready to see the reigning world champ, J.B. MAUNEY?!"), and of course "Bad to the Bone" and increasingly desperate speculation about how he could somehow still be in the mix for the title this year. He's obviously banged up and going through a slump right now, so to have all this hoopla every time he's in the chute, followed by him promptly hitting the dirt like ellipses trailing off (sorry, had to play off of Hummer's obsession with exclamation points), can't be helping his psyche at all. It just seems kind of sad and grasping, with the commentators pretending he has a shot this year, I guess because they wish he did.

There also was an overly-long and un-funny gag about kids going home and trying to emulate Flint throwing his hat at bulls by throwing their hats at their dogs.  But then Flint went on and on about how they should throw them at cats instead.  Even the commentators started to back off, mumbling something about how maybe it was going too far.

Outside of that, there were also a couple of nasty scenes, including Neil Holmes trying to stick it to 8 and getting pulled under the bull. It looked like he got his thigh stomped on pretty hard, but when the injury report came back, it was all about a partially severed little finger and ear and a head gash?  Yikes. He got up and was shaking and looking at his hand, but I had no idea. So impressed with this guy's effort and try, but maybe a helmet is in order.

We finished off the long go with a couple of re-rides. Renato Nunes was scored 79.75 on his (sure, he was pretty out of shape at the end, but not sure that low a score was warranted), but did his back-flip. I have to wonder if Western Hauler, who jolted out of the chute and promptly fell on his side to try to squash Billy Robinson, will be seen too much more in the future. It's not the first time this bull has done that, and it's terrifying every time. Thankfully, Billy Robinson seemed relatively unscathed, and even though he didn't ride his re-ride bull, he still made it into the championship round.  

Unfortunately, the championship draft looked a lot differently than it was first presented, because numerous cowboys doctored out (Neil Holmes, Fabiano Vieira, Douglas Duncan, Reese Cates, Ryan Dirteater and Renato Nunes). This meant a couple guys with one relatively low score squeaked in, showing again that you just never know with this sport.

Roy (brother to Bushwacker) was really impressive in the championship round pen. Unfortunately, the real drama of his out was when Josh Faircloth's head connected with Roy's horn, and the cowboy hit the ground with a dull thud. He was out. Roy, we had heard, unlike his brother, was mean. He didn't want to leave the arena, that's for sure. Flint and Jesse Byrne stayed near Josh Faircloth, trying to keep him still (he started coming around and trying to crawl, obviously disoriented), while the other bullfighters got sucked into dealing with Roy. The pick-up man had managed to rope Roy, but couldn't get him out easily without risking Faircloth. So he had the bull off in a far corner of the arena. Unfortunately, Roy somehow got one leg hooked in under the rope, and started hopping around, eventually laying down and rolling around.  

Meanwhile, Frank Newsom and Shorty Gorham were trying take off the flank strap, and were working to get the bull's leg untangled, without becoming injury statistics themselves. When they succeeded with that, Roy took off, still roped, but clearly a bull weighs more than a horse and Roy wasn't making any effort to be cooperative. The pick-up man, with a mighty struggle, managed to steer the bull around the still-prone Faircloth and the Sports Medicine team, and out the exit gate.  Miraculously, Faircloth then got up, looking pretty bewildered, and was escorted out shortly after. It appears neither bull nor cowboy were too much worse for wear, thankfully, but as you can imagine, the television broadcast cut away from some of that pretty quickly.

The championship round was mostly the bulls' day, with Oklahoma Bell, a Pacific Bell son, putting on a nice show; so did Stanley FatMax (and Valdiron de Oliveira was this close to making the 8, too). Billy Robinson got right to the edge of making the confetti to fly with his ride on Cooper Tires Semper Fi, as did Joao Ricardo Vieira with his ride on Cowtown Slinger. The confetti did get some action with the feel-good story continuing for on-the-bubble Jason Malone, who was briefly in the lead. But then Stormy Wing hit a home run for real and won the round and the event with a 90.75 on Mr. Bull. His friends sitting near me went totally nuts, especially when he pointed at them (I think that was evident on the TV broadcast, but I'll send along a photo anyway). While I was excited for what was coming right up, it was kind of sad that the guy barely had a moment to savor his first BFTS win before they were escorting him out to prepare for his match-up with the bonus bull, Bushwacker.

The last time I saw Bushwacker was in Fresno, and I barely saw him buck there, since L.J. Jenkins was off in 1.45 seconds. This time, although the official buckoff was just over 3 seconds with a slap, Stormy Wing was on for a few more seconds than that, and Bushwacker was still bucking like the champ he is. And during those seconds, I had a moment of revelation that for all the BS that sometimes enrages me about this sport, this is why I watch. This is what makes it worth it--it's as simple as a rank bull really bucking and a cowboy really putting out the effort. Now if only the PBR and I can remember that!

So after my moment of clarity, we were off to the final moments of the event, with Stormy Wing getting a real chance to enjoy the spotlight, and Julio Moreno accepting the high-marked bull award for Roy (who, interestingly, would have won it even if Bushwacker's score had counted--the bonus bull score was apparently not part of the event ranking--as he outscored his brother). Looks like Moreno may have another contender.

So, there it is! And, since one of my friends won 4 VIP seats for next season through PBR Passport, I guess you haven't heard the last of me yet. I do have to say that live events really do help bring me back to the essentials of why I love this sport, so I'm definitely glad that NorCal is somehow a schedule hotspot.

Thanks again to S. for sending in her adventures!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

S. Goes to Oakland Once Again - Part I

S. is here once again to save us from the blank space that would be filled with the rantings and ravings of SQ and PdV, if they had not stalled on posting for an embarrassingly long time.  Welcome to the first part of her adventures at the Kawasaki Strong Battle By the Bay in Oakland!

When the schedule came out for the 2014 season, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised to see Oakland on it. I can only imagine the PBR is getting a great deal on the venue, because attendance last year was beyond pathetic, especially on Friday. But who am I to question the schedule of the PBR, particularly when it rewards Northern California?

I wish I could say that the attendance was any better on Friday this year, but it would be a flat-out lie if I did. I'm guessing the PBR's expectations were low, since even the sponsors didn't bother to do much prior to the event, if they bothered to do anything at all.  Rider Relief was there, of course, with a rider doing a signing (Mike Lee) and their contest for a donation (you get a frisbee that you can try to throw into the bed of the Ford truck at a designated time, and maybe win a signed rider vest). Cooper Tire was doing some kind of prize contest, and of course the Fan Club/Passport booth was there, along with some people trying to sell sports tickets and Caterpillar/Bass Pro trying to get people to enter a contest to win a fishing trip with Luke Snyder (I think I totally confused the lady when I blurted out that I don't eat fish). That was pretty much it, besides one merchandise booth, and the ubiquitous PBR Visa people.

After "enjoying" my $9 cheeseburger with no burger from one of the few open places in one of the clubhouses, and meeting up with some friends, it was off to my seat, ready for the festivities. I'm pretty immune to the flaming introduction at this point, but it was apparent that the pick-up man's horse was not, poor thing. At least there wasn't a PBR Party Barn this year, so I didn't have drunken stumbling people threatening to dump beer on me all night long.

Anyway, even though the bull pen was not especially impressive, there were not a lot of rides. Of the rides, many were high 70s/low 80s, some with re-ride options and some without (some bafflingly without). Silvano Alves ended up with a 58.25 and turned down the re-ride – I could hear the PBRLive commentary in my head. Of course, re-rides didn't always help, anyway. Jordan Hupp took his re-ride and scored 2 points less on the second go-round (80.25 to a 78.25 with another re-ride option; he called it a day).

Thankfully there were some decent rides scattered in there. The newest beneficiary of a 3-event exemption based on stellar performance at a recent BFTS event, Neil Holmes, put up another nice one. Fabiano Vieira continues to amaze with his ability to ride with his nearly immovable free arm. Stormy Wing, the commentators' favorite "home-run hitter," managed to hit one this time around, and veteran Billy Robinson hit a triple, then, if we're using that jargon. The feel-good story of the weekend was Jason Malone, who desperately  needed to ride, and did. Still, eleven rides out of 35+ attempts in a long go was somewhat less than impressive. It was obvious that the wear and tear of the season is really playing a role in the ability of the guys to ride and their decisions regarding re-rides.  

There were a few bulls worth watching (Papa Smurf, Comfortably Numb and Wild For the Night were of note), and definitely some squirrelly bulls that didn't want to leave the arena or otherwise provided some entertainment. At one point, the pick-up man’s horse got nearly clotheslined and spooked pretty badly, but the guy kept his seat. Flint unfortunately then made some comment about how that was a better ride than Silvano Alves' low-scored ride.

Everything else was pretty much the way it always is, although they seem to have gotten rid of the Kiss Kam, thankfully, and the Stanley Stud-finder blessedly now only goes through beeping for one doofus in the crowd, so we don't have to sit through three rounds of it. Flint had some new material, which was good, although he couldn't resist some kind of "handout/welfare in California" joke, which went over like a lead balloon. The crowd just went totally silent, and then there was some quiet, ominous rumbling. Not sure Flint really wants to explore the GDP, federal tax dollars paid, and dependency of California in comparison to other states, because I’m pretty sure that wouldn't go anywhere he wants to go. Thankfully he quickly moved on and did some goofy dancing, which is all for the best. Outside of that, I saw Jim Haworth a couple times. The fan of the night was a girl who had been the Little Miss Buckaroo of her town, and wanted to grow up to be a barrel racer (Flint told her to  marry someone rich).

Of course, one of the reasons to go to an event on the first day is that’s when Fan Club member exclusives usually happen. In this case, it was an on-the-dirt signing. Unfortunately, this turned out sort of weird as there’s a ring almost like a cattle chute around the outside of the arena at this venue, so the riders went around that first to sign for the general crowd. The cowboys were then supposed to jump the fence near the chutes and come on the dirt, but not all of them did.  Which is fine. I don't feel the guys are obligated to do anything, and I know the PBR works hard to give fans access to the cowboys at events, and I certainly appreciate it. But it seems like if you are going to have an on-the-dirt exclusive signing, having the fans in the stands getting to see more of the cowboys than the people who have paid to be in the fan club is not how that should work.

Thankfully, the cowboys who did clamber over the fence were gracious. Tanner Byrne complimented my drawing (a general one for everyone to sign) and asked if I really wanted him to sign it, because he didn't want to "ruin it," which was kind of adorable. I had a drawing specifically for Guilherme Marchi to sign, but besides that, I was eager to have the chance to talk to Neil Holmes, the new invitee who is taking the PBR by storm. Having read some features on him, I was intrigued. He has been well-spoken in PBR interviews, and it’s pretty clear to me that the PBR could use a college-educated cowboy who can give more than the usual sound-bite ("just having fun," "riding jump for jump," "one bull at a time," etc.). Not to mention that he's everything that could bring new fans to the sport – definitely not the same old, same old. And now I can confirm that he's also very sweet to fans, even if he told me he didn't think he was cool enough to have fans.

I have struggled with what I want to say about this next part, and I am hoping I’ll figure it out as I write it. I just don’t even know what to say, and as annoyed as I was on behalf of the riders involved, I think it's best to leave it anonymous. I guess I’ll just say that there was some sort of weird incident that led to one of the PBR arena folks pulling aside a few riders and lecturing them in front of all the fan club members who were paying attention. Fans kept coming over who didn't realize what was going on, wanting to talk to those riders, and then the arena security would make them stand back, drawing even more attention to the scene. The riders involved looked so humiliated and angry, and I can't say I blame them.  I'm not entirely clear about the incident that started the scene, but regardless, the "discipline" could have been handled in another way, and certainly in another place!

Anyway, this kind of put a pall on the evening for me. However, I did have my drawing for Guilherme to sign, and he smiled when he saw it, and said, "Yes, I will sign this for you!" Then someone else grabbed him, but I was finally able to give him the extra copy. He then gave me a side hug and a "Bless you!" That definitely took a little of the sting off the weird scene for me.

I actually got dragged briefly to the host hotel by a friend, where various cowboys and PBR crew were hanging out in the lobby, but I had to catch a train out, so I didn't stay long. So, that was the first day. More to come.

Stay tuned for Part II!