Friday, December 19, 2008

Unintended Consequences

Back in November, we quietly passed the anniversary of the first post at “Turn Him Out!” At the time, the season was racing to its spectacular finale and the birthday of the blog wasn’t nearly so important as trying to stay up to speed with the results of each weekend’s event.

Now the season is nearly seven weeks behind us, and in just a little over two more, the 2009 season will kick off on the day after New Year’s in Baltimore, so maybe it’s time to take stock. The 2008 season threw me a lot of curves, most of which I’d have to lump into the category of “throwing stuff against the wall.” As sometimes happens, though, almost none of what got thrown stuck, and as Ruby would opine, some of what did stick “didn’t work out too good.” Here are a few items that come immediately to mind.

· Lauding the Next Great White (American) Hope. When Justin McBride announced that he would miss roughly the first half of the season to have surgery on his shoulder, it became clear pretty quickly that some folks at PBR headquarters, or at Versus, or maybe at both, were panicking because there would be no returning American hero to praise to the skies. During PBR broadcasts, there was an instant rush to latch onto the first U.S. citizen who had ridden decently and to start hollering about how he was a contender for the world title. Guys who passed through this revolving door included Travis Briscoe, Wiley Peterson, and Sean Willingham.

All the while, of course, Guilherme Marchi was launching his (ultimately) successful run for the world title, and from the beginning of the season he rode like he would not be denied, but instead of doing the obvious and lifting him up for our admiring gazes, the Powers That Be gave him only the cursory tip of the hat. The fans were not slow to point out this inequity, which of course sparked loud denials that American riders were getting more attention than Marchi was. I do not believe that every human being on the planet is irresistibly prejudiced in favor of his/her own, to such an extent that we can’t even recognize our own bigotries, and I am not accusing anyone of being a racist, but I think in this case, those who were responsible for this tawdry, and ultimately silly, charade should examine their consciences and try to do better next time.

· The Path to Greatness That Wasn’t. The bull draft was added this season with much fanfare, hoopla, and Ty Murray declaring that a rider getting to pick his bull would amount to the same advantage as winning pole position in NASCAR, but it hasn’t quite played out that way. If anybody thought having to pick their bulls in the short-go was going to force the riders to do more research, they were sadly mistaken. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that perhaps two of any given 20 riders in the short-go have much notion about which bull they should choose. Instead, what we’ve been treated is the sight of a rider lumbering up the ramp, where he is greeted by (generally) Justin McKee and (almost always) Cody Lambert. He mumbles to Cody, “What’s the rankest bull left in the pen?” or maybe “Which bull should I pick, Cody?” and Lambert makes a suggestion. If it were up to me, I wouldn’t have Lambert up there—I’d make the riders do their own picking without resorting to what amounts to a cheat-sheet. But then, when I was teaching writing, I drew up a list of seven rhetorical sins that would automatically win any student so foolish as to commit one an “F” on his/her 500 word essay, so obviously I think setting boundaries is pretty important.

Interestingly, at the finals Ty Murray said flat-out that Marchi had cost himself the event title by picking bulls he could ride, rather than the rankest one left. Sorry, Ty, you can’t have it both ways. What rider with any sense would risk losing the world title just to prove he has the biggest cojones? Clearly, the answer isn’t “Guilherme Marchi,” which calls into question the widespread notion that among Latin Americans, machismo will always trump brains.

· The Shootout that Fizzled. Introduced in about mid-season, the PBR Team Shootout may have been in the works for years, but it still smelled like something trumped up at the last minute to establish a relationship with ESPN. Maybe the PBR had been pounding on ESPN’s door for years, maybe ESPN came to the PBR—there’s no way to know. Nevertheless, the idea was interesting—each of the top 20 riders would chose a partner from among all the eligible PBR card-carrying riders, and the 10 teams would compete over a series of four events, with the four highest scoring teams going on to a finals in Pueblo. Sean Willingham immediately won himself considerable scorn from some of my readers, who thought it unsportsmanlike of him to pick Justin McBride, who was ranked in the bottom 45 because he’d been gone most of the season, but who still was the world champion. I didn’t think that argument held much water because despite all the camaraderie among them, bull riders are competing against one another, not just against the bulls. Had I been in Sean’s place, I might not have chosen Justin, but I for damned sure would have picked somebody I thought would help me win, not just somebody I wanted to help out.

But since the pay-outs were winners-take-all, and the riders didn’t gain anybody any points toward the world title, the most significant outcome of the Shootout was that several guys got hurt, some of them badly, and had nothing to show for it. Justin McBride suffered a concussion and dropped out of the competition almost immediately, and Brian Canter was out for months with a facial injury. In an unrelated but still eerie occurrence, Wesley Silcox, a PRCA champion who was Dustin Elliot’s partner, broke a leg at an X-Treme Bulls event and thus had to drop out of the Shootout. In the end, L.J. Jenkins and Austin Meiers won, an outcome I doubt anybody expected. Meiers probably benefited most from the Shootout, since his 2008 season, both before and thereafter, was, er, not what he’d hoped it would be.

· The Match I Hold a Grudge Against. Of all the bad ideas broached in professional sports, the Insta-Shot Grudge Match has to be one of the worst. Sponsored by the makers of a sleazy product with even sleazier advertising, and featuring a bull painted blue for the competition, the Grudge Match’s best feature is that it vanished from view quickly when the sponsor apparently pulled out. (Uh, sorry about that.) Several readers speculated here about whether the bull’s genitals were also painted blue, and several agreed that the guy who got that job should win the Grudge Match, hands down. I guess we should be happy that our good friend Bob, the public face of equally sleazy Enzyte, has only put in occasional appearances on Versus this year. I live in fear that Bob and the Insta-Shot folks will get together, and then we’ll have to endure commercials touting aids for both enhancing the requisite equipment to screw all night long, and the energy to do so.

· The Crowning of Justin Almighty, Who Promptly Abdicated. I’ve no doubt that all the hype surrounding Justin McBride’s return to the BFTS played at least some part in his decision to retire. I don't know whether the PBR/Versus folks were as dismayed by his announcement as many fans were, but I, like anybody else who was paying attention, did see Justin McKee sheepishly running away after McBride commented about “the media” in a behind-the-chutes interview. If J.W. Hart, who is McBride’s unofficial chief booster, wonders out loud why McBride is being interviewed when he hasn’t done anything yet, you can take it to the bank that the attention is over the top.

I’m not arguing, really, that the PBR and/or Versus shouldn’t keep trying to make things interesting, but I do think once the new idea is in play, everybody should resist the temptation to micromanage the outcome. Please, guys, let’s roll with the punches, okay? Part of the fun of throwing stuff against the wall is seeing what sticks and what slides. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains. Sometimes, you strike out.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Something I Didn't Expect

As crabby, cantankerous, sarcastic, and even rude as I can be sometimes, every once in a while something challenges me to re-evaluate a long-held opinion, and I’m gratified to learn that I can change my mind and benefit from the process. 

Thus I feel no fear when I tell you that the rider I was most impressed with, and the one I ultimately ended up feeling sorry for, during the PBR World Finals is Chris Shivers. This is mostly a testimony to the fact that no matter what you think you know, you probably don’t know everything, and sometimes what you don’t know makes all the difference. It powerfully underscores the admonition “Judge not, that ye be not judged,” and gives me reason to hope that I, and everyone else, might be able to keep an open mind and thus improve as a human being.

I’ve said before that Shivers’ inclination to talk about “making money” bothers the crap out of me, and I’m perfectly willing to concede that my Southern upbringing is at the bottom of that, since I was taught growing up that talking about money is vulgar. If I had ever once in my mother’s presence asked someone what s/he paid for something, I probably wouldn’t be writing this now, since Ruby would have crammed me into a barrel and fed me through the bunghole till I was of age and she could decide whether to let me out or plug the bunghole up.

You think I’m joking, but I’m really not. Ruby grew up poor on a dirt farm in a Southern state, and she had precious little beyond determination and a rock-solid set of values to get her out of there. Some of her prejudices make me shiver whenever she takes them out for a stroll, and yet she also has a remarkable delicacy in her dealings with people that bespeaks her fundamental generosity, even for people she doesn’t know or doesn’t agree with.

I got the shock of my life several years ago when Ruby, who regards gay people with suspicion, if not some level of fear, asked me why Anne Heche had ended up in somebody’s backyard in Fresno, mumbling incoherently, just after she and Ellen Degeneres had broken up. “I think she was drunk,” I said carefully. “Oh,” said my mother. “I thought her heart was probably broken.” If I never learned anything from Ruby beyond that willingness to walk in somebody else’s shoes, I would still owe her a tremendous debt.

I guess my attitude toward Shivers started changing when he got stepped on in Hawaii two years ago yesterday and broke both his leg and his ankle. It was an ugly wreck, and an injury I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Oh, maybe on her, but still, you get my drift. This season in Chicago, Cowboy slammed Shivers headfirst into the front of the bucking chute and broke his left cheekbone and eye socket. (Maybe that’s the injury I should be wishing on she who will not be named.) That was another awful accident, and I began to feel it was time the little guy caught a break.

But when Shivers turned up at the 2008 finals after being away for nearly four months, and told Leah Garcia that the surgery he’d had to repair a herniated disc in his neck had gone great, I suddenly understood something that hadn’t been evident. 

Anyone who has ever suffered with herniated discs knows that kind of pain will eat you alive. It makes you short-tempered and peevish, and it’s amazing to me that Shivers managed to get out of bed in the morning and onto the backs of as many bulls as he did with such an injury. Shivers said that until he woke up from surgery, he really had had no idea of how bad he’d been feeling, or how good he could feel.

And he went right back to riding like the champion he is, covering five bulls in his trademark style. Then in the seventh round, he rode Walk The Line for 91.5 points, only to get thrown into the corner post and stepped on in the dismount. I have to wonder if, had he not taken that shot, he might have ridden Troubadour in the short-go, and given Robson Palermo a run for the event title. 

As it was, he finished fourth, a mere 82 points behind Palermo, and anybody who has watched the sport for any length of time knows well that 82 points is a day off for Chris Shivers. Basically, it’s one mediocre ride, and Shivers almost never turns in a mediocre effort.

I’m really glad that Shivers has gotten some relief, but the fact that he rode through that pain for as long as he did makes me respect him even more. He might be the walking definition of “cowboy up.” One thing is for certain, Shivers left nothing on the table at the finals. Every time the gate swung open, he brought it. I look forward to seeing him bring it next season.

Straws in the Wind

Sometimes it’s the little things that tell the whole tale. An interesting aspect of the coverage of Justin McBride’s retirement at the PBR World Finals was that for the first time I can recall, McBride’s discomfort with all the hoopla was increasingly evident. I don’t mean to suggest that he was rude or short when he was on camera, because he was unfailingly polite. It just seemed to me that the strain of having people in his face all the time was finally starting to show, or maybe it was just the relief of knowing he wouldn’t have to put up with it much longer that was showing.

In Fried Twinkies and Buckle Bunnies, Josh Peter describes McBride as wild and profane in the locker room, so it must have taken McBride a while to learn how to talk to the media without blurting out something inappropriate. The closest he came to outright saying he was tired of it all was during an interview early on the first weekend of the finals, when Justin McKee cornered him to talk about his ride. McBride dispensed the usual platitudes about the bull in question, but then he said something that caused McKee to immediately back off and say, in effect, he knew McBride didn’t enjoy that sort of thing.

But there was another moment, in the piece about McBride’s decision to retire, when he said that he was retiring because he didn’t enjoy riding bulls anymore and was looking forward to doing something different. He specifically said he wasn’t going to miss being interviewed and all that sort of thing, and at that moment, I thought I might have glimpsed a flash of that kid that Peters spent time with during the 2004 season.

Even though I hated it every single time the Hyping Justin machine started up on Versus, I never thought that McBride was inviting it, and on at least one occasion, he rather pointedly said that Marchi was the best bull rider in the world this season. Unfortunately, the folks who should have been paying attention just as pointedly ignored what he was saying and continued to laud him to the skies and make stupid remarks like, “The reason Guilherme is doing so well this season is that Justin isn’t riding.” I don’t think I have ever seen such an example of fractured logic in my life, and I spent several years teaching college freshman how to write a decent sentence, so I am a master at spotting fractured logic when I see (or hear) it. The coverage of the event when Justin returned, which one of my readers dubbed "The Justin Almighty Show," was just embarrassing, and I have a suspicion that McBride himself probably had the grace to be embarrassed by it.

It’s impossible to say whether the Hype Machine originated at PBR headquarters or if it was strictly something the folks at Versus cranked up, but when McBride was forced to sit out the first half of the season to nurse a shoulder injury, it became very clear very fast that somebody somewhere was panicking at the idea that there would be no conquering American hero this season. Various substitutes for McBride, including Travis Briscoe and Wiley Peterson, were offered up, and none of them worked out very well. Briscoe started off riding reasonably well, but then he also started praising God every time somebody shoved a microphone at him, and shortly thereafter his season went south. I'm not suggesting there's a connection between those two things, though it would please me mightly if there were.

After he broke his leg at an amateur rodeo, Briscoe was shuffled off center stage right smart. For a brief stretch, it looked like Peterson, who seems like a nice enough guy, was being groomed for the spot, but he is so awkward and stiff in front of the camera that it was soon clear he wasn’t the man for the job. I’m thinking specifically about the segment on whether helmets should be mandatory equipment, which featured Wiley. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody who looked so uncomfortable on television. He seems to be able to handle post-ride interviews decently, but he clearly was out of his element in a situation that required more of him.

All in all, I think McBride acquitted himself as well as he could have. He never seemed to court the hysteria, but he appears to have cooperated as much as he could stand to, and I have to think he was doing it not only for himself, but also for what he thought to be the good of the sport. I don’t believe that anyone forced McBride into retirement—I think he is leaving on his own terms and he appears to be excited about the prospect. He says he’s been riding since he was three, in which case he’s earned a rest, and certainly he is financially set to do whatever he wants with the rest of his life. He’s got a wife and a little girl to think about, and he seems to have grown up enough over the past couple of years to realize that there are conflicts between being a professional bull rider and being a husband and father. In the In Harm’s Way episode about bull riders, McBride’s wife Jill remarked that she’d like to have him home more, which I suspect is bull-rider-wife code for, “What I really wish is that he wasn’t off doing something that could get him killed every weekend.” It says a lot about her appreciation for her husband that she recognized the bull riding was something he just had to do, and it says a lot about McBride that he’s matured enough to recognize that he really doesn’t have to do it anymore.

But it is equally obvious to me that he’s relieved that he won’t have to contend with the media, at least for a while. That relief could turn out to be short-lived. As the divine Jean observed on the zonkboard yesterday, if McBride’s music career takes off, he will be dealing with fans less mannerly than those he usually encounters at PBR events. But I don’t see any signs that McBride will decide to “un-retire” if the music business doesn’t work out as he’d like it to. He is leaving the sport as a class act, and I wish him, and his family, all the best as they launch out into this new adventure.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Guest Post by Sheila

Folks, after many weeks of wandering in the wilderness of work, the Stockyard Queen just can't seem to quit posting about the PBR World Finals. I had planned to write a tribute to Adriano Moraes, but our loyal reader Sheila actually was fortunate enough to attend the finals and go to Adriano's retirement luncheon, and she has graciously sent me a report of the experiences she and her husband had there. So I am going to let Sheila's account stand as a salute to Adriano here. I am also grateful to her for generously permitting me to illustrate this post with some of the photos she made on the trip. Unfortunately, I can only post a few here, but if you click on the link, it should take you to her entire slideshow, which I recommend highly. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, with ruffles and flourishes, this guest post, and I invite you, at Sheila's suggestion, to also visit her husband's URL, where he has a PBR section as well:

Reflections of the PBR World Finals

by Sheila

The PBR World Finals in Las Vegas were the first and most likely the last finals my husband, Bud, and I will attend. 2008 was the perfect year for us to go, what with Adriano’s retirement party, my retirement, Guilherme’s probable win, and the 15th anniversary of the PBR.

Most of the pre-shows, especially the first weekend, were awesome with the usual pyrotechnics, music loud enough and exciting enough to get even the most complacent fan clapping or stomping their feet. But the best was yet to come—the riders and the bulls! How thrilling to see Mike Lee doing acrobatics while being lowered into the arena from the rigging overhead, and Guilherme Marchi emerging from the cockpit of a fighter jet!

The atmosphere for our 11-day stay was electric—everything from The Fan Zone, the drafts, the Meet & Greets, Flint’s radio show, the mutton busting, the hotel elevator door opening to Wiley Peterson, JB Mauney, Guilherme, Adriano, and several of their wives and children, to the main events at Thomas & Mack.

Guilherme is the 2008 World Champion! Yeah! Robson Palermo is the World Event Champion, which was a surprise. A happy one, although I’m a BIG fan of J.B. and believe his ride on Crosswired should have been the highest scored ride of the PBR’s fifteen year history! Back to Robson. He wasn’t or didn’t seem to be a contender for the title, yet he rode exceptionally well and rode one more bull than J.B. Only Guilherme and Robson rode seven of eight bulls!

As for the farewells to Adriano and Justin, I’m sad that Justin’s name was ALWAYS mentioned first and Justin was ALWAYS introduced last in the most revered position. The PBR still thought it was The Justin McBride Show.

Three Meet & Greets and no Justin. Then after the draft for the sixth round (I think) I noticed a line forming. Yes, it was Justin signing autographs, but the fans had to pass a table with two people selling Justin tee shirts and his infamous CD. I have to say that the only reason I stood in that long line in the hot sun with my sinus infection is because of the “baseball cards” of the top 45 riders in the Official Souvenir Program. Every other rider, including alternates and even a surprise visit by Cory Rasch, the bull fighters, and Flint had already signed, and if I wanted a complete set, I needed Justin’s autograph, too. I have to say that Justin was extremely charming while signing autographs and having his picture made with just about all his fans. I was civil with a smile and he smiled back and even shook my hand! I’m pretty convinced that the PBR pushed Justin into retirement by showing favoritism that he didn’t need or want. I also don’t believe that Justin wanted to constantly be in the limelight—he just wanted to ride his bulls and go home. I hope they don’t do the same to J.B. next season. They just seem to need an American for their Poster Boy!

Most of the judging seemed fair. Justin got a re-ride, but at least four others who seemed to deserve one didn’t. The crowd booed low scores for Guilherme and others, but no one booed the inflated scores for Justin. I really think the PBR wanted him to win the event title.

Adriano’s Retirement Party was the highlight of the finals. Randy Bernard, Paulo Crimber, Michael Gaffney, Cody Lambert, Guilherme, Ty Murray, and some of the “suits” gave speeches which left EVERYONE in tears! When Dr. Tandy Freeman began his speech, he spoke a couple sentences in Portuguese that brought the house down! Adriano, Flavia and their three sons sat on a couch on the stage. When Adriano got up to speak, his youngest son burst into tears. Everyone had said how much they would miss Adriano and the boy evidently thought his daddy was going away. Adriano turned to him and said, “Don’t cry. I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to be your daddy forever.”

I’ve never seen a more gracious and humble champion.

A quote from Randy Bernard: “Adriano is a three time World Champion who is still signing autographs. He wants to be with his family, wants to be with his friends, wants to represent his country. To me, nothing represents a sport better than those qualities.”

Adriano said, “Don’t take pride in what you do right. You need to be ashamed of the things you do wrong, but when you do things you’re supposed to you’re just being an ordinary man.” He also said that when he died, he wanted his headstone to simply read, “Here lies a good man.”

As for Vegas, the transportation was horrid and expensive. Since the events are spread out from hell to breakfast (one end of town to the other) and even back-to-back, it was difficult enough on the fans, let alone the riders! The final round was at 11:30 a.m. and most of the riders arrived before 10:30 in limos and shiny Ford trucks to walk the red carpet one last time.

At the awards banquet, when Guilherme was introduced as the 2008 World Champion, Justin McBride was the FIRST person to stand and applaud!

Bud and I aren’t “Vegas” people! We didn’t and don’t gamble, the shows we attended were expensive and overrated, and we missed our home cooking! Don’t get me wrong, we love eating out, but not every meal for 11 days (unless we’re in Europe, of course!). I think Mandalay Bay used to host everything, even the first three rounds, but now everyone wants a piece of the PBR! One of the arena announcers stated that the PBR left $30,000,000 in Vegas last year! And the champion won only $1,000,000!

All in all, it was a fantastic experience. But, I’ll encourage you to go in the future and tell me all about it!

Monday, November 17, 2008

And Then There's That Little Matter of the Event Title

I would be completely remiss in my self-appointed position as humble chronicler of all things PBR if I didn’t talk about Robson Palermo’s stellar performance at the World Finals. In this case, it’s not a chore, it's a pleasure. Palermo has been one of Montana Barn Cat’s favorites since he first appeared on the BFTS in 2006 (the nickname “Jungle Boy” had a lot to do with his enthusiasm), and over the 2008 season, he grew on me, as well.

In many ways, Palermo was riding under the radar till the very end of the finals. Guilherme Marchi’s quest to win his first world title was the main story, and rightly so, but there were also the retirements of Justin McBride and Adriano Moraes to distract us, and of course J. B. Mauney started off riding like a house afire, winning three of the first four rounds. Renato Nunes and Valdiron de Oliveria were both in the running for the world title, as much as anybody could be, given Marchi’s commanding lead.

And then along came Robson, just quietly getting the job done. He rode seven of his eight bulls, only getting bucked off Voodoo Child in round two. Certainly there’s no shame in that—Voodoo Child has only been ridden once in nine outs over the past two seasons. And the more he rode, the higher he seemed to score. His lowest score came on the third night, when he got 85.75 for staying aboard Lost in Paradise. He ended up with three 90-plus point rides, and finished off the short-go by riding Camo for 87 points. It seemed like the judges suddenly woke up that second weekend and realized Palermo was coming up on the outside, and closing on the finish line fast.

All this was an amazing display of consistency and style on Robson’s part, but it is doubly interesting when you consider that he was out with injuries a lot of the season. He rode in 27 of the 33 events, which is no slouch, but also isn’t going to put you in a position to win the world title when several of the top contenders are getting to every event.

His injuries over the past year read like a litany of the kinds of accidents bull riders are prone to. He started off the season riding really well, and almost immediately started getting hurt. In January, he sprained his lower back roping cattle. (Pay attention, boys—maybe it would be wiser to lay off the stuff that doesn’t pay the bills.) Two months later, he fell on his head in Kansas City and suffered a concussion. A week after that, he separated his left shoulder in Tacoma. Another couple of weeks later, and a bull whacked him with his horns and bruised Palermo’s neck. In the first week in April, he got stepped on in Albuquerque and was out for a bit with a bruised leg. When he returned to competition in Omaha in mid-April, he broke his left leg and was out for a month. He came back in San Antonio and sprained his left shoulder again. At the end of June, he sprained the thumb on his riding hand. A week later, he separated his right shoulder when he hit the ground. (I guess he wanted his shoulders to match.) In July, riding with torn cartilage in his left shoulder, he butted heads with the bull and sustained another concussion and bruised up his face. In the middle of August, he finally came to his senses and took some time off, returning in time to compete for Brazil in the World Cup in Chihuahua, Mexico.

Just reading Palermo’s injury report makes me hurt. Incidentally, Robson is a small guy—5' 6" and about 120 pounds. The PBR commentators are always harping about how tiny Brian Canter is, but Palermo is only about four inches taller (assuming Canter is telling the truth about his height, a fact that in my experience most men—particularly short men—either fudge or outright lie about), and he weighs about the same as Canter did before he broke his jaw in August. Palermo is stockier than Canter, but nobody that small is built to take this kind of punishment. It’s hard enough on the big stout guys.

When Robson finally came back, it took him a while to find his groove, but find it he did, and the quarter of a million dollar pay-off had to make all those bumps and bruises feel a little better. He finished the finals ranked sixth in the world. Though I said in an earlier post that Guilherme was peaking just in time for the finals, in hindsight it’s clear that Guilherme never peaked. He just rode, consistently and well, for the entire season. Palermo is the one who peaked, at just the right time. He cowboyed up, and he’s got the buckle to prove it. If he can just stay healthy (and obviously in his case, that’s a big “if”), he has a bright future in the PBR.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Brass Tacks

Now that I have offered up my congratulations to My Main Man Guilherme Marchi, and handed out my gold star award for the best ride of the PBR World Finals, it’s time to consider the very best part of the entire seven-day event: the bulls. This was the most exciting finals I’ve ever watched, and practically all that excitement was because the bulls Cody Lambert wrangled were the best in the world.

Let’s face it—Marchi’s sizable lead going into the finals made it all but impossible for anybody to catch him. As Justin McKee observed several times, any rider coming up behind him would have had to ride EVERYTHING, and Marchi would have had to fall off EVERYTHING, for anyone else to have had a fighting chance at taking the championship away from him. As nervous as we were, we all knew in our hearts that that wasn’t going to happen, didn’t we? Renato Nunes, in second when the event started, was riding just over half his bulls. That’s a commendable stat in a sport in which anything over about 33 percent is rare, but it still means he was getting bucked off half the time. J.B. Mauney, who rode four bulls and won three go-rounds before getting dumped in round five, ended up riding about 60 percent of the time. Marchi was riding about 75 percent of the time when the finals started, and he was riding just about that when the dust settled last Thursday night. Nothing and nobody was going to beat Marchi—he would have had to beat himself, and short of an injury serious enough to knock him out of competition entirely, he was not going to be beaten. No how, no way, Copperhead Slinger notwithstanding.

As much as we love watching Guilherme ride, as much as we wanted to see him win after three seasons as the bridesmaid, what that all could have added up to is one dull World Finals. Frankly, when I watched the first round on Halloween night, I got worried that it was going to be duller than dishwater, what with the Pussy Pen in the house and boys who’d hardly ridden all year sticking like they were glued to their bulls. Thank heaven the Rank Pen showed up on Saturday and set things to rights. As a matter of fact, since I’m queen of this stockyard and I can do anything I damned well please, I am unilaterally disregarding ALL the bulls that competed that Friday night, unless, like Ricky Bobby, they bucked again later in the week and somewhat redeemed themselves. Don’t come talking to me about Cool Whip, Milk Man, Deviled Egg, and their like. I'm having none of it.

If you look, just as an example, at the results of round two, when the rank bulls fought their first engagement and kicked the stuffing out of 36 of the 50 riders, that list of 36 bulls reads like a Who’s Who of bucking bulls. At the risk of boring you senseless, I’m going to reel them off: Major Payne, Chicken on a Chain, Jacob’s Pet, Commotion, Lucky Strike, Bovine Prime, Little Mr. T, Fist Full of Dollars, Pandora’s Box, I’m a Gangster, White Magic, Say I Won’t Gunner, Unabomber, Bones, King Solomon, Full Throttle, Party Time, Show Time, Big Bucks, Hot Stuff, All In, Apache Leap, Raisin’ McCain, Camo, Fire Bird, Cactus, Voodoo Child, Avalanche, Cooper, What I Say, Bad Blood, Zorro, Silver Wings, Spit Fire, Rez Boy, and Billionaire.

There they are, the best of the best, the ones we've seen dozens of times, the ones we'd never seen before, all with blood in their eyes and fire in their bellies, and no doubt in their minds about what their job is. And they just keep bringing it, time and again, rider after rider.

The sport owes Cody Lambert a huge debt, but as great as he is at his job, I have to believe that if he weren’t there, the bulls still would be. Their greatness is unmistakable, and the only thing that could possible stop them would be somebody somewhere deciding to even up the odds and keep the difficult bulls out of the chutes. I hope never to see that, because the bulls are why I keep coming back. A handful of riders have played with my heartstrings, it’s true, but in the end, I’m gonna dance with the one that brung me.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Sometimes, a Girl Just Has to Eat Some Crow

Anybody who has stopped by this blog knows that nobody here is shy about voicing an opinion, though one of the truly gratifying aspects of this community is that everybody seems determined to be polite. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that—I really don’t want to spend my time refereeing dog fights and tossing flamers overboard. So since I feel like I’m in the company of friends here, it’s time for me to stand up and say, Ladies and gentlemen, I was wrong, and I admit it!

Maybe it wasn’t so much that I was wrong about anything factual, or even that I was all that wrong about my attitude. You all know how I feel about J.B. Mauney. I haven’t been reticent about telling the world that I think he needs to quit throwing equipment and kicking gates and acting like he’s 12 instead of 21 when things don’t go his way. A lot of people have had it a lot worse than J.B. Mauney, have endured a lot more and done it with grace, if not with a smile, and it wouldn’t hurt him to think a little about his place in the great chain of human suffering and cool his jets.

And if there’s one thing I’m sick of hearing, it’s that J.B. is a perfectionist and “he’s just upset with himself, that’s why he has to blow off some steam.” Here’s a newsflash for you: Perfectionism is not a virtue, it’s a self-serving neurosis. If you’re a perfectionist, you get to feel superior to everybody because obviously you’re so much better than they are, what with your excellent skills and your can-do attitude and your detemination not to let anybody work harder than you do, but you still get to flagellate yourself when you fall short of your own impossible standards. And you will, because you’re human. What could possibly be better? There’s no way to win, which is the point of perfectionism. Nobody wins, ever. Especially those of us who have to suffer the aftermath.

My vocation is one of the least forgiving imaginable—if you let a spelling mistake get into print, you are likely to hear about it literally for years—so a long time ago, I decided that the best course of action if you fuck up is to fess up, and do your best to fix it. One of the dividends to this approach is that it almost always stops your critics in their tracks—it’s like they can’t believe someone will actually step forward and say, “I made a mistake, and I’ll take care of it.” If they are ungracious enough to keep harping on the subject, the next thing I say is, “What do you want me to do, jump out the window?” That usually shuts them up, right smart. People who think they're always right have no sense of proportion, generally. It's one of the qualities that makes them so endearing.

All this has been a very roundabout (and most likely, not very interesting) way of getting to the point of this post, which is that my feelings about J.B.’s post-ride antics had begun to rub off on my appreciation for his undeniable talent. I actually was starting to wince whenever he climbed into the chute, because I dreaded the possibility that I’d have to watch him slamming his fist into the gate or throwing his bull rope at some innocent bystander. But I have adjusted my attitude somewhat, enough, at least, to proclaim my opinion that J.B. Mauney had the best ride of the PBR World Finals.

No, not on Troubadour, who looked like he had been hanging out at the craps tables all night long before he finally staggered out of the chute a week ago Friday. Not on Ricky Bobby, Boogie Board, Cat Man Do, or Fist Full of Dollars, rank as most of them were. In round four, on Crosswired. I can’t remember when last I saw a bull kick so hard and jump so high, and get stronger and wilder with every jump. He looked like Reindeer Dippin in his prime, like he was going to hit the rafters the next time he went airborne. And I can’t remember ever thinking, before last Friday night, that a rider awarded more than 90 points didn’t get his due. 93.75? Why not 95 or 96? Oh, I forgot—the bull “never went into a spin.” I’m sick to death of hearing that, too.

I guess I should say, in my own defense, that I have never doubted that J.B. could ride the rankest of the rank; I just have a problem with his acting out. But in the spirit of the sport, I have to tip my hat to him this time, and to that 1,500 pound red bull from D&H Cattle Company. Last Thursday night, you both made your mammas proud.

Monday, November 10, 2008

All Hail, Guilherme Marchi!

Since the last four nights of the 2008 World Finals added up to the greatest extravaganza of bull riding I’ve ever been privileged to witness, I have decided that I need to bite it off in little chunks to have the remotest chance of doing it justice. So I have to start by paying my respects to the great Guilherme Marchi, the PBR World Champion for 2008.
It is almost impossible to adequately summarize what an amazing season Marchi has had. Of course, I could always turn to the stats—five event wins, 15 times in the top five, 19 times in the top 10, 13 90-plus point rides, 14 consecutive rides, seven rides out of eight at the finals, and an overall riding percentage of 74.75—but one stat really tells the whole tale. Marchi competed in 33 events this season—every single BFTS held this year. Only four of the top ten riders accomplished that, and besides the good fortune to avoid serious injury, this achievement points to single-mindness and concentration on all their parts. Marchi, however, extended his single-mindedness and concentration beyond just getting to the event, to climbing on the backs of 99 bulls and riding 74 of them. His mastery of the mechanics is just amazing to see, and he did it again, and again, and again, all season long.
And was there ever anybody happier to be competing? Was there ever anybody so set on being the bride, not the bridesmaid, this time around? Was there ever anybody so determined to conquer the challenges he faces, whether it’s riding a rank one or speaking a foreign language in front of thousands of fans in the arena and tens of thousands more out in the television audience? Was there anybody within earshot whose heart didn’t rush out to him when he proclaimed Sunday night that he was “living my American dream”?
Was there ever a more manly moment in all the history of the PBR than right after Guilherme won the title Saturday night, when that grey-haired gentleman beside him atop the cage kept hugging him and kissing his cheek? Oh, maybe there was—that moment when, down on the arena floor, Marchi and Adriano Moraes collided in a cosmic bear hug, and the confetti and the cheers kept cascading down on them like blessings. I don’t know if there was a dry eye in the house in Vegas right then, but I can tell you, there weren’t any in my living room.
It remains to be seen whether Guilherme Marchi will become the first to win back-to-back world titles, but if he never climbs on the back of another bull, he has earned his place in the panoply of champions, not just because of his riding, but also because of his attitude and his conduct. He is a worthy successor to the mantle of Adriano Moraes, and an excellent representative of the sport. I will never forget the show he put on for us this season. My heartiest congratulations, Guilherme Marchi! We hope to see you back in Vegas, leading the pack, this time next year.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Bull Diaries

Good afernoon, folks, the Stockyard Queen now brings you, with mixed emotions, the latest installment of SoCal Jay's adventures in bull riding mania. I'm feeling a little sad because soon SoCal Jay will no longer be a rookie and he will become as jaded and cynical as, er, I am. But in the meantime, I invite you to enjoy his wide-eyed wonder as he experiences the finals of our beloved sport for the first time. Remember when we all felt that way? Ladies and gentlemen, I present:

Episode Six: “Omygawd” all over again

Seeking relief from the painful pressures of the presidential election, and noting that the Las Vegas finals were in progress, I reviewed the first five or six rounds of the competition, this morning. I was blown away. Again.

Mind you, it ain’t easy to appreciate the finer nuances of ANYTHING on the screen of a 12-inch iBook, but even so what I watched was stunning, thanks to the PBR website.

To cite but one example, how in the HELL does Guilherme “All the ladies love me” Marchi ride that bull in round five (if memory serves) called “Scaredy Cat”? With one hand? How does a man or anyone at all DO that?

I dunno. I just know it blows my ever-lovin’ mind. The courage of it. The folly of it. It’s insane, clearly, but it’s also beautiful

Meanwhile, I’m quite sure the bulls themselves think: “Yeah, well, all that’s well and good. But give us 10 seconds, or even 20, and THEN see what happens.”


Not that most humans would ever consider riding a bull for fun, let alone to make a living. And bulls certainly don’t think in such existential ways. Still, I wonder about such things, which prolongs the simple fact that I need to mow the yard, today.

Monday, November 3, 2008

How the PBR Saved My Life

Gather round, children, for I need to testify. I am weary with well (and not so well) doing. This fall has been one of the most difficult of my life, what with a sudden windfall of work that started in early September, issues with family and friends too far away for me to lend much more than moral support, ailing pets, and this damned presidential election. Folks, I am worried and flurried and sometimes almost paralyzed, checking the polls and the news and declaring that I’m THROUGH watching any political coverage, only to be lured back almost immediately for another fix. This is what addiction feels like, and I don’t like it one bit, but I seem to be helpless to do anything about it, which is the other part about addiction, of course. Only two things are going to pull me through, the first being that come Wednesday morning, one of those guys will be our guy and it will be time for all of us to set aside what divides us and come together to support him and one another. And come Thursday night, the PBR Finals will be back on Versus.

I truthfully cannot express what a relief it was to think about nothing for three days running besides riders and bulls. Thursday night, which was without a doubt the most boring PBR performance I’ve seen since the big Tulsa debacle, I quite literally watched with tears of gratitude running down my face, so great was my relief at being able to forget all this other crap and only pay attention to what was going on in Vegas. Which wasn’t much, let’s be truthful. If ever a bunch of bulls were worthy of the name “Pussy Pen,” the crew that bucked (using the word kindly) on Thursday night was it. I cannot for the life of me figure out why the PBR always runs in the easy bulls on the first night of the finals, unless they are looking to drag some unknowing passersby in off the streets of Vegas and charm them with the spectacle of a bunch of guys twirling around atop bulls that should by now be on their way to Burger King. But you know what? I didn’t care! I didn’t give a damn that it was boring, all that mattered was that it was bull riding.

And then came Friday, when the rank pen showed up and cowboys went flying hither and yon. Only 14 managed to stick for eight seconds, which is just about right, in my book. Weren’t the bulls wonderful? Bones and Major Payne and Chicken on a Chain and all the rest? I could watch Bones throw Justin McBride into the dirt every day for the rest of my life and not get tired of it. So what if J.B. Mauney managed to ride Troubadour? I don’t care what anybody says, that bull had a bad night, for which J.B. should be thanking his lucky stars.

The other good news this weekend is that even though J.B. won two rounds and now leads the event, our man Guilherme also rode all three bulls and trails J.B. by a mere three points. Three points! Don’t go getting a big head yet, J.B., ’cause it ain’t over till it’s over. If Marchi were to win both the title and the finals, I’ll think I’ve died and gone to heaven. Adriano also is looking good, though Smash Hit just flat beat him on Sunday afternoon. He’s riding with concentration and confidence, and I’d love it if he won the finals. That’s one notch on his belt that he doesn’t have yet, and I know I’ll be crying my eyes out when it comes to pass.

So I’m feeling a lot better now, thanks to the PBR finals. They came at just the right minute to save my sanity, for sure, and quite possibly my marriage, since I think if Montana Barn Cat hears me screaming my political point of view at the television just one more time, the next stop might be divorce court. I only have to make it through two more days, and the election will be a done deal, and when Thursday rolls around, I will be well and truly ready to kick back and watch the bulls buck.

Just one plea about the election: Please, folks, if you haven’t already done so, get yourselves to the polls tomorrow and vote. Don’t ever forget that people have died to secure you that right and privilege. I’ll see you here Friday morning, when I plan to post the first of four posts in four days about the finals. Come on back and see me, hear?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Life is Messy

Friends and colleagues, we have arrived at the precipice and now we are looking over the edge and asking ourselves, where did the season go? It seems only yesterday I was bitching about how the PBR had cancelled the Cincinnati event at the last minute— remember that? It was nearly a year ago now! How time flies when you’re having fun!

But we’ve weathered it, all 33 BFTS events, a few Challenger events, the Team Shoot-out, and the Grudge Match, and in two weeks, we will all be glued to the tube, watching the finals in Vegas. If my circumstances were a little different, I’d probably be grateful for the break, since once Vegas starts up there will be no let-up, but I’ve worked at least part of every weekend for the past month, so I’m actually a little bummed that I’ll have no PBR action on my first full weekend off. Maybe I better look for another little job to fill in all the empty hours.

I always get a kick out of the Mohegan Sun Invitational, because it’s at that totally insane Indian casino up in Connecticut, and the interior shots of the crazy waterfalls and so forth cheer me right up. And generally speaking, I was okay with the way the event panned out, since the only competitor who gained any ground on Guilherme was Valdiron. But I would be cheating myself (and my loyal readers) if I didn’t offer up some acerbic observations on the event in particular and the sport in general. I have to warn you that most of what follows is based strictly on my personal prejudices, and of course you are welcome to disagree loudly in the comments field if you feel so moved. Of course, if you want to agree or just “jine in,” as they say where I grew up, you are equally welcome.

Cowboys who came back too soon

There are three riders in particular who have come back from pretty serious injuries recently, and every one of them should have just skipped this event (and quite possibly a few earlier ones) and tried to heal up for the finals. They include Brian Canter (head laceration and broken jaw) and Travis Briscoe (broken leg), neither of whom has ridden worth a damn since returning, and Beau Hill, who is riding with broken ribs and makes me want to mainline morphine every time I watch him climb aboard. I suppose I can’t really understand the pressure on these boys to ride, and of course I know nothing about their financial solvency (or lack thereof), but I find it hard to believe that the chance to win some money will make up for a punctured lung and a long hospital stay in Las Vegas. Canter in particular looks to me like he’s lost all confidence, and why wouldn’t he? He was lucky to get out of that wreck alive and unless he is totally absent upstairs, he has to have thought about that at least once in a while during his extended convalescence. My thanks, by the way, to reader Sheila (Flash of Blue), who pointed out after Hill got hurt that he, too, is a member of the class of 2005.

Cowboys who need to consider a different line of work

In this category, we find various and sundry individuals at various and sundry points in the careers, but did that ever stop me? I hereby recommend that Ned Cross, Matt Bohon, and Jared Farley all take some time off and reassess their options. None of them has ridden squat lately, and frankly it’s a miracle to me that any of them are going to the finals. I’d throw Luke Snyder in that pile, as well, but he’s riding about 50 percent of the time, so it must be my imagination that every time he gets on, I see him flying through the air well before the whistle. I know he won Rookie of the Year about a million years ago, and I know he’s got that Titanium Man thing going, but enough is enough. Bohon in particular looks like he needs to go back to Cole Camp and think about what he might like to do with the rest of his life. Today.

Cowboys who need to retire

In the enough is truly enough category, I put Brian Herman and Ross Coleman, who have both ridden well and badly throughout the season and who just seem to be to be taking up oxygen. Both of them seem like nice enough guys, but I’m ready for some new blood.

Another cowboy who should hang it up is Mike Lee. I’ve never been able to get any sense of Mike’s personality and I gather I’m not alone in that, since even a lot of the other riders seem to find him an enigma, but I really think he’s suffered so many head injuries that the next one could cause him permanent harm, assuming that hasn’t already happened. You have a wife and twin baby boys, Mike, and career winnings of better than $2.5 million. If you won’t give it up for your own sake, do it for them. And for us. None of us likes seeing you lying on the ground while Tandy tries to get you to tell him what your babies’ names are.

And Ednei Caminhas really has to go. He just barely managed to qualify for the finals this weekend, and he practically said himself that it was because he screwed around all season long and then got caught up short when he realized he might not get to go to Vegas. I’d say the fire is gone. Unless you’re planning to sign up for some motivational course during the off-season, make this the last trip, Ednei. It’s time to go home.

Cowboys who need help
If Mike Lee doesn’t retire (and of course he won’t, because he was raised up by a maniac who practically forced him into the sport), then Dr. Tandy or somebody who cares about him should really insist that he go see an expert on head injuries and get the straight skinny on what his status is. I’m not a doctor (though my family is riddled with doctors like some are riddled with cancer), so this is based strictly on my observations, but I don’t think Mike is the same guy I saw the first few years I watched the PBR.

Another dude who needs serious professional help is J.B. Mauney, whose antics after he fails to ride are wearing thin. This weekend, Ty Murray went on and on about how he loves to see that kind of passion, but I say that anybody who throws a temper tantrum before he even gets out of the arena either needs a spanking, like your mamma used to give you when you acted up in the grocery store, or some counseling. People who hit inanimate objects sometimes do hit other people and animals, you know. At this point, the best we can hope for is that he’ll break a toe or a hand instead of cold-cocking some innocent bystander or cowboy who has the poor judgment to mouth off at him. The facts of life tell us that everybody falls off his bull sometimes. Cool your jets, J.B., and show us you can act like a mature individual who takes the bad in stride. If you can’t do it on your own, go talk to somebody who can show you how to cope.

Pleasant surprises
Two riders I was really pleased with this past weekend are Robson Palermo, who is also back from an injury and riding well, and Zack Brown, the bright thread running the wrong way through the pattern and throwing everything off balance. Given how well he’d done early in the season, I’m not entirely stunned that Palermo is back in a big way, but Brown has ridden so hot and cold that it’s a pleasure to watch him when he’s hot. I hope both of them do well at the finals—it would be great if they could end their seasons the way they both started off.

Bulls to watch
Several bulls performed exceptionally well at Mohegan Sun, and since we might not see them again this season, I want to tip my hat to Catie Did it, Whiplash, Hammer Handle, Lil Wicked, and Lil Feller.

But I have to save my big salute for Sir Patrick. What a magnificent animal he is! Owned by Chad Berger, Clay Struve, and Julie Rosen, he has 59 outs on the BFTS and has been ridden only nine times—an 84.7 buck-off rate. He always has the same trip—one big lunge out of the chute with his heels about touching the ceiling, into the spin and then reversing with a sharp, whipping action, and in about 4.15 seconds, the cowboy is usually flying off the bull’s butt and Sir Patrick is ambling to the exit. I could watch him buck all day long.

And guess what—according to the PBR stats, Sir Patrick also is a member of the class of 2005. His first out in the BFTS was in Columbus, when he dumped Sean Willingham and got a bull score of 42.5. Some things never change.

The finals have been a long time coming, haven’t they? Let’s hope they are worth the wait. I could say a lot more as preamble, but for now, I’m ready to park it in front of the television and watch it all play out. See you in Vegas!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Oh, Sweet Bird of Youth

Gentle readers, I greet you today somewhat mollified because on Sunday afternoon, having worked most of Saturday, I managed to watch one hour of X-Treme Bulls in Cody, Wyoming, four hours of the PBR in Cincinnati, and a bonus hour in the form of CW’s series “In Harm’s Way,” which focused on professional bull riders. Thus, I feel like I finally managed to get enough bull riding into my system to keep me from just going crazy under this huge pile of work. Not that I’m complaining about having plenty to do. I feel really fortunate to be in that position, given the way the economy is imploding all around us.

Had I to rank my bull-riding watching, I’d have to say (sorry, Jean and William) that the X-Treme Bulls event, filmed over the 4th of July weekend, just did not cut it. It was pleasant to see the old stomping ground, of course, what with the mountains looming up behind the Cody Stampede stadium, but frankly, the riders were nothing to write home about and the bulls, er, sucked. The only bull I recognized was Nervous Waters, who appears to be on the downhill slide to the packing plant, but he did manage to buck his rider off right smart. One thing I did like about it was that the scores were relatively low, but since just about every cowboy managed to ride, that didn’t help my attitude much. And I was really conflicted about seeing Wesley Silcox, because it only reminded me that after he and Dustin Elliott won the PBR Team Shootout in Molalla, Oregon on August 9, Silcox got stepped on during an X-Treme Bulls event in Bremerton, Washington, on August 24 and suffered a broken leg. I am not sure whether he’s been back in action since, but at the very least, it had to slow him down some.

The PBR events in Oakland and Cincinnati did calm my nerves some, since Guilherme Marchi is riding rather better than he was. He got bucked off his bull in the short-go, but he still came in sixth overall, and J.B. Mauney, Mike Lee, and Valdiron didn’t gain any ground on him. I’m not quite ready to relax totally, but maybe I won’t wake up sweating, worrying about Marchi for a while.

By far the most interesting, though, was the CW show, which documented the run-up to the Tulsa event this season. Naturally it focused way more on Justin McBride than I would have liked, ending up with his 94.5 ride on Voodoo Child. But it also featured Robson Palermo, who is one of my favorite riders, and Mauney, who is not. I was happy to see that Palermo has apparently settled down in Texas with his family and seems to be doing well. But a good portion of the show dealt with Paulo Crimber, who appears to live fairly close to Palermo and was hanging out with him at the ranch. Palermo remarked that Crimber, who was tricked out in the biggest cervical collar I’ve ever seen, had only a 1 percent chance of returning to riding bulls. I hadn’t heard that, of course, since it seems like we never hear much about the truly badly injured on PBR broadcasts. What was the last time you heard Tandy Freeman talk about Paulo Crimber? Chris Shivers? Lee Akin? It’s almost like it’s out of sight, out of mind, or maybe it’s more like it’s bad luck to talk about it.

I am willing to consider that maybe my present state of melancholy was actually brought on by the same thing that lifted my spirits temporarily—that is, watching all that bull riding, pretty much back-to-back, while I tended to various domestic chores of a Sunday afternoon. It just reinforced how inconceivably young these boys are, and how astoundingly tough they are, and how fragile, in the end, we all are.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Class of 2005

Jacksonville is behind us, Oakland is looming, and those of us who have cheered for Guilherme Marchi all season are getting very, very nervous. J.B. Mauney, who has a bad habit of throwing stuff and kicking gates when he doesn’t ride well, is suddenly riding very well indeed, and though he has a big gap to close before he can hope to beat Marchi for the world title, it’s certainly looking like he’s making a real run for it. There’s a saying in sports that you want to peak at the right time, and Mauney, who has ridden hot and cold all season, does appear to be peaking just in time for the mad dash to the finals. To make matters worse, Marchi is now riding hot and cold, falling off about every other bull, and though he is still gathering up a few points, I’m worried sick that the long season is finally taking its toll on him. Obviously, I’ll be on the edge of my seat this weekend, twisting my hands and cheering him on. I don’t think I will be able to stand it if Marchi chokes this late in the game and comes in third for the fourth time.

In other news, FINALLY the higher ups at the PBR seem to have figured out that we’ve heard enough about Justin Almighty already, thank you very much. Perhaps the body slams the Grand Rapids coverage took on Keith Cartwright’s blog sobered them up a little. Of course, PBR fans are not a shy bunch in general, but still, I’ve not seen before a such concerted and well reasoned outcry before I did to McBride’s miraculous 7.7 second ride that won him $15,000 and put him over the $5 million mark in career earnings. A whole lot of folks were just plain pissed off, and they said so, right on the PBR’s website.

At any rate, in Jacksonville, Craig Hummer and J.W. Hart managed to curb their enthusiasm and get on with the event at hand. Justin McKee, of course, still had to race right down and interview McBride after he rode a wimpy bull to a standstill for a mediocre score, but even McBride’s good buddy J.W. couldn’t resist asking why he rated an interview when he was in about sixth place at that point. McBride had the grace to say he was wondering the same thing, so maybe we can hope that McKee will also take the hint and go talk to somebody else this coming weekend. Anybody, please. The janitor, if nobody else comes to mind.

Having said all that, though, something occurred to me when L.J. Jenkins’s bull fell on him, and I went to the PBR website to check it out. What I found out is sobering in a creepy kind of way, but I’m no different from McKee, I guess—I can’t keep my mouth shut when it comes to this stuff. No doubt it is entirely coincidence. I do not believe in jinxes or bad omens or anything like that, but it did give me pause when I realized that four of the boys most seriously injured this year came onto the tour in 2005.

Maybe I’m more cognizant of this than I would ordinarily be because the 2005 season was the first one that we could really watch with total concentration. We had moved from Maryland to Montana late that winter and by time the new season started up, we were pretty much settled. The fact that we had scored a big new wide-screen TV, courtesy of the Costco Cash we got for using one of their preferred mortgage lenders, didn’t hurt anything. For the first time, we were seeing bull riding like SoCal Jay saw it last weekend, up close and personal, dirt, dust, bull snot, bullshit, and all, and we fell in love with the sport all over again.

So that class of rookies stuck with us in a way that perhaps others have not. Of course riders come onto the tour whenever they qualify (which also depends on when the PBR cuts its lowest scoring riders), so it’s not like all those guys showed up for the first time on the same day, but still, the PBR website lists 2005 as the first year of competition for Travis Briscoe (out with a broken leg), Brian Canter (recovering from a gash to the back of his head and facial fractures, including a broken jaw), and Kasey Hayes (finally back on tour after breaking his neck early in the season). L.J. Jenkins actually is listed on the site as having ridden in 2004, but since there are no stats for him that season, I am ruling unilaterally that 2005 also was his rookie season. Please don't try to change my mind by pointing out facts to the contrary.

I certainly don't want to try to dissect which of these various injuries was the worst, but L.J.’s was certainly the weirdest, what with the bull racing off down the arena, stumbling over the barrel, and falling with L.J. aboard. At first I was sure he’d fractured a leg, but when he got up with his arm drooping, I knew for certain it was a broken collarbone. I broke mine when I was a kid and once you’ve experienced it, or seen it, you will never mistake it for something else. It’s not an easy injury to recover from, either, since there’s no way to really set the bone if you don’t opt for surgery to pin the broken pieces back in place. As of last weekend, L.J. hadn’t decided to go under the knife. Take my advice, L.J.—go ahead and get it over with. You’ll be better off in the long run.

So now it’s looking questionable whether any of these guys will be back for the finals, although Canter might be the closest to getting back in the game. Of course, as Tandy Freeman observed last week, Canter’s jaw has been wired shut since he got hurt, so he’s lost “about 10 percent of his body weight—about 10 pounds” (with accompanying snickers), but a 10 percent weight loss resulting from an injury is no joke. Let’s just hope Canter’s mom, or his girlfriend, or somebody is feeding him milkshakes and protein drinks through a straw so he’ll have a fighting chance to get his strength back up before he comes back on tour.

As I said, I don’t want to make too much of this odd occurrence, because almost all of the riders are injured to extents minor and significant at some point during the season, but I will say, as my good friend Jan says in times like this, that I. Don’t. Like. It. Not one bit. Let’s hope that the rookies of 2005 have had all the bad luck they ever will, and that we can all look forward to seeing them ride unscathed for many more PBR seasons.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Bull Diaries

Ladies and gentlemen, the Stockyard Queen proudly presents the latest installment of Mr. SoCal Jay's ongoing initiation into the addictive sport of professional bull riding. She assures you all that she will be posting something in a day or two about the Jacksonville event, but in the meantime she begs you to enjoy this stellar contribution to the literature. Without further ado, here is:

Episode Five: Cooking Beef vs. Watching Beef Buck--an Inquiry into Values

Sugar Muffin and I arrived at the rather palatial estate of Al and Sue, up there in Arroyo Grande, just in time for cocktails. I’d no sooner put my bag down when I asked, “Are you SURE you get the Versus channel, sir?” Al assured me that he did, and directly inquired if I might care for a glass of champagne. I did.

Soon thereafter, he showed me the small, round, thick filets, each wrapped with a strip of bacon affixed in place by a large wooden toothpick. “I may need your help with these,” he said. “You’ll be fine,” I nodded. “Sear them on a medium-high heat for a minute or two on each side, then reduce the heat to cook ’em to everyone’s preference.” He replied, “It’s that ‘preference’ thing that I’m worried about. Especially when it comes to the girls.”

An hour or so later, five minutes before the start of the broadcast, I interrupted a conversation on the back porch that had something to do with the American financial crisis and related matters. It wasn’t easy. “Mr. McClaren,” I said, “Might I ask you to set me up, now, to watch the bulls?”

He took a quick look at his watch and said, “Follow me.” When an ex-Special Forces hero from the Vietnam War who was special among those most special forces says something like that to you, you follow. Within a minute, the Versus channel was on, and I marveled at the display. We’re talking a five-foot wide screen, and polyphonic sensuous-surround sound. Ye brethren, this is DIFFERENT than our little TV that we open a closet door to watch.

Well, the first ten or fifteen minutes were interviews. Quite naturally among those gathered, I suppose, I was left alone to “enjoy” these conversations. But by and by, competition commenced, and I was blown away. I could see, like, EVERYTHING. Facial twitches on bulls and men. Sponsor’s patches, in detail. Bull slobber flying in wide arcs. Superstars I recognized from essential “Turn Him Out” postings and comments. It was . . . fantastic.

Unfortunately, about 45 minutes into the broadcast of the Jacksonville Invitational, Al came to me and said, “Uh, I’m recording this, so we can watch it later, pal! Any chance you can join us out back? I could use your help on the filets.” Within the first nanosecond, I recalled how many, many times he and I had burned beef on the barbecue, and that it had never mattered before. But within the next second I recalled that there were ladies with us, this time. “Of course,” I said. “I’m right behind you.”

Well, I never saw the rest of the bull riding competition. Missed the last hour or so altogether. But I did have the opportunity, for the first time, to see some bulls and several bull-riding all-stars do their thing where I could SEE what the heck was going on! It was . . . a treat.

And Al and I only screwed up—two geniuses working together—ONE of the filets.


Saturday, September 20, 2008

And Now a Note from The Stockyard Queen

Folks, I interrupt our usual programming to warn you that our usual programming is going to be a bit sporadic for a while. For some time now, I have been trying to post at least twice a week, plus do the Daily Shout-out, and I've done pretty well up until the last week. But since the middle of August, I have been buried in requests for my services from folks who are willing to pay me for them, and my attention to the blog has been slipping a little.

So I've decided that for the next several weeks, I will probably only be posting something new once a week. The Shout-out only takes a few minutes, as I'm sure you have discerned, but if I don't do it first thing, it seems like I don't do it at all. I will try to make amends for that bad behavior and at least get that up each day. If it's not an element that you particularly enjoy, I'm sorry about that, but I get a huge kick every morning out of checking to see who's checking us out. I just haven't managed to do it at all for the past week.

Rest assured that I'm not abandoning you altogether, and please do keep commenting and zonking to your heart's content. I am very happy to have you all here--your insights and often hysterically funny observations have lifted me up during the times (some of them recent) when I despaired about whether I was throwing my life away on a bunch of boys who didn't give a rat's ass for my opinion. Most likely I was right about that, but I'm very glad to have made the acquaintance of everyone who's stopped by here. You've made my life richer in ways I never counted on, and I'm grateful to each of you for that. Please keep coming to see us, and let us know when you do.