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.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Taking Stock

The Stockyard Queen is walking the battlefield—picture George C. Scott in Patton, blithely strolling past the burned bodies and intoning, “War. God help me, but I love it so.” Well, the Stockyard Queen loves the war between the boys and the bulls, but she just can’t be quite that blasé about the mess we had this past weekend in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Let’s survey the ruined landscape and see what’s what:

1) The brilliant, acerbic, and wickedly funny Jean, one of my most devoted readers and avid PBR fans, LEFT THE ROOM on Saturday during the broadcast, unable any longer to stomach any more of the endless worship of Justin McBride that Craig Hummer, Justin McKee, and Ty Murray spewed as McBride approached the $5 million mark in career winnings.

2) William, her compatriot, TURNED OFF THE SOUND and read a book while watching the rest of the show.

3) Guilherme Marchi BROKE A RECORD FOR THE NUMBER OF RIDES IN A SINGLE SEASON and was acknowledged with barely a languidly raised hand.

4) You heard it here first, folks—I predicted this would happen a week ago and it’s obvious now that I AM PSYCHIC. Justin McBride FELL OFF HIS BULL at 7.9 seconds in the Xantrex Instanta-Shot Grudge Match and STILL GOT A SCORE. Ty Murray even stooped to say that Justin cheated fate (or the judges cheated everybody) that time. I have to confess, though, that I didn’t expect to see it happen so soon. Maybe I should challenge superhero McBride to a contest. He can try to overcome me with his super powers, and I will defeat him by predicting what he plans to do and cleaning his clock first.

4) The divine Shannon, a fairly recent convert to the PBR, is so tired of the hosannas in Justin’s honor that she posted a pointed, though also pointedly polite, objection to all the hoopla on Keith Cartwright’s blog. She also fast-forwarded through her recording of the broadcast on Sunday, so at least she didn’t have to hear most of the blather.

5) William posted an eloquent discussion of the injustice of it all on his blog. He is advocating a move to the PRCA, which I’m not prepared to do yet, for reasons that are even dumber than my usual ones.

6) Several of us who did manage to stick the broadcast out without tossing our cookies are now worried stiff that Guilherme is in a slump and may lose the world title to Valdiron or even J.B. Mauney.

7) Reese Cates, poor thing, was robbed of his first BFTS win when Mauney got a 93 in the last ride of the night and collected the big check. A 93! What is the world coming to when you can get a 93 while your ass is hanging off the side of the bull? Oh, excuse me, I seem to recall a similar atrocity a few years back at the finals involving—wait a minute—it’s coming to me—Justin McBride! I guess I should be glad that Mauney managed to ride so we were spared the sight of him throwing stuff and kicking the walls as he stormed back to the locker room, but I feel bad for Reese. And you all know Reese hasn’t always been in my good graces.

8) Worst of all, every time McBride climbs into the chute now, I find myself hoping he’ll get face planted instantly. This might not seem like news to any of you, because you all know I nearly always root for the bulls, but the fact is, up until Saturday night, the list of boys I can’t stand to see ride has been short (actually there’s only one on it, and he’s in the “for his own good” column), and that rider was not McBride. I don’t want to start feeling like that about any rider, or at least not about any more riders. It’s not good for me, but furthermore, it’s not good for the sport when folks start to feel like the judges are favoring one rider over all the others, particularly when one of the un-favored is riding better than 70 percent of his bulls, and start hoping for bad outcomes as a result.

It’s clear, though, that if Justin McBride doesn’t just flat-out FALL OFF at, oh, say, 7 seconds or less, he’s going to get a score, even if the bull ambles out to Flint’s barrel and back. On second thought, make that 6 seconds. I’m wondering if he wouldn’t have gotten a score on Stick and Stones, that bull in the PBR commercial who stalls in the chute, finally comes out and looks around, and then goes right back in, with Adriano along for the trip.

I guess in hindsight, we should have expected the weekend to start off like it did, since the most recent issue of PBR magazine features a long-ass story in which Ty Murray and Cody Lambert compare notes about how great Justin McBride is. When the PBR posted a news release about how McBride was getting close to the $5 million mark, we should have known we would hear about it till we wanted to stick our fingers in our ears and sing, “LA LA LA LA LA!” at the top of our lungs. But I am still dumbfounded by how long the praising and backslapping and genuflecting went on. It really only stopped (and most probably only temporarily) when Homer Simpson (oh, the irony!) definitively threw McBride during his last ride of the second round, which Justin McKee described as going “from the penthouse to the outhouse” in a single day.

The only good news about any of this is that it's pretty much statistically impossible for McBride to take a third world title this year, unless the unthinkable happens and Marchi falls off every single bull for the rest of the season, and McBride rides everything he climbs aboard. Oh, I guess we don't have to worry about the latter because obviously he's going to get a score regardless, but we do have to worry about Marchi, who hasn't looked very good since at least the World Cup in Chihuahua.

I hope that I haven’t already reached the point that SoCal Jay was predicting for me a few weeks ago, when he observed that when we wide-eyed rookies start to follow any sport, we are breathlessly willing to watch anything so we can learn all about it. In the end, we are worn-out and jaded, turning the tv off because “they’re playing like pussies,” as he says of Southern California University’s football team. But I may have gotten to the point where I can’t listen to the commentators anymore, which will result in at least one casualtyThe Stockyard Queen’s Hoof in Mouth Award. I just don’t know how much more of this crap I can take, and clearly, I’m not alone.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sometimes I Feel Homeless

Friends, the divine Shannon has yet again saved our bacon by alerting us that the U.S. Border Patrol Invitational will be televised on September 13 on Versus, and then will move to Fox on September 14. Presently the Pueblo Shootout is scheduled to air on the 14th as well on ESPN2. If it weren't for Shannon, I would probably end up wandering in the wilderness over on Versus for hours, forlornly looking for my fix.

Last week's sad-sack situation on ESPN2 in particular has made me leery of posting any times--please check your local listings and pray that the gods will be relent and save us from rain delays or pinsetting delays or whatever lame excuse the folks at that network could possibly come up with for showing NASCAR instead of the Shootout, or BOWLING instead of X-Treme Bulls. I was so desperate last weekend, I would even have watched that, especially since it was the July 4th event in Cody, Wyoming, my old stomping ground.

All I can say is, I hope we will finally get some relief from our misery and see some bulls buck. I find myself alternating between bouts of the DTs, and a weirdly fading interest, which I fear might become permanent if somebody doesn't get his/her act together and deliver the goods this weekend. Let's all stay tuned!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Woe is Us

So once again, gentle readers, we were set, perched on the edge of our enormous couch with the remote pointed at the tv set Sunday afternoon, ready to see the last installment of the PBR Team Shootout before the event final in Pueblo, Colorado. And what did we get from ESPN2? NASCAR!

NASCAR? I wouldn’t watch NASCAR if my life depended on it. I swear that’s the truth. To make matters worse, I just that day got hooked, and I mean like you can on crack, on “House,” of which show the USA Network was running a two-day marathon of back-to-back episodes, and only my devotion to the sport of bull riding managed to tear me away. That, and the fact that after watching 12 hours of a show devoted to a cranky (Vicodin-addicted) doctor, diseases you can only catch if you’ve flown to China and Bali and South Africa in a three-day period, and patients being snatched back from the very jaws of truly horrible deaths, I was ready for a little mayhem not brought on by chance encounters with anthrax-infected house insulation. Some bulls stomping and slinging snot were just what the doctor ordered.

And what did I get for my trouble? The sight of a bunch of jerks in fire suits, careening around a race track at a million miles an hour, emitting 300 decibel shrieks on the turns and burning fuel like they all worked for the Saudis. No matter what Ty Murray says, I can’t get interested in NASCAR and I am starting to resent it when the PBR types compare bull riding to that alleged sport.

I kept clicking back and forth between “House” and ESPN2, hoping against hope that I would finally get the Guthrie event, but no dice. My correspondent Shannon, who was planning to watch it with her dad and who experienced the same sorry disappointment, reported that her father said there was a rain delay at the NASCAR event. So the bulls and the boys got bumped, and the unwashed majority who prefer their sports loud and dumb prevailed over those of us who just prefer them loud and unpredictable.

This morning, I searched the PBR website in hope of finding an explanation, to no avail. Mind you, that doesn’t mean there isn’t one posted—it just means that if there is, I can’t find it, and it’s not the first time. So I am hoping that Mr. Randy Bernard is raising some serious hell with those ESPN dudes, because I don’t think I can stand this kind of suspense again. It makes wondering how that poor woman got rabies and why a 16-year-old kid is bleeding from every orifice for no discernible reason start to look like entertainment.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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