Monday, November 10, 2014

The Agony and the Ecstasy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now can’t we wait to do it all again?