Kimzey poised, focused on world title run

Sage Kimzey is not your typical 19-year-old.

The bull rider from Strong City, Okla., is an extremely articulate, determined and poised cowboy who is enjoying a breakout season with the major goal of winning a world title as his primary focus. He also just happens to be leading the PRCA world standings.

With $69,587 through April 13, Kimzey leads four-time World Champion J.W. Harris by $6,907 after a huge winter that included a share of first place at the Rapid City, S.D., Wrangler Champions Challenge event and a win in Tulsa, Okla. Kimzey also posted runner-up finishes in Denver, Odessa, Texas, and Lincoln, Neb.

Sage Kimzey

Sage Kimzey

Kimzey and Harris are more than $26,000 clear of third-place Trey Benton III, a statistic that further shows how impressive their 2014 seasons have been thus far. It has been a magical winter for the teen sensation.

“The winter has been more than I could have ever imagined it could be, and almost having the NFR made – it’s pretty nice having this much money won this quickly. It really is a dream come true,” said Kimzey, who is just $480 shy of the 15th-place qualifier’s regular-season money total from last year. “Being 19 years old and in the lead in the world standings – even though it is early in the year – it’s every kid’s dream come true to have success in the professional ranks.”

There were signs that Kimzey had the potential to break out like he has, as all he did as an 18-year-old permit holder was set the PRCA record for most money won on a permit with $47,726. He can remember the exact moment last year when things began to click.

“I went to a little open bull riding last year on May 3, I think,” said Kimzey, who was a point guard on a state title-winning basketball team at Cheyenne (Okla.) High School as a senior. “It was pretty special, because I got back number 12. The number 12 means a lot to me because it was Cody Custer’s son Aaron’s basketball number, and he passed away in a car wreck.

“I did well at that bull riding, and it really did just carry on into the great summer I had last year. It was pretty special and gave me a breath of fresh air and boosted my confidence at the same time.”

Rodeo is everything to the Kimzey family. Sage’s father, Ted, was a longtime PRCA barrelman and clown who was selected to work the NFR in 1980 and 1987. Sage’s mother, Jennifer, older sister, Dusta, and younger brother, Trey, are a professional trick riding group called Tricked Out. Dusta also competes for Southwestern Oklahoma State University – where Sage is majoring in entrepreneurship – and Trey has qualified for the National Junior High School Finals Rodeo as a bull rider.

“It’s always been my dream to be a cowboy,” Sage said. “Growing up in a rodeo family, this is all I’ve ever wanted to do.”

Sage Kimzey learned how to be a rodeo cowboy from his father, Ted, a two-time Wrangler NFR barrel man.

Sage Kimzey learned how to be a rodeo cowboy from his father, Ted, a two-time Wrangler NFR barrelman.

Many 19-year-olds might feel the immense pressure of holding the world’s top ranking bearing down on them as they compete on a weekly basis. Kimzey is not one of them.

“I’m really just enjoying it,” he said. “I don’t really get caught up in the whole pressure deal, because my job never changes. It’s man against beast, and as long as I do my job, the standings will take care of themselves.

“It’s definitely a whole new experience being 19 years old and having all of this recognition for doing so well this winter. It’s a different experience, but it’s a great one.”

Part of what is making the experience great for Kimzey is his friendly “duel” with Harris. Harris has thousands of fans across the country, and Kimzey definitely counts himself among them.

“J.W. is awesome,” Kimzey said. “He was one of my heroes growing up, so getting to ride against J.W. is phenomenal. He is one of the most level-headed guys and one of the most mentally tough guys I’ve met, as far as never getting in a slump, believing in his own ability and going out and proving it week-in and week-out.

“That’s why he’s a four-time world champion and who is going to go down as one of the greatest bull riders of all time.”

Sage Kimzey, shown here riding at the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo this past weekend, has been the top bull rider in the PRCA in 2014.  --PRCA ProRodeo photo by James Phifer

Sage Kimzey, shown here riding at the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo this past weekend, has been the top bull rider in the PRCA in 2014. –PRCA ProRodeo photo by James Phifer

The mental aspect of the bull riding game is highly important to the cerebral Kimzey. He lists Dr. Charles Garfield’s book Peak Performance as his favorite and uses its principles on a daily basis.

“Oh gosh, that book has helped me so much mentally,” Kimzey said. “It really is about the keys to winning and breaks down winning in every form of the word. It helps me keep a level head, not feel any of the pressure and escape everything and get back to the basics of winning.”

Those principles have served Kimzey well, and his mental approach to his craft is something he concentrates on quite a bit.

“It’s definitely way more mental than it is anything else,” Kimzey said of bull riding. “I’m one of those guys who believes that everything in life is 90 percent psychological and 10 percent everything else. As long as your mind is right, you can conquer anything in this world.

“The fun part of that is doing your homework by reading books to keep your mind right while you’re going down the road, because it is a 365-day grind out here rodeoing. We don’t get an offseason like everybody else does. It’s go, go, go all the time.”

And go, go, go is exactly what Kimzey plans to do the remainder of the season. He is not reducing his travel schedule just because he is No. 1 in the world right now and is a sure lock to qualify for his first Wrangler NFR.

“I’m not going to look back on this year and wish I went to one (more) of the smaller rodeos because I lost the world championship or missed going to the NFR by $5,000,” he said. “I’m just not going to let any of that come into my head. I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t live with any regrets, but at the same time, I don’t like giving myself the opportunity to have any regrets about anything.

“We’re going to try and go to 125 rodeos to max out the count. If I end up a little bit short at the end of the year, all I can do is look back and say, ‘Well, this year, I just wasn’t good enough.’”

Numerous cowboys have implemented the same approach in years past, and they have gold buckles to show for it.

This is the first in a series of monthly articles featuring Sage Kimzey and his path toward the Wrangler NFR. Each month, NFR Insider Neal Reid will catch up with Kimzey to talk about his progress, successes and setbacks as the rodeo season marches on. Stay tuned for more about Kimzey.

Back for another year of steers, spurs and shenanigans!

This is no April Fool’s joke.

I’m proud to announce that I will be back for the fourth straight year for another series of “NFR Insider” in 2014! This is the first of many columns to come as we talk about all things Wrangler National Finals Rodeo related and follow the ProRodeo stars along the rodeo trail as they march toward Las Vegas.

It’s been a blast providing insight and commentary via this blog the last three years, and I’m looking forward to exploring new and fun features and storylines as the season progresses. I will write two articles in April and May and will begin producing weekly pre-Wrangler NFR items – every Tuesday – in June, as I did a year ago.

We’re constantly looking for ways to expand and evolve with “NFR Insider,” so feel free to send in your suggestions for what you’d like me to write about this year.

I am just now over the jet lag I was stricken with after returning from Sochi, Russia, where I spent nine weeks in January through March covering the Olympic Winter Games and Paralympic Winter Games as a sports writer for the Olympic News Service. It was an amazing experience that I will treasure forever, and I hope it’s the beginning of many more high-profile events I am able to cover in the coming years.

I was honored to be part of the Olympic News Service covering the Olympic Winter Games and Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, this year.

I was honored to be part of the Olympic News Service covering the Olympic Winter Games and Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, this year.

Speaking of high-profile events, I was elated to see that the PRCA and Las Vegas Events reached a deal to keep the Wrangler NFR in Las Vegas for years to come. Las Vegas is where the event belongs, and there is no city on the planet that can compete with it as far as entertainment and fun, so the world’s richest rodeo is in good hands.

I will write more about that topic in my May column, so stay tuned for that.

I covered short track speed skating during the Olympic Games and wheelchair curling at the Paralympics, and I was blown away by the athletes I interacted with and interviewed. I couldn’t help but compare them to rodeo athletes, because they all have overcome great obstacles – including major physical injuries – to excel at a world-class level.

There were numerous parallels between Olympic and rodeo athletes, from their constant training and practicing to their dedication to their sport, often for little monetary rewards. Both types of athletes earn every dollar they take in, and they all have stories of having overcome hardships to succeed.

United States short-tracker Jordan Malone – who helped the U.S. win a silver medal in the men’s 5,000m relay – reminded me of a bull rider because of the litany of his past injuries. Malone, who also was about the same size as most bull riders, has had 16 broken bones during his inline and speed skating career, and a massive facial injury required the insertion of metal plates and screws in his face.

Sound familiar bull riding fans?

He illustrated the point by flipping out part of his bottom teeth with his tongue during our interview, reminding me of the time I first saw 2006 World Champion Bull Rider B.J. Schumacher without a trio of front teeth after a ride. They both have prosthetic teeth that help fill gaps in their smiles, and are equally tough as nails.

Olympic athletes of all kinds toughed it out in Sochi like a rodeo athlete would in Las Vegas.

Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk didn’t let a broken foot keep her from winning gold in the 10k classic cross-country skiing race, reminding me of how J.W. Harris toughed it out during the 2011 Wrangler NFR after breaking his right foot in Round 4 and eventually finished second to Shane Proctor in the final world standings.

Dario Cologna of Switzerland tore ligaments in his right ankle in November of last year, but still won gold in the men’s 15km skiathlon and 15km classic races less than three months after having surgery. That performance can be likened to a number of rodeo-related injuries that athletes overcame, but the one that comes most to mind is when bull rider Matt Austin won the 2005 gold buckle despite a torn ACL.

The parallels are amazing, and I think that’s what endears fans to both rodeo and Olympic athletes. They are examples of true grit, determination and endless heart, and it’s a heck of an honor to be able to cover them both.

Thinking about this article got me wondering which winter Olympic sports certain rodeo athletes would excel at, if any. So, I asked a couple of them.

Not surprisingly, four-time World Champion Steer Wrestler Luke Branquinho picked a sport known for its physicality.

“I would have to say hockey, just because it’s so physical and demanding on your body,” said the 6-foot, 250-pounder. “I used to ski whenever we were in Pocatello and I got a chance to, but that was about it.”

Branquinho agreed that there are many similarities between rodeo and Olympic athletes.

“I think just the mental toughness of the whole deal is very similar to rodeo,” he said. “They compete year-round and participate in preliminaries to get where they’re at too, and there are specific disciplines like in rodeo. If you don’t do well, there’s not much waiting for you at the end of the tunnel.”

Four-time World Champion Steer Wrestler Luke Branquinho says his best shot at gold in the Winter Olympics would be in hockey.  --ProRodeo photo by Greg Westfall

Four-time World Champion Steer Wrestler Luke Branquinho says his best shot at gold in the Winter Olympics would be in hockey. –ProRodeo photo by Greg Westfall

Saddle bronc rider Jake Wright, who finished second to Chad Ferley in the race for the gold buckle in December, has some experience with a highly popular winter sport.

“I think the downhill snowboard racing would be pretty fun,” said Wright, who earned more than $105,000 in Las Vegas last year. “If I put enough time into it, I think that’s something I could do. The winter before last, I went out a few times with the wife and, shoot, I got the hang of it pretty fast.

“I enjoyed the heck out of it, and if I had a little more time for it, I’d do it more.”

Wright said the cross races would be an easier start for him than trying to do tricks on the half-pipe.

“I’d start out with the racing first, but the tricks would come later,” he said.

Wright’s twin brother, Jesse, is also a snowboarding fan, and Jake said they would have a pretty good race if they squared off on the slopes.

“If I got as much practice in as he did, I think it’d be good watching,” Jake said.

Luckily for me, the Olympics and ProRodeo are always great watching.

Final-round frenzy highlights awesome 10 days

I don’t know about you, rodeo fans, but I’m spent!

We had quite a finish to the 55th Wrangler National Finals Rodeo tonight, as gold buckles and huge checks were awarded. Some champions were already determined coming into today and others were near locks, but there were also some surprises on Saturday night.

A record crowd of 18,242 packed the Thomas & Mack Center for Round 10, and they were not disappointed. From Kaycee Feild securing his third consecutive bareback riding world championship, to steer wrestler Hunter Cure winning his first, the results ran the complete spectrum on this final night of rodeo in Las Vegas.

The Wrangler NFR press room was alive with activity and buzzing all night. I arrived three hours before the performance started to get some writing done, and there were already more than a dozen people in the room.

The Wrangler NFR press room was a mob scene after Round 10, as world champions talked with the media while their friends and family looked on.

The Wrangler NFR press room was a mob scene after Round 10, as world champions talked with the media while their friends and family looked on.

Here’s what transpired on the final night, in notebook form:

Dynasty builders

Trevor Brazile secured his 11th all-around and 19th overall gold buckle earlier this week, and Saturday, he just kept making history. The Decatur, Texas, cowboy won $16,677 in the team roping, $8,113 in the team roping average and $38,762 in the tie-down roping average to become the first PRCA contestant to surpass $5 million in career earnings. He will have $5,029,313 heading into 2014. His $426,011 in 2013 season earnings is the second-highest single-season total in the history of ProRodeo (he also has the highest total, naturally) and marked the fourth time in his career he surpassed $400,000 in season earnings.

Feild won the average en route to his third straight gold buckle to become the first bareback rider to win three in a row since Hall of Famer Joe Alexander won five consecutive from 1971-75. Feild finished the season with $239,465, $41,279 more than second-place Steven Peebles, who finished second in the average. It’s clear that Feild will some day join his father, Lewis, in the ProRodeo Hall of Fame, and as long as he stays healthy, there’s no reason to think he can’t surpass Alexander’s record for gold buckles for his event.

J.W. Harris wrapped up gold buckle No. 4 in Round 9, and the future Hall of Famer is just $29,994 away from having won six in a row. Just like Feild, as long as Harris can stay healthy, there’s no reason to think he can’t win as many titles as he wants. Harris’ 4-for-6 stretch is the most dominant bull riding span since record-holder Don Gay won seven in eight years from 1974-81.

Sherry Cervi and her mare Stingray were stellar in winning Cervi’s fourth world title – her second on the horse, along with 2010 – this year. They won three rounds and placed in all 10 en route to $155,899 in Wrangler NFR earnings, more than any other contestant. Cervi takes home the Ram Truck Top Gun Award for being the Finals’ top earner, won her third career Wrangler NFR average title and $303,317 in season earnings. Mary Walker, the 2012 champion, was a distant second with $229,363.

Sherry Cervi posed for a photo while holding her 2013 world champion saddle, the fourth of her illustrious career.

Sherry Cervi posed for a photo while holding her 2013 world champion saddle, the fourth of her illustrious career.

First taste of glory

In perhaps the most shocking development of the night, two-time World Champion Dean Gorsuch missed his steer and had a no-time in Round 10. He fell to seventh in the average, leaving the door open for Hunter Cure to claim his first gold buckle in just his second Wrangler NFR. Cure went from seventh place to first after finishing third in the average, pocketing a total of $173,355 for the season. Cure outdistanced Matt Reeves by nearly $15,000 for the gold buckle and was still in shock while speaking with media after winning the crown.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet…maybe tomorrow,” said Cure, of Holliday, Texas. “I believe this is the dream of any little kid who picks up a rope or practices wrestling a little steer head dummy. I’m so very, very blessed to be here at this moment.”

Bray Armes deserves congratulations as well for winning the steer wrestling average (44.8 seconds on 10 head). He catapulted from 14th to third in the world standings after earning more than $100,000 in Las Vegas.

Tie-down roper Shane Hanchey’s average title was just enough to give the Sulphur, La., cowboy his first world championship. He finished the season with $207,672, a mere $4,105 ahead of six-time World Champion Cody Ohl. Ohl made things interesting by winning the final round in 6.6 seconds – just one-tenth of a second off his own Wrangler NFR record – but ultimately came up short because of a calf that stopped short on him and took 29.5 seconds to rope and tie in Round 9.

Hanchey’s 10-head time of 80.1 seconds broke the Wrangler NFR average record of 84.0 set by Hall of Famer Fred Whitfield in 1997. Brazile also broke Whitfield’s record by roping and tying 10 in 83.2 seconds to finish second in the average and third in the world.

The 24-year-old Hanchey, who had a final-round time of 8.4 seconds, was ecstatic about his first gold buckle that came after he started the 10-day event in 10th place in the standings.

“It hasn’t set in yet, and neither has the earnings record, and then they tell me I’m the world champion,” said the four-time Wrangler NFR qualifier. “It’s all really surreal right now.

“Once I won the first round, I knew it could be a special week, and I knew that if everything fell right, I could compete for the average win. To break the average record is truly remarkable.”

Hanchey’s $134,766 in earnings also set a Wrangler NFR record for saddle bronc riders, eclipsing Ohl’s previous mark from 2006.

Saddle bronc rider Jacobs Crawley rode 10 broncs for 778.5 points to win the first Wrangler NFR average of his career. The three-time Finals qualifier from Stephenville, Texas, finished fourth in the world with $179,446.

Twice as nice

A number of cowboys won their second career gold buckles on Saturday night. Team ropers Clay Tryan and Jade Corkill and saddle bronc rider Chad Ferley hoisted gold buckle No. 2 at the Thomas & Mack Center. Tryan edged Luke Brown by $8,529 with $179,688 in earnings in one of the year’s closest races, while Corkill’s $178,057 was $11,766 more than Kollin VonAhn. This year’s championship was the first for Tryan and Corkill as partners, as Tryan won his 2005 title with Patrick Smith and Corkill’s victory last year was with Kaleb Driggers as his header.

A third-place finish in Round 10 helped Ferley finish third in the average, which was enough to keep him more than $10,000 clear of Jake Wright for the gold buckle. Ferley finished the season with $204,432 after pocketing more than $100,000 in Las Vegas.

Ferley, the 2006 world champ, had to wait seven years for another gold buckle, and it was well worth it.

“I think the second one’s sweeter, because a lot of guys think it could be a fluke to win one,” Ferley said. “But, I think if you win a second one and have to wait that long, I can prove that it wasn’t a fluke and that I can ride broncs well. I’m just happy.

“I’m ready to go out, have a good time and am ready to get on the open road and away from a big city.”

Chad Ferley got some quality time with his daughter, Teagan, after winning his second gold buckle.

Chad Ferley got some quality time with his daughter, Teagan, after winning his second gold buckle.

MISCELLANEOUS

Cody Teel can add a Wrangler NFR average crown to his 2012 world title. The Kountze, Texas, bull rider covered his final-round bull to finish with an eight-head total of 651.5 points for the 10-day rodeo. He rode two more bulls than the second-place average finisher, Harris, and won an event-best $131,010 in Las Vegas.

Casey Colletti’s third round victory of this year’s Finals likely got lost in the shuffle Saturday night. The bareback rider spurred Pete Carr’s Classic Pro Rodeo’s Scarlett’s Web for 86.5 points and earned $59,145 at the Thomas & Mack Center despite suffering a strained MCL in Round 3.

Bareback rider Austin Foss missed the final two rounds of the Wrangler NFR with nerve damage to his fee arm. That’s a shame for the Terrebonne, Ore., cowboy, who placed in Rounds 2-4, but had to settle for 12th place in the final world standings.

My heart goes out to steer wrestler Straws Milan and barrel racer Jean Winters, who were the only two contestants to leave this year’s Finals without a paycheck. Bareback rider Jared Smith was nearly skunked, splitting sixth place three ways in Round 9 for a check for $1,002.

Barrel racer Fallon Taylor was beside herself in the press room before Round 10.

Barrel racer Fallon Taylor was beside herself in the press room before Round 10.

Well, I suppose that’s a wrap for this year. It’s been a pleasure to once again regale you with tales from “Sin City,” and I hope I have been entertaining and interesting enough to keep you from falling asleep. Speaking of sleep, I’ll soon be headed there.

Until next time, cheers!

Ten for the ages

As I sit here in the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo press room one last night this year, it’s hard to believe my 10th Finals is coming to a close.

Where did 10 years go? A decade ago, I was a greener-than-green greenhorn who barely knew the difference between a steer and a calf, didn’t know how the mark-out rule worked or what a barrier was and who was just trying to keep my head above water as I took everything in.

I’m not exactly a rodeo expert now, but I know enough to have forgotten some things, and I’ve seen a whole heap of history and amazing moments through the years. For 10 years, I’ve had a ringside seat at the Wrangler NFR to witness some of the greatest moments in rodeo as they unfolded.

Some years run together, but I have a treasure trove of great memories from the last decade here in Las Vegas. I thought about coming up with a “top 10” list and ranking my favorite moments and memories, but I realized pretty quickly that it’s impossible to rank everything one through 10.

Instead, I think I will just list them one by one in no particular order since they are unique and so different that an attempt at ranking them would be futile. Some are achievements I’ve seen happen inside the arena, others are personal experiences and then others are anecdotal or statistical.

So, here we go:

Trevor’s Triple Crown(s)

I’ll never forget what I saw Trevor Brazile do in 2007, when he became the first cowboy since Hall of Famer Roy “Super Looper” Cooper in 1983 to win a Triple Crown. Brazile won the steer roping, all-around (of course) and tie-down roping gold buckles – in that order – to accomplish the amazing feat. For good measure, he did it again three years later, except in steer roping, the all-around and team roping. Purely awesome.

Walker triumphs after tragedy

No column I ever wrote got more visceral response from fans than a pre-NFR article I wrote last year on barrel racer Mary Walker. Walker had overcome the tragedy of losing her son, Reagon, and recovered from a debilitating hip and pelvic injury to not only qualify for her first Finals at the age of 53, but went on to win the world title. Many tears were shed in the press room as Walker tried to grasp the gravity of what she had just done, and they weren’t all hers.

Mary Walker held her World Champion buckle while her husband, 1981 World Champion Steer Wrestler Byron Walker, showed off her RAM Top Gun Award and Jerry Ann Taylor Best Dressed Award last year.

Mary Walker held her World Champion buckle while her husband, 1981 World Champion Steer Wrestler Byron Walker, showed off her RAM Top Gun Award and Jerry Ann Taylor Best Dressed Award last year.

A chat with Charlie

Last year, I happened by the Wrangler NFR security office and saw country music legend Charlie Daniels hanging out in there before his performance in the opening of Round 5 last year. Knowing some of the security personnel through the years, I stepped into the room and asked Daniels if I could bend his ear for a few minutes. He was more than welcoming and offered me a seat next to him. We only chatted for five minutes or so, but he was interesting, engaging and a great interview. I just got a “good guy” vibe from him that left a nice impression on me. Yes, Charlie Daniels is a class act, and I can attest to that personally.

An exclusive with Trevor

The first year I did the “NFR Insider” column in 2011, I had the unique pleasure of not only getting an exclusive with Brazile, but the treat of doing the interview in his massive suite at the MGM Grand. I’d heard his “pad” during the Finals was something special to behold, and I wanted to get a look at it. I had known Trevor for years from my role as editor of the ProRodeo Sports News, so I felt comfortable asking him for the special access. He is insanely busy during the Wrangler NFR, but he agreed to let me have an inside look at what living the good life is like. Shada and the kids were there, and I got some great, honest information from Brazile during our informal interview. The piece I wrote is one I’m extremely proud of and one of my best-received articles from that year.

Trevor and Treston checked out the view of the strip during my 2011 interview with the King of Rodeo.

Trevor and Treston checked out the view of the strip during my 2011 interview with the King of Rodeo.

Disco fever at Studio 54

Another highlight from 2011 was my night at the now-closed Studio 54 at MGM Grand. I went to the huge casino to get a taste of the night life and ended up meeting the Studio 54 manager, taking photos of cowboys dancing on the dance floor and hanging out in the iconic night club for a few fun hours. It was a great place, and I was sorry to hear they closed it last year.

A ridiculous roping

The best team roping I’ve ever seen came in Round 9 of the 2009 Finals, when Chad Masters and Jade Corkill set the world and Wrangler NFR record with a 3.3-second run. Not only was their run blistering, but there were a total of five times under 4.0 seconds that night. The team of JoJo LeMond and Randon Adams set the world and Wrangler NFR record of 3.4 seconds earlier in the round before Masters and Corkill stole the show, and a team had to be 5.1 seconds just to win a check. It was so amazing, we wrote an article about it in the PSN early the next year.

Stran the man

Tie-down roper Stran Smith is about as good of a person as they come, and seeing him finally win a gold buckle in 2008 was a special treat. Smith had finished fourth in 2005, fifth in 2007 and survived a stroke in 2003. The consummate family man finally put everything together in 2008, and everyone in the Thomas & Mack Center was happy for the friendly Texan. I could always count on Smith for a great interview and quality insight, so I was one of them.

Like father, like son

Rodeo is all about family, and I’ve written that on multiple occasions through the years. So, to see Kaycee Feild and Tuf Cooper follow in the Hall of Fame footsteps of their fathers, Lewis and Roy, and win world championships in 2011 was pretty cool. Both of the younger cowboys are great guys, and so I was happy to see them take home gold anyway, but throw in the history and it’s a story that gets even cooler.

Lewis Feild, right, was one proud papa after Kaycee won his first gold buckle in 2011.

Lewis Feild, right, was one proud papa after Kaycee won his first gold buckle in 2011.

Perks for my pops

In 2009, my father, Jimmy, came out to Las Vegas for a few days to see the Wrangler NFR. Being a former Mississippi high school bull riding and all-around champion (1967), he had a blast seeing the rodeo. I gave him a behind-the-scenes tour and was able to give him an even more special treat one day. We were doing a pair of photo shoots with Brazile and Ty Murray, because Brazile tied Murray’s all-around record that year. Murray brought his wife, Jewel along for the photo shoots, and I was able to introduce my dad to her and Murray at the South Point. I took his picture with her, and he couldn’t have been happier (can you blame him?). I also got my picture taken with her and with Brazile and Murray as well, so it was a great day for both Reid men.

Being able to show my dad, Jimmy, a behind-the-scenes look at the Wrangler NFR in 2009 was one of the coolest moments I've had in my 10 years covering the rodeo in Las Vegas.

Being able to show my dad, Jimmy, a behind-the-scenes look at the Wrangler NFR in 2009 was one of the coolest moments I’ve had in my 10 years covering the rodeo in Las Vegas.

Terrific titlists

I’ve had the pleasure of covering some great cowboys and cowgirls the last 10 years, and it has been great to see some really good people win gold buckles. From Bobby Mote and Kelly Timberman in the bareback riding to Luke Branquinho, Dean Gorsuch and Lee Graves in the steer wrestling, I’ve seen my fair share of awesome world champs. Names like B.J. Schumacher, Matt Austin, Taos Muncy, J.W. Harris, Patrick Smith, Kelly Kaminski, Rocky Patterson and Jhett Johnson also come to mind, and I could add another 20 more with ease. It’s always fun to see good things happen to good people, and witnessing world titles being won by quality folks always puts a smile on my face.

I’m sure I’ve left something out (or maybe five things), but those are the “things” that immediately came to mind when I set out to compile this list. Maybe something will happen later tonight while new world champions are crowned that will be worthy of this list. That’s the beauty of the sport and the allure of the Wrangler NFR.

Friday the 13th not so spooky for ProRodeo contestants

Superstitions are a funny thing.

Some people let them rule their lives, while others shrug them off like a pesky fly. Most of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo contestants I talked to Friday night fall into the second category, with even the well-known “Don’t put your cowboy hat on the bed” superstition holding less and less credence with the new generation.

This was about as many people as I could find during Round 9 who were superstitious in general or felt nervous about it being Friday the 13th.

This was about as many people as I could find during Round 9 who were superstitious in general or felt nervous about it being Friday the 13th.

Try as I might, I couldn’t find any contestants with wicked or debilitating superstitions, and some of them didn’t even realize it was Friday the 13th. I couldn’t help laughing when I asked two-time World Champion Saddle Bronc Rider Cody Wright about superstitions.

“I wish I was more interesting, but I decided years ago that life is too short to be walking around cracks all the time,” Wright said.

The “hat on the bed” mantra doesn’t apply to him, either.

“I have so many kids, and the first thing they do when they come in the room is throw their hats on the bed,” said Wright, the father of five. “I’d be buying hats all the time if I went by that (superstition).”

Being a big fan of the “Friday the 13th” slasher movies, I wanted to talk to steer wrestler Jason Miller, the 2007 world champion, since he was the only cowboy named Jason. Considering he’s had a Finals in which he has only earned two checks, I thought he might want to mimic his namesake Jason Voorhees from the movies, don a hockey mask and start chasing people with a knife.

But, he was calm and collected – while still being highly frustrated – when I found him in the Justin SportsMedicine Room getting some heat on his right shoulder before Round 9.

“It is what it is,” said Miller, who has fallen from fourth to 11th in the world because of his tough week. “You have some good weeks and bad weeks, but there’s still a lot of money left. A guy still needs to stay positive.”

Miller, who said he’s not much of a horror movie fan, was hoping the Friday the 13th occurrence would help him in his quest to win another check.

“It’s Friday the 13th, and a lot of people are superstitions, but I’m not,” he said. “I’m not, so I’m probably going to win something tonight.”

Alas, his 5.0-second run left him out of the money yet again.

Miller also believes luck is something a person can control.

“You create your own luck by the way you approach life in general,” Miller said. “You can say you were unlucky, but no. If you think you’re not going to do well, you’re probably not going to do well.”

Miller’s peer, Hunter Cure, said he’s only allowed himself to be caught up in the superstition game once.

“I’m not a superstitions guy at all, however my mother-in-law set my hat on the bed here in 2009,” he said. “Every time I wore that hat from there on out, I never could seem to get the ball rolling in the right direction. So, for the Canadian Finals at the first of November, I had me a little ceremony and had a hat barbecue outside.

“Since then, the ball’s been rolling in the right direction.”

Bareback rider Steven Peebles said he tends to go against the grain when it comes to superstitions.

“I try to do the opposite,” he said before finishing third in Round 9 with an 81.5-pointer. “If there’s something everybody’s scared of, I’ll go grab it and try it.”

Bullfighter Dusty Tuckness didn’t plan it this way, but was wearing the same shirt on Friday the 13th that he was wearing last year when he was knocked unconscious at the Wrangler NFR.

Barrel racer Michelle McLeod hasn't been bothered by wearing back No. 13 this year and said she'd wear it again next year without a problem.

Barrel racer Michelle McLeod hasn’t been bothered by wearing back No. 13 this year and said she’d wear it again next year without a problem.

Barrel racer Michelle McLeod has been wearing back No. 13 all rodeo long, and she hasn’t let her be a jinx. McLeod has three cashes through nine rounds and hasn’t minded wearing the often-feared number on her back, even after tipping over the third barrel on her run in Rond 9.

“It didn’t bother me to have 13 at all, and I was hoping tonight was going to be my night being Friday the 13th and having back No. 13,” said McLeod, a Wrangler NFR rookie. “But, it didn’t work. I’d be fine with back No. 13 next year, yes.”

So, Voorhees can take his woods-lurking self back to Camp Crystal Lake, because ProRodeo cowboys and cowgirls are having none of it. In fact, they might even book their summer vacations there next year.

Talent on display at Cowboy FanFest

Fans in Las Vegas for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo weren’t restricted to seeing great rodeo action at the Thomas & Mack Center this year.

Thanks to the inaugural Exclusive Genetics Million Dollar Bucking Bull & Rider Tournament, visitors to Cowboy FanFest at the Las Vegas Convention Center were treated to high-level competition in the 1,300-seat Wrangler Rodeo Arena. Sixteen talented bull riders squared off against 24 rank bulls in a bracket-style, double-elimination tournament with big paychecks on the line.

The tournament ran Dec. 5-7 and from 9-13, with Texas bull riders Aaron Pass and Neil Holmes squaring off in the championship finale on Friday. Pass matched wits with Rajin JT, the 2010 ABBI World Champion futurity bull owned by Brad and Jamie Bays of Colorado, and they combined for a score of 95.28.

Aaron Pass won the inaugural Exclusive Genetics Million Dollar Bucking Bull & Rider Tournament with this 95.28-point ride on Rajin JT.  --Photo courtesy of Kierce Photography

Aaron Pass won the inaugural Exclusive Genetics Million Dollar Bucking Bull & Rider Tournament with this 95.28-point ride on Rajin JT. –Photo courtesy of Kierce Photography

That was just enough to edge Holmes’ 94-point ride aboard a bull named Biohazard from the Nunes Livestock string. Pass, the Championship Bull Riders’ current 2014 standings leader, pocketed $16,000, while Holmes, also a CBR regular, took home $12,000.

Aaron Pass won the inaugural Exclusive Genetics Million Dollar Bucking Bull & Rider Tournament at Cowboy FanFest.

Aaron Pass won the inaugural Exclusive Genetics Million Dollar Bucking Bull & Rider Tournament at Cowboy FanFest.

Pass, who won the 2011 PRCA Xtreme Bulls Tour event in Laughlin, Nev., was thrilled to earn the victory despite being under the weather.

“I didn’t get to ride my best, because I’ve been battling the flu and have been bad sick,” said Pass, of Dallas. “I felt weak and haven’t really eaten much all week. I’ve been really healthy this year, haven taken better care of myself, and feel it’s been proven.”

Holmes, who hails from Houston, was also a happy camper after his five-figure pay day.

“I feel like I rode well, and overall, I’m pretty satisfied,” Holmes said. “It came down to me and Aaron, and I figured whoever got that Razin JT bull would win it. Sure enough, that’s how it happened.”

The competition featured top riders like 2012 CBR World Champion Josh Barentine and Scottie Knapp, who won the PRCA Xtreme Bulls Tour event in Winnie, Texas, this year and finished 19th in the PRCA world standings. Both finalists agreed the bull riding should gain momentum and be even bigger next year.

“It’s a pretty cool event,” Pass said. “The new format is pretty exciting, and I think it will grow over the years.”

Jeff Bressler, one of the event’s announcers, agreed.

“We’ve played to packed houses here at Cowboy FanFest, and the stands have been full for all eight performances,” Bressler said. “We really wanted to put both the cowboys and the bulls – in terms of being athletes – on an even bar, and it proved to work really well. You can’t ask for much more.”

The format pleased Holmes.

“I love the idea of it, and it gives the sport of bull riding a whole new concept,” Holmes said. “It gives the riders something to look forward too and the bull riding fans and bull owners. It’s a great deal, and I don’t see it doing anything but getting better.”

Vonnie Nunes, whose bull Biohazard took home top honors among the buckers, thoroughly enjoyed this year’s competition.

“I think it’s a great event,” said Nunes, who earned $25,000 for having the top bull at the event. “You can bring the bulls to go up against the riders, and the whole bracket style really puts a whole different twist on a regular event such as a rodeo or a bull riding. Biohazard, he’s a really good bull, but is rider-friendly, so we knew it was the perfect setup for him.

“It was very cool.”

Stock contractors Tom and Vonnie Nunes (from l to r) joined Aaron Pass and announcer Jeff Bressler in the Wrangler Rodeo Arena at Cowboy FanFest after the inaugural event concluded on Friday.

Stock contractors Tom and Vonnie Nunes (from l to r) joined Aaron Pass and announcer Jeff Bressler in the Wrangler Rodeo Arena at Cowboy FanFest after the inaugural event concluded on Friday.

Like their peers, Pass and Holmes want to be in Las Vegas riding bulls in the Thomas & Mack Center.

“It’s the Super Bowl of our sport,” Pass, who plans to enter most of the PRCA’s big winter rodeos, said of the Wrangler NFR. “There’s the PBR and CBR Finals, but none of them match up to being at the NFR.”

The success of the bull riding event was evident, and the impact it had on Cowboy FanFest was apparent. Thumbs up to year No. 1, and it should only get better from here.

Canada’s Milan keeping positive attitude despite tough Wrangler NFR

Good luck trying not to like steer wrestler Straws Milan if you ever get the chance to meet him.

I mean, really, try not to like the guy. You can’t do it.

I expected the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo’s lone Canadian contestant to have a long face after another fruitless round that left him as just one of three participants without a check through eight rounds. I anticipated a tough interview and for him to be at least a wee bit ornery when he came to see me in the Wrangler NFR press room after his 9.9-second run on Canadian Night.

But the 250-pounder from Cochrane, Alberta, was nothing close to a sourpuss. You would have thought the first-time qualifier had won $50,000 and was the average leader heading into Round 9.

Canadian bulldogger Straws Milan is an easygoing guy with a big smile and likable personality.

Canadian bulldogger Straws Milan is an easygoing guy with a big smile and likable personality.

Maybe his personable and friendly disposition was the result of a Wrangler NFR rookie just being happy to have the chance to compete in Las Vegas. Maybe it was because he’s had the chance to carry the Canadian flag in the grand entry every night.

Maybe it was because he’s just a good guy.

I think it is a combination of all of the above, and I was happy to meet the 27-year-old bulldogger. I asked Milan about the burden of being the lone Canadian in this year’s Wrangler NFR field and the joy of carrying the Canadian flag into the Thomas & Mack Center each night during the opening festivities.

“It’s definitely an honor, and you want to do well to represent your country,” said Milan, whose brothers, Baillie and Tanner, are also PRCA cowboys. “There’s a little bit of pressure, I guess. The first night (carrying the flag) was awesome. It’s my first time here, and getting to carry the flag tonight on Canada Night was pretty awesome, too.”

Milan has had a nightmarish Finals thus far, with a no-time, two runs of more than 10 seconds and a 4.7-second run as his fastest of the event. He made no excuses about what has transpired, chalking his woes up to them just being a part of rodeo.

“At the start of it, I was late every time I went and wasn’t getting a good start,” said Milan, who is riding Wade Sumpter’s horse Two Guns at the Wrangler NFR. “I’ve started to get them now and have started to draw a little better, too. It hasn’t been terrible, but there are definitely some better (steers) in there than what I’ve had.”

Seven-time Finals bulldogger K.C. Jones gave Milan a nice pep talk earlier this week.

“He said, ‘Don’t get down on yourself. There’s a reason you’re here. You’re one of the best in the world,’” said Milan, who followed his father, Murry, into steer wrestling.

Carrying the Canadian flag into the Thomas & Mack Center each night has been a big honor for steer wrestler Straws Milan.

Carrying the Canadian flag into the Thomas & Mack Center each night has been a big honor for steer wrestler Straws Milan.

Milan put together a great 2013 regular season, winning big-time rodeos at Fort Worth, Texas, and Cody, Wyo., and entering the Finals 12th in the PRCA standings. It was an eye-opening campaign that has given him confidence going forward.

“This year, I concentrated a lot more on coming to rodeos down here (in the United States) and spending a lot of time at these rodeos,” Milan said. “It’s been a big boost, for sure, and I feel like I belong.”

Just having the chance to compete at the Wrangler NFR has been a thrill for Milan.

“It’s unbelievable and a dream come true,” Milan said. “It was a lot of hard work, but this beats everything. This is where everybody wants to be in December.

“It hasn’t been going well, but I know there are 200 other guys who wish they were here. So, I’m just really happy to be here. I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else.”

Straws Milan hasn't had the Wrangler NFR he would have liked so far, but he is keeping a positive outlook going into the final two rounds.

Straws Milan hasn’t had the Wrangler NFR he would have liked so far, but he is keeping a positive outlook going into the final two rounds.

Despite his troubles, Milan still has high hopes for the final two rounds.

“Hopefully, I can win the next two rounds and get out of here with some money,” he said.

With his positive attitude and an easy smile he offers quite freely, and considering he is living a dream competing in his first Wrangler NFR, I feel confident in saying Milan has already won.