There are dedicated fans in every sport, but for my money, rodeo fans are some of the most die-hard enthusiasts you’ll find anywhere. The Thomas & Mack Center is filled to the hilt every night during the Wrangler NFR, with more than 17,000 people filing into the building to witness ProRodeo history in the making.
They come in sporting posters cheering on their favorites and cheer loudly at all the right times while also offering support for contestants who run into bad luck.
Many of the fans who travel to Las Vegas have been coming here for years, and there’s even a couple – Jack and Bertha Watson – who attended each of the first 50 Wrangler NFRs. I remember writing an article on them for the ProRodeo Sports News years ago, and I was amazed by their dedication to the sport.
I’m not sure if they’re back this year, but I know there are numerous fans who have been attending the rodeo for several decades. I decided to spend part of Rounds 3 and 4 walking through the ProRodeo Fan Zone, around the Thomas & Mack concourse and checking out the Cowboy Corral in the Cox Pavilion.
There are so many activities for rodeo fans to enjoy both before and after the rodeo in and around the Thomas & Mack, and it was nice to take time to see them in person instead of just writing about them for the PSN or the Wrangler NFR official program.
Located in the Thomas & Mack Center parking lot between the shuttle bus drop-off spot and the building itself, the ProRodeo Zone is a flurry of activity, with sponsor tents galore and plenty to do. The Coors Rodeo tent was rocking, with loud music, girls dancing on the bar while throwing out t-shirts and even a mechanical bull. I couldn’t help but laugh when the deejay welcomed fans by saying “Welcome to the Church of Coors.”
I saw a grandmotherly looking woman mastering the mechanical bull and just had to interview her. Her name was Paulette Trippler from St. George, Utah, and she was having a blast in her first experience at the Wrangler NFR.
“I’ve always wanted to do that, and now that I’m over 65, I thought I’d better do it today or I might never get another chance,” Trippler said with a wide smile. “It was really fun. I think (the ProRodeo Zone) is great, and I’ll be back. I’m a big fan of rodeo, and we’re going to spend the whole day here. I’ll be back later this week if I get my way.”
From displays from B&W Trailer Hitches and Massey Ferguson farm equipment, a GEICO tent that featured a 15-foot inflatable gecko and caveman cutout to a RAM trailer and monster truck and the Justin Sportsmedicine Trailer, there were plenty of things for fans to check out in the Zone. Throw in a PRCA merchandise trailer, a GAC tent and pre-performance preview show TV set and even a Priefert pen featuring a horse-training exhibition and there are hours of activities for fans.
Wayne Russell from Langley, British Columbia, has been coming to the Wrangler NFR since it moved to Las Vegas in 1985, and he was enjoying himself in the ProRodeo Zone.
“This is the greatest experience there is,” Russell said. “I wouldn’t miss (the rodeo). Every year it’s better, and I look forward to it from the time I leave until I get back the next year. It’s just a great experience all around.”
Sunday’s performance was the first daytime “matinee” round for the Wrangler NFR since 2005, and fans who are unable to make it to Las Vegas – especially ones from the East coast – often complain about the late television times, but they couldn’t do that Sunday. Fans at the rodeo Sunday fans seemed to enjoy the change of pace from the nighttime perfs.
“I think it’s going to be great,” Russell said. “I like the daytime performance, because it gives you the evening off. But I don’t mind the night performances either. I like (rodeo) any time.”
There are also several tents and trailers right outside the Thomas & Mack Center offering fun and entertainment for fans. Booths and tents from Commemorative Firearms, the Tropicana, Tough Enough To Wear Pink, MGM Grand Resorts, Purina, Hooters, Hard Rock and other merchandise stops were all laid out for fans to investigate.
There was also ample food outside the building, with bars and more food vendors inside the Thomas & Mack Center on the concourse. Rodeo attendees could also go by the ProRodeo Hall of Fame booth, where I saw Hall of Fame bull rider Charles Sampson signing autographs before Round 3, or by the Cowboy Corral for a pre-performance concert.
One fan I talked to before the rodeo, Sharon Two Bears from Cannonball, N.D., came to the Round 4 performance hoping for a special show in the saddle bronc riding.
“They took out the elminators in the saddle broncs last year, so I hope they didn’t do that again this year,” said Two Bears, who has been coming to the Wrangler NFR since 1987.”
I saw 2007 World Champion Saddle Bronc Rider Taos Muncy before the rodeo and asked him about his draw. He said he had a good one, but also a “scary” horse – Flying Five Rodeo Company’s Broken Saddles.
Muncy said it was an “eliminator pen” Sunday afternoon in the saddle bronc riding, and he was right. Nine cowboys rode before there was a score recorded, with Bradley Harter finally making the eight-second whistle from the No. 10 hole. Ten of the 14 bronc riders who nodded their heads (Cody DeMoss was still out with the shoulder injury) failed to register a score, so Muncy’s 76.5-point score was good enough for fourth place and $7,500.
It’s funny that Two Bears was asking for a pen like this and got exactly what she was asking for. How’s that for service?
But rodeo and its sponsors and organizers routinely do a good job of making the events fun for fans. Considering fans are the force that powers ProRodeo, that’s a good thing for the sport.
“The fans are what makes all this happen,” said veteran bareback rider Cody DeMers, who split first place in Round 4 with Steven Dent with an 87-point ride. “Their support and belief in what rodeo is makes it fun for us and makes it possible for us to make a living doing what we’re doing. Without the fans, we have nothing.
“The fans here at the Thomas & Mack are outstanding, and they’re just as jacked up as we are. My wife and 10-month-old kid are sitting up there behind Turtle Powell’s family, and she just says how amazing it is up there to sit there with people like that and the fans who are just so great.”
No wonder contestants start each night here with a tip of the Resistol to the fans.