Autographs please!

There are dozens of fan-friendly activities for rodeo faithful in Las Vegas during the Wrangler NFR, and I was able to experience one of them Friday at lunchtime at The Mirage. After picking up my lovely girlfriend of 10 months Sarah from the airport, we went to The Mirage to grab a bite to eat and check out the tie-down ropers’ autograph sessions.

We decided to try B.B. King’s Restaurant and Blues Club for lunch, and I was delighted to find out that the signing was taking place there. I was happy to be able to kill two birds with one stone, as it’s always a good idea to save time in Las Vegas when you can and have a schedule as hectic as mine.

We sat at a table that featured a rudimentary painting and the words “Frank Sinatra Partied Here,” along with a rendition of the “Chairman of the Board.” They were still serving breakfast, so I tried “B.B.’s Breakfast” of two eggs, toast, bacon and hash browns. It was tasty, and I finished eating just in time for the signing to start atnoon.

The Mirage is the host hotel for the tie-down ropers, and eight of them signed autographs for two hours. A seemingly never-ending line of rodeo fans filed into the back of the restaurant, where the cowboys sat at a long table on top of the stage by the dance floor.

The Mirage's B.B. King's Restaurant and Blues Club hosted the tie-down ropers' autograph session.

Tyson Durfey, Adam Gray, Hunter Herrin, Jerrad Hofstetter, Ryan Jarrett, Scott Kormos, Timber Moore and Matt Shiozawa dutifully signed picture after picture, as well as fans’ hats and other memorabilia while posing for pictures with a number of the visitors. More than 100 people filed into the restaurant in the first hour of the session, waiting patiently for their chance to meet the cowboys and get their autographs.

The session was the last of a series of autograph sessions featuring Wrangler NFR contestants at their host hotels throughout the city that have been going on since the beginning of the 10-day rodeo. Organized by the PRCA and Las Vegas Events – the two main partners that run the Wrangler NFR – the sessions are a great chance for fans to get up close and personal with the stars they see on TV and in the Thomas & Mack Center.

Ryan Jarrett, left, and seven other Wrangler NFR tie-down ropers signed autographs for two hours Friday.

“I love being able to talk to the cowboys,” said Miss Rodeo Idaho 2012 Caitlin Thornton, who made her way to the autograph session. “It’s unlike any sport. You’re not able to go talk to Derek Jeter or some of the bigger football stars, and rodeo’s the only sport where you can get up close with these guys. They’re real guys, and they really enjoy meeting the fans.

“These cowboys are on top of the world and in the top 15, but they’re so down to Earth and everyone can relate to them.”

Wacey Sassaman from Chana, Ill., is attending her first-ever Wrangler NFR this weekend with her 10-year-old daughter, Skylar, and they were delighted to be able to attend the autograph session.

“It’s pretty awesome, and she loves getting autographs and meeting these guys,” Wacey said. “It’s very good that they do this. I think it’s wonderful.”

Skylar picked up a number of autographed photo cards from the cowboys and had them sign her Wrangler NFR pink hat. Both ladies said the cowboys were bigger – and cuter – than they expected, and they left happy and excited to see them compete in Round 9 later that night.

The sessions are also fun for the contestants, who enjoy giving back to the fans when they can.

“This is great,” Kormos said. “I love to be out here and to interact and socialize with people and meet new people. This is to thank them for being fans of ProRodeo and our sport. I don’t mind it at all. I’d be here all day if I had to.”

More than 100 fans showed up for the tie-down ropers' autograph session at The Mirage.

Durfey said he’s always surprised at the autograph sessions.

“What’s so overwhelming is the amount of people who turn up,” he said. “You don’t realize how many people you influence until you see something like this. It’s just a great experience and a lot of fun. It’s nice to be able to connect with people and see some of the people who love rodeo so much.”

ProRodeo administrators are always looking for ways to give back to the fans and enhance their experience at the Wrangler NFR. The autograph sessions are a big way of doing just that, and it’s clear that the fans are appreciative of it.

After all, without the fans, there would be no ProRodeo.

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