As the great Frank Sinatra said, “And now the time has come for me to take my final curtain.”
My, oh my, what an amazing 10 days in Las Vegas! The 53rd installment of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo was one for the record books, and there was more drama at the Thomas & Mack Center than on Wall Street! (Well, maybe not, but there was still a lot.)
Nine world championships were doled out, including seven that weren’t decided until the final day, and there were five new world champs among the group. Two of those – Kaycee Feild and Tuf Cooper – became second-generation world champions and made their papas proud.
Field obliterated the record books in the process (see my post “Wrangler NFR hodgepodge”), earning the Ram Truck Top Gun Award for his dominating performance. It was a heck of a Finals, and fans and staff alike were overjoyed with the rodeo’s excitement level this year.
Our hearts all went out to Shane Proctor, who broke his left (free) arm pretty badly after being bucked off Powder River Rodeo’s Black Attack in Round 10. The bull also stepped on his back fiercely, and he “celebrated” his first PRCA gold buckle in the Justin Sportsmedicine Room.
He will recover and be back at it again next year, and he’ll have the rest of his life to enjoy being called a World Champion.
The world champs (Proctor included) started a long night of celebration at The Mirage’s 10th Night PRCA Champions Awards Party. I showed up there fashionably late, but there was still a good party going on.
Fans were excitedly huddled around a new Ram truck that was being raffled off to one lucky guest, and I walked by Feild’s brand new 2012 Ram 3500 Heavy Duty Laramie truck just as he was grabbing his world championship buckle off its hood. He was going to leave it there and return to the VIP area that had been set up for world champs and their families at the massive Mirage Events Center, but thought better of it.
Good call Kaycee.
There was a festive atmosphere at the celebration, with the rodeo royalty enjoying some quality time with family and friends. You could almost see them all exhale deeply after being dialed in mentally and physically for 10 long days, and the champs were thoroughly enjoying themselves.
Their relief was joined by a jovial atmosphere, with a lot of laughs, pats on the backs, hugs and handshakes being exchanged. It was a last chance for people to say goodbye until next year, and everyone had a great time.
Party guests included PRCA Commissioner Karl Stressman, PRCA Chairman of the Board Keith Martin, Las Vegas Events President Pat Christensen, PRCA Board of Directors members, ProRodeo Hall of Famers, industry sponsors and other various VIPs.
The band played popular country tunes deep into the night, with gold buckle winners retiring at different points throughout the evening with loved ones to continue the celebration elsewhere or get some much-needed and much-earned sleep. People helped themselves to the life-sized cardboard cutouts of the 119 Wrangler NFR contestants that had lined the hallways, and I couldn’t resist getting World Champion Saddle Bronc Rider Taos Muncy to pose with his likeness before he took off with his family.
Every year when the Wrangler NFR concludes, it seems as if the season has gone by in the blink of an eye, when in all reality we know it was a grind that culminated in the toughest test of mettle, skill and determination with a 10-day battle royale of sorts. Then, in a few weeks, it all begins again.
I was privileged to work for Las Vegas Events at this year’s Finals, and I enjoyed the freedom to explore Las Vegas and the events that surround the Wrangler NFR like never before. It was a whirlwind 10 days, and I learned a lot about the sport and the event.
Hopefully I gave you, the readers, a new insight into the rodeo and its presence in Las Vegas, and I hope you enjoyed my behind-the-scenes posts throughout the rodeo.
There is something for everyone at the Wrangler NFR and its ancillary events, and fans are able to enjoy new experiences every time they go to Las Vegas even if they’ve been there 20 times before. The rodeo is an ever-changing, ever-evolving event that has taken on a life of its own in “Sin City.”
The city’s casinos have embraced the rodeo, the cowboys and the sport’s fans like never before, and that will only become magnified in the future. I’ve seen the expansion of the sport’s reach in Las Vegas in the eight years I’ve been going there for the rodeo, and it’s always a hoot to see so many cowboy hats, boots and Wranglers walking up and down The Strip and filling the casinos throughout town.
The 10-day rodeo provided everything a major sporting event can and should provide, and I’m one of the tens of thousands of people who can’t wait to go back for it again. That is, as soon as my feet stop hurting from walking 987 miles (that’s an estimation).
My girlfriend, Sarah, and I stayed an extra day in Las Vegas to decompress and be tourists, and when we flew home two days after the rodeo’s conclusion, I was tickled to see a number of cowboy hat-wearing faithful at McCarran International Airport.
As people boarded my connecting flight in Salt Lake City headed for Denver, the gate agent noticed there were so many people on the flight dressed in Western attire. He asked one of them, “There was a big rodeo in Las Vegas, wasn’t there?”
There sure was!