Oh, the debates we have in the sports world.
It seems like in every sport people argue who the greatest athletes of all time are, and many times there is no clear-cut answer. I think most everyone agrees Michael Jordan was the best basketball player in history and Wayne Gretsky was No. 1 in hockey’s all-time ranks, but it’s not so easy to determine who El Capitan is in other arenas.
You can definitely put rodeo on that list.
Every time Trevor Brazile earns another gold buckle, the debate is inflamed again, and I suppose it’s human nature to argue about the subject. I asked a number of people who they thought the greatest ever was in the history of ProRodeo, and most people either waffled and were noncommittal or just generalized.
Everyone has their favorites and their heroes, and some cowboys’ accomplishments came in vastly different eras, muddying the parameters of the debate. Brazile got the discussion going again this year by extending his record of all-around gold buckles to 10 and setting a few noteworthy records.
The Decatur, Texas, cowboy established a new PRCA record by winning his seventh straight all-around crown, breaking the tie he’d had with legends Tom Ferguson (1974-79) and Brazile’s idol, Ty Murray (1989-94). The championship was the 17th of Brazile’s career, giving him the most gold buckles of any cowboy who’s ever competed in more than one event.
Only Hall of Fame steer roper Guy Allen has more world championships (18), and Brazile has a chance to tie that mark in the team roping in a few days. In 2007, Brazile became the first cowboy in 24 years to win a Triple Crown by claiming a trio of world titles that year, which in my opinion is one of the greatest accomplishments a ProRodeo cowboy can have on his resume, and he repeated the feat in 2010.
Is Brazile the greatest ever? It depends on who you ask.
“Jim Shoulders was my hero, and he stayed with the Wrangler brand for 49 years,” PRCA Commissioner Karl Stressman said. “Trevor’s arguably the best cowboy ever. Look at what he’s done and what he’s doing. He’s certainly in the top names you mention when you talk about the greatest cowboys ever.”
The late and great Shoulders won 16 world championships and is considered by many as No. 1 on the all-time list. He was the face of the sport in the 1950s and 1960s and arguably did more than anyone to promote the cowboy way of life and the sport both during and after his career.
“One of the things about Trevor is that he’s such a hard worker, and he’s a great athlete,” said longtime rodeo journalist Ed Knocke, who covered the first National Finals Rodeo in 1959 and is at the 2012 installment as well. “He’s one of the greatest all-around guys. He has to be in the conversation.”
Other names that pop up include nine-time world champion Casey Tibbs, six-time gold buckle winner Bill Linderman, eight-time titlist Larry Mahan and Roy “Super Looper” Cooper, who has eight gold buckles in his trophy case. It’s an immensely difficult question to answer, and justifications and arguments can be made for each of those names, and more.
Eleven-time world champion Dean Oliver didn’t come right out and pick just one cowboy as the best ever, but he does hold Brazile in very high regard.
“He is better than Casey Tibbs,” Oliver said of Brazile. “Jim Shoulders was good, but this guy’s record says it all. That’s what matters – results.
“Most guys who have three events rope well in one and are average in the other two, but he’s good in all three. He’ll win the all-around as long as he wants to go, and nobody will even challenge him.”
Brazile has been asked the question and is either too humble or politically correct to answer it directly. Murray is his idol, and he has the utmost respect for Shoulders, Tibbs, Mahan and Cooper, so he won’t come right out and say definitively what he thinks one way or the other.
Maybe he doesn’t have to.
My take is that Brazile is the best timed-event cowboy in history, and I’d have to give the nod to Shoulders on the other end of the arena, followed closely by Murray. Perhaps it’s just best to leave it at that and not force anyone’s hand to make a firm declaration for any one cowboy.
Shoulders lived and competed in a completely different era, but there’s no mistaking his talent, determination and grit. I’ve witnessed most of Brazile’s accomplishments, and he is the consummate professional and is the current face of the sport. Plus, he simply works harder at it than anyone else, and that I can say for sure with confidence.
So, who gets the nod between Shoulders and Brazile? I say they split first in that contest.
For Brazile, clinching his 10th all-around in Round 5 was a weight off his shoulders.
“It’s just such a relief,” Brazile said. “As much as I try not to let it affect anything, it kind of just releases me to go try to do whatever it takes to win the team roping, and just concentrate on that title. That is the immediate thing that I think about.
“And as far as the long-term stuff, 10 world titles is more than I ever could have dreamed of. It’s awesome.”
Yes, it sure is.