Quite a finish to a stellar season

The last horse has bucked, the final steers have been roped and bulldogged, the last barrels have been circled and calves have been roped for the last time this year.

Another stellar ProRodeo season is in the books, and a new group of contestants have shiny gold buckles, fame and piles of cash to keep them warm during the holidays. Congratulations to world champions Trevor Brazile, Kaycee Feild, Luke Branquinho, Clay Tryan, Jade Corkill, Spencer Wright, Tuf Cooper, Fallon Taylor and Sage Kimzey, who will be fine representations of the sport next year and beyond.

The 30th Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas has come and gone, and it’s been one heck of a ride. Here are some interesting thoughts on what transpired in the Thomas & Mack Center and in ProRodeo these last 10 days.

The best ever?

Rodeo fans watching this year’s Wrangler NFR are seeing the best of the best in the sport today. But are they also seeing some of the top cowboys in the history of ProRodeo? Well, let’s examine that.

With all due respect to Jim Shoulders, Casey Tibbs, Larry Mahan and others, I believe most of the rodeo world is coming to terms with the realization that Brazile is the best cowboy in the history of the sport. He finished the season with $494,369, the second-highest single-season earnings total in history, behind only his $507,921 from 2010.

Some fans who attended the Wrangler NFR this year may not realize they're watching some of the best contestants in the history of ProRodeo.

Some fans who attended the Wrangler NFR this year may not realize they’re watching some of the best contestants in the history of ProRodeo.

Feild won his fourth consecutive Wrangler NFR average title – the first man to do that since team roper Leo Camarillo from 1968-71 – and fourth straight world championship, and steer wrestler Branquinho won his fifth steer wrestling gold buckle. Only Homer Pettigrew has more world titles for bulldoggers, and Feild is the first bareback rider to win four in a row since Joe Alexander claimed five straight from 1971-75.

The 27-year-old Feild prepares for each season thinking about being the best bareback rider of all time, and he’s well on his way.

“When I started my career, I set some goals to be better than anybody else in the bareback riding, and winning four straight as young as I am, it’s looking pretty good for me to achieve my goals,” said Field, who is tied with Eddy Akridge, Marvin Garrett, Bobby Mote and Shoulders and one behind Alexander for his event’s all-time lead. “When I get on a bucking horse, I don’t go out there to have fun or to place. I’m out there to be the best every time, and I want to spur a horse harder than anybody else has.

“I just need to do my homework, get home and hit the gym and get ready for Denver.”

World Champions Kaycee Feild and Luke Branquinho were among the sea of people who gathered in the Wrangler NFR press room after Round 10.

World Champions Kaycee Feild and Luke Branquinho were among the sea of people who gathered in the Wrangler NFR press room after Round 10.

Branquinho, who overcame a pectoral injury that required surgery on July 29, prefers to let others debate his place in the sport’s history.

“I do it for the love of the game, and I’m not worried about the history books,” said Branquinho, 34. “It’s an honor to be up there with that elite group of bulldoggers, and to be in the same category with them is special, but I’ll let everybody else decide that. I’m just going to keep bulldogging, and wherever it falls, it falls.”

Branquinho broke a tie with Jim Bynum, Ote Berry and Everett Bowman, who have four gold buckles apiece, and he is showing no signs of slowing down.

ProRodeo Hall of Famer Joe Beaver, widely considered one of the most complete cowboys of his era, believes we are watching some of the best ever compete this year.

“We can go 60 or 100 years from now and take the best 10 (of all time), and they might be one of the ones in that category,” said Beaver, who won eight world titles. “They’re the elite in their event, and you can tell by the results.”

Fifty years from now, their names will likely be considered among the best ever, and with Tuf Cooper and Jade Corkill winning their third gold buckles this year as well, they just might be there with them. Regardless, it’s pretty amazing to watch them in action.

Trevor Brazile's daughter, Style, joined him in the Wrangler NFR press room with the rest of their family after the world champions' ceremony.

Trevor Brazile’s daughter, Style, joined him in the Wrangler NFR press room with the rest of their family after the world champions’ ceremony.

Brazile, for one, is a huge fan of the current crop of contestants who are at the top of the sport.

“The field that we have here now and the class of world champions, it just makes it fun to be a fan and makes me want to watch the other events,” he said. “I’m just a fan of the talent in the sport right now, because it’s great. There are people who are getting to watch these guys compete every year, and they don’t need to be taking it lightly.

“These guys like Tuf and Kaycee and Luke, they’re not done, and they’re still rolling.”

First family of rodeo

Wright was supposed to be the fourth-best Wright brother, but this year, he ended up No. 1 in the world after winning the Wrangler NFR average. He joined his older brothers Cody and Jesse as world champion saddle bronc riders, and three different champions from the same family is a first for the history of the sport. Not even the Cooper or Etbauer families can claim that, and it’s a feat that makes Cody, the eldest, pretty darn proud.

“I’m super proud of Spencer,” said Cody, a two-time world champion. “He did what a bronc rider should and rode the best he could, and it’s just awesome. I know everyone (in the family) works hard to be the best they can and take advantage of every opportunity to win as they can, and it’s paying off.”

Jake Wright finished fifth in the world, and Cody’s son, Rusty, won the PRCA Permit Challenge, so there could be a few more from the family to add their names to the record books in the future.

Sage Kimzey’s season

His accomplishments are so profound, I’m going to mention them in list form so people understand the magnitude of what he achieved.

  • Won his first world championship at age 20
  • Only bull riding rookie ever to win the Wrangler NFR average
  • First bull riding rookie to win a world title since Bill Kornell in 1963
  • RAM Top Gun Award for most Wrangler NFR earnings in a single event with $175,466
  • Single-season PRCA earnings record for rookies with $318,631
  • Tied record for most Wrangler NFR round victories in bull riding history with four
  • First rookie to win a world title since Beaver in 1985

Speaking of records…

This year’s Wrangler NFR total attendance of 177,565 set a new record for the 10-day event. Saturday night’s crowd of 18,095 for Round 10 helped eclipse the previous mark of 176,558 from last year. The Finals now has been a sellout for 290 consecutive performances.

My good friend Jim Bainbridge has done a great job running the Wrangler NFR press room for eight years.  --Photo by Deanna Kristenstensen

My good friend Jim Bainbridge has done a great job running the Wrangler NFR press room for eight years. –Photo by Deanna Kristenstensen

End of an era

This year’s Wrangler NFR also marks the final year the PRCA’s Jim Bainbridge will run the press room, as he’s planning on retiring and/or transitioning into a different role as rodeo historian in the Spring. Bainbridge is the hardest-working person in the association and has given a lot of himself the last eight years in a dedicated effort to promote ProRodeo and its stars and to do so in a thorough and professional manner. The association’s senior public relations coordinator is a great man and a good friend, and I wish him the best in the future.

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