We got so many thank yous for sharing what was inside Jake and Clay’s heads at the 2002 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo that we decided on an encore. Jake joined me on the announcer’s platform every night after he roped, and we pow wowed about the night’s team roping goings on while we watched the bronc riding, calf roping and barrel race. (I can’t write another word without mentioning Cody Ohl’s jaw-dropping 6.5-second world record in round 10. WOW.) Clay and I caught up by phone in the mornings and after the rodeo. It’s hard to explain how cool it was for me to watch Jake turn back time and dominate like he did all those years when he and Clay couldn’t be stopped. And what about the shot Clay pulled off to split the win in round 10? The guy has no spoke in his hand and hammers one anyway. Put these two down for Superman Times Two in my book.
Round 1, 12/5/03:
Jake: We’re roping a set of older steers here this year, so I predict it’s going to be a fast track. It looks to me like our seven world championships isn’t the only record on the line. The way the steers are, our record on 10 steers (59.1) might be in jeopardy, too. I’ll be surprised if just tangling 10 up wins much in the average this year.I felt really good about our run. I was a little skeptical, because the score’s so short and my steer kept turning his head back and fighting the chute. I didn’t exactly knock a start, but you don’t want
to do anything stupid when the go-round’s pretty soft when you rope. Every-body wants to jump out and win the first round, but fourth is cool. (Jake and Allen Bach were 5.2.)
No matter how many times you rope here you still get the butterflies. I always get nervous when I rope for big money. In this little building it feels like everybody’s right on top of you, and you can literally feel the electricity. But you can’t let that get you too on edge. You have to keep your composure. A few guys had problems tonight, and now they’re under the gun. But it’s almost a blessing to throw the average away in the first round if you’re going to go out.
Clay: David (Key) said he missed the barrier a little and had to take a couple extra swings, so we went down the arena a couple extra strides. But we made a pretty decent run on our steer when we got there. There were a lot of good, solid runs and we split fifth three ways (in 5.3). It was good to get a check and make a good run on the first steer to get things started out right.
Round 2, 12/6/03*:
Jake: I had a slow steer tonight and had it on him to probably win the round, but he handled horrible. He had a really bad corner and came out of there shuffling. Allen didn’t really have a chance. When you expect one to hop and he washes out and trots, it’s tricky. (Bach rebuilt; they were 15.2.) I’m really pulling for Boogie (Ray) and hoping he’ll have a good Finals, so it was exciting for me to see him win the round. I didn’t get anything won, but the guy who was a big factor in me being here did. (*I ditched out at 4 a.m. today to dart to Dallas for Charmayne James and Tony Garritano’s wedding, so called this one in by cell phone. More on that later. KS)Clay: We ran the real slow pen tonight. David roped our steer really fast, but the steer didn’t take the corner very good. He kind of twisted and fought his head a little. I saw that happening as he was coming around, and was cautious and waited. He floundered, and when he jumped away from me I roped him. We were 4.9 and won fourth. I felt fortunate to get by a bad situation, and not have it take us out.
Round 3, 12/7/03:
Jake: This was supposed to be the medium pen, but that was the strongest steer we’ve had so far. I thought we made an out-standing run. I went at him pretty good, and we split fourth. It’s money. If we can keep chipping along and creep back in the average we’ll be all right. Daniel Green and Kory Koontz made a picture-perfect run (to tie the NFR record in 3.8). That’s got to be exciting for them. Clay and I set the record here one year, and that’s such a great feeling. Records always make you feel good, so that’s cool for those guys. After winning the round last night, they’re rolling.There are only two straight-up teams after three rounds-Daniel and Kory, and Matt Tyler and Patrick Smith. That can happen when everybody’s trying to be 3 or 4 every night.I swear there’s more electricity in the crowd each and every night. The suspense is going to build every night from here on out. What a difference in the National Finals from when they moved it here 19 years ago. There wasn’t anybody here then compared to now. It’s just incredible how our sport’s grown.
Clay: Our steer really ran, and left us at the gate. David thought he could get him and reached a long way. His loop went over the right horn, and got caught on the buckle on the horn wrap. He didn’t want to cinch it down over the horn wrap and horn, because it might not have come off. He had to get it fished off the buckle to get it to come off clean, so he could rebuild. When it finally came off, he lined him back out and we roped him. We just did what we could do under that type of situation (32.9).
Round 4, 12/8/03:
Jake: Out of the 19 years I’ve roped in this building that’s one of the best runs I’ve ever made here (4.3). It felt good. When we roped I thought we had a chance to win the go-round, but any time it starts out fast like that you know it’s going to be a tough round. It’s pretty awesome when 4.9 wins the last hole in the round. My first prediction was that there was a chance for our average record to be broken. Tonight was the night it crumbled. It looks like our record’s safe for another year. Matt and Patrick are now the only team that’s clean on four. It looks like 14 other teams are trying to win something in the round every night. Those guys look like their aim is for the average. That’s fine if nothing happens between now and Sunday, but that strategy has its down-falls. One year I hickeyed a horn on the eighth steer. That hurts, and then you feel like you’ve wasted a lot of opportunities at round money.Charles Pogue and Mike Beers got flagged out tonight for crossfiring. Being completely out of the average is a bad place to be so early in the week, so I hated to see that. But there are six go-rounds left to gun at. They’ll be back.
Clay: We were supposed to have a very good steer for this pen. He was pretty good. David bobbled his slack, so that took a little extra time. He turned him, I roped him and we made a pretty good run on him. We were 5.1, and it ended up being a pretty tough go-round so we didn’t place.
Round 5, 12/9/03:
Jake: Everyone will look back at tonight and say, “My goodness, what a missed opportunity.” It was a big advantage to go last tonight. The last few teams knew they just needed two horns and two feet. There were only three straight-up times tonight. Legs won the last three holes.
Not only did the go-round open up, but the average fell apart, too. A lot of the top teams had trouble. As of tonight there isn’t a single team that’s roped five steers clean. I predict they’ll come firing tomorrow night. was expecting something different out of our steer. He shot to the right the first time he went and was pretty slow. He got the jump on me, caught me off guard and went left. Then he didn’t handle very good. Allen was looking for a fast shot and ended up roping a leg (11.9).
Clay: Tonight was the slow pen. We had Jake and Allen’s steer from the second night, and he was extra slow. Jake turned him fast in that round, and Allen missed and built up. David’s loop went over the left horn, but he built up quick and roped him coming up the wall. We ended up roping him pretty fast with three loops (13.1). At the halfway point we’ve kind of been hit-and-miss, but it’ll turn around.
Round 6, 12/10/03:
Jake: I was milling things around in my mind today and thinking Speed (Williams) and Rich (Skelton) are just going to run away with it. I’m here as a businessperson to try to win as much money as I can, but I got to thinking about how when I was younger I didn’t really have any fear. I got myself in a mode the last few years of not throwing caution to the wind, and being conservative. The first few years of my career I’d win four or five go-rounds at the NFR. I can’t remember the last round I won here. It’s been years. When I was riding around out there before the rodeo I told Allen that Wade (Wheatley) and Britt (Bockius) were 4.1 on the steer we had tonight. We both agreed to let it roll. We don’t know how many more years we’re going to do this. If we go down we’re going to go down fighting. I was determined to take a downtown start tonight. That shot was so easy, I feel like we could do it every time. Before we roped I was thinking about the record. We were a tick from it (3.9). That’s pretty exciting. The table’s set now. We need to beat Speed and Rich steer for steer every time that chutegate opens. You have to have the guts to go for it, and live by the sword, die by the sword.
I hope I’m onto something. Tonight was a huge confidence-builder. I can’t wait to get home. The morning I get home I’m going to start practicing for this rodeo next year.
Clay: We had a steer that’s supposed to run a little bit and be sort of strong. David roped him good, but I was just a little bit out of whack. I didn’t really get with him right off the bat. When he was turning I took a big old long swing and it just took more time.
I wasn’t in time with him when he turned, so it took me a moment longer than it should have. We were about four-tenths of a second longer (4.6 for sixth) than we should have been if I’d been right on target.
Round 7, 12/11/03:
Jake: My steer fought the chute again, and he got a jump on meI ended up having to reach a long way, and had to turn and come straight back. I got a terrible face, so we actually came out of it smelling like a rose (6.1), all things considered.The average stayed about the same. What a tough go-round, my goodness. When 4.2 splits fourth and fifth, you know everyone’s going for broke. If you’re a rodeo fan at the NFR, tonight is the night. Team roping and calf roping don’t get any better than this. It makes you wonder, “Where can it go from here?”
Clay: David turned another really good steer and I dallied in my horse’s mane. His mane got caught in my rope and dally, and it jerked it away from the horn. I bobbled my dally, and we ended up being 4.9. I messed up another good one. So I’ve had two nights in a row where I should have won some good money and I screwed ’em up.
Round 8, 12/12/03:
Jake: We had a good steer tonight. Speed and Rich had him the first time he was out, and Rich roped a leg. Then Clay Tryan and Cory Petska were 4.3 on him. He was slow-slow on the video, so I didn’t dare break the barrier. I thought I was going to get a throw right across the line, but ended up having to reach a little. We’re second in the average, so there’s no sense doing anything stupid. I’m disappointed, but 4.7’s nothing to sneeze at. We should have won more on that steer. But we split fifth and sixth, and we’re good in the average. We did the best we could. It was another night of awesome team roping. We’ll just see what hand lies ahead of us in the last two rounds.What can you say about Daniel and Kory? Four go-rounds-that’s awesome. Some guys have gotten off on the right track and their flow’s good. On the opposite side of the coin there are guys who got off to a rough start, and they’re pressing so hard that they can’t get anything done. Those guys can’t wait for Sunday afternoon. Steve Purcella turned the fastest steer I’ve ever seen turned here tonight. He was trashy going out of there, but that was for the arena record if the steer just hops. Clay: David said he missed the barrier, so he had to take a couple extra swings and just get our steer caught. I got a pretty quick shot at him, so we ended up being fairly fast and splitting fifth and sixth (4.7).
Round 9, 12/13/03:
Jake: When I went and saw what steer I had tonight and that 24 was the fastest he’d been roped, I had the air let out of me a little bit. You want to draw one they’ve won something on. Any time you try to win something in the go-round you put yourself in a vulnerable position. But Allen was saying we need to go for it. The more I talked to him the more pumped up I got. We decided to back in there and go for it. Allen talked me into it. Sometimes when you have a steer that runs or isn’t great you bow up and really make a run. I’ve made some of my best runs on the worst steer in the herd. (They were 4.2 and won the round.) Round 10’s less than 24 hours away. Tomorrow’s right around the corner, and we’ve put ourselves in a position to possibly win the world championship. Strange things are going to have to happen, but it’s not mathematically impossible.
Clay: We had the best steer in the whole herd; the one Daniel and Kory were 3.8 on. David turned him real fast and I missed him. I threw it in the wrong spot, I guess. I rebuilt and roped him (13.4), and we lost a hole or two in the average. We also lost a good opportunity to win some-thing good in the day money.
Round 10, 12/14/03:
Jake: We had a shot today. We needed to win the average and place second or third in the go-round, but we drew a running sucker. They missed him once,and Steve Purcella was 5 on him once. I was in a real vulnerable position when I roped. I didn’t want to throw away $30,000 on a steer that wasn’t an easy shot. He got the jump on me, and I actually pulled off a pretty good shot. We split sixth in the round (5 flat) and maintained second in the average. I came here with high expectations, like everybody else. I left here last year with $30,000 and roped horrible. This year my horse worked good, and I roped as good as I could. I’d just like to congratulate Speed and Rich on seven in a row. That’s something. They’ve roped phenomenal seven years in a row. I’d also like to congratulate (average winners) Matt and Patrick for roping an awesome roping. They were almost flawless (be-sides a leg in round five). The go-round was fairly easy today-4.4 split it three ways. The shot of the century was Clay’s run. He fed the spoke out of his hand, but made an amazing recovery. That’s just how good a roper Clay is.The crazy part about this business is it’s 2:30 Sunday afternoon and we’re going to load up, go home and start the race all over again. This year’s over and from this point on all our focus is on 2004. I’m looking forward to getting rolling again.
Clay: We were supposed to have a medium steer today. David got out and turned him really fast, and when I brought my swing up I lost the top strand, which is my slack strand (the part that feeds through the eye). People call it losing your spoke. I lost it on my forward swing, so I tried to just keep it going around my head.
It came around just fine, around the throwing side, nice and open. I was in time with the steer, so I just went ahead and delivered it and roped him. It was kind of a fluky thing that sometimes works. We split the day money and moved back up a couple holes in the average (to fifth).So it turned out pretty good on the last day. We placed on five steers, but it was down lower until today. That last steer made it a pretty good week for us. All is well, and tomorrow we get to start all over.STW