At almost every rodeo he entered in 2006, Chad Ferley heard the same thing. The rodeo announcer, trying to stir the fans, would slowly reach a crescendo with, "Now… riding… world champion…"
The buildup was for Jeff Willert, Ferley's traveling partner and 2005 PRCA world saddle bronc champion.
"I heard that all last year," said Ferley with a slight grin building on his face.
He might as well get used to it. Ferley will hear everywhere again in 2007. This time, announcers, fans, anybody associated with professional rodeo will be calling Ferley a world champion.
Affectionately nicknamed "The Landlord" by his peers for the character in the popular television sitcom "Three's Company," Ferley owned the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas for the 2006 National Finals Rodeo.
Ferley rode strong the entire 10 rounds to pull away from a field that included six-time world champion Dan Mortensen, five-time world champion Billy Etbauer and Rod Hay, an eight-time Canadian Pro Rodeo Champion.
"Those guys are great bronc riders," said Ferley, who is from Oelrichs, S.D., located 70 miles south of Rapid City. "They've proven that over the years. I had to prove to myself that I belonged with them.
"I wanted to come here and have some fun."
He belonged and he had plenty of fun. Ferley placed in six of the 10 rounds and won or shared first place in three (fourth, fifth and ninth). He picked up his first NFR buckle with a stellar 86.5-point ride to win the fourth round.
"The first one, that would have to be my favorite," he said of the three go-round buckles he collected. "It was my first NFR win.
"The plan was to show up here and ride the best I could. I felt like I did my end of the job."
So consistent, so solid was Ferley that he actually clinched his first gold buckle after the ninth round. Hay had gotten bucked off and injuries caught up to Cody DeMoss, the regular-season standings leader. DeMoss was already riding with a torn MCL and ACL in his knee and three slipped discs in his back when he broke some small bones along three vertebrae in the eighth round.
"I didn't even know until later that night that I had already won," Ferley said. "I tried to block it out of my mind and make it where I needed to ride Saturday night to win.
"I wish Cody wouldn't have gotten hurt," said Ferley, his voice dropping. "He's a great cowboy who has been banged up the past couple of years. One day, he's going to win one."
Ferley won a total of $94,320 at the NFR, which included a second-place average finish to J.J. Elshere, another South Dakota cowboy. "I was happy for J.J." said Ferley. Willert is also from South Dakota.
"All the South Dakota guys, it's fun being here at the Finals with them," Ferley said.
Ferley knew 2006 was going to be good when he won Odessa, Texas, early. A year before, Ferley suffered a broken leg at the same rodeo, "It wasn't pretty," he said. Ferley did not ride again until the Fourth of July and finished 29th in the final 2005 world standings.
"I won Odessa to get off to a pretty good start and it kept rolling from there," he said.
Ferley also won titles Salinas, Calif., and Reno, Nev., for some of his larger wins and always rode big when it counted most. He won both the Wrangler ProRodeo Summer Tour Finale in Omaha, Neb., and The Tour Championship Finale in Dallas, Texas.
"I'd say not getting hurt was the big key to my year," said Ferley, who entered 2006 with just $75,542 in career earnings. He won a total of $237,583 this year.
"This turned out better than I ever expected."