Battle Royale: The Minor Brothers’ Epic Final Week of the 2015 Season
The Minor Brothers scratched and clawed their way into the top 15 in the last week of the season.

PRCA ProRodeo Photo by Greg Westfall

The Monday after the regular season, Riley and Brady Minor were heading north on I-15, passing through Las Vegas en route from California to Montana. Kind of fitting, really, that the brothers drove through the home of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo that day. After all, they’d just roped their final steer of the regular season in San Bernardino, Calif., in 5.5 seconds to clinch their third consecutive WNFR birth, Riley’s sixth and Brady’s seventh overall.

They were heading toward Billings, Mont., for the Wrangler Team Roping Championship Finals, where they’d planned to go a week earlier “since we weren’t making the Finals, we needed to win some money somewhere,” Riley admitted. But the 19-hour drive from San Bernardino to Billings is an unexpected sigh of relief that the Minors didn’t know they’d be breathing just a few days earlier, when they were on the outside looking in of the PRCA’s top 15. But now, as they pass through Las Vegas, they’re fielding calls of congratulations from friends and family who are all just as astonished as they are that they pulled off the miracle fourth-quarter comeback to get them to the Finals. 

“I knew my chances weren’t very good,” said Riley, who was in a slightly better position at #16 than Brady at #19 heading into the last week. “I had pretty much written it off that I didn’t make the Finals in 2015. I was going to go rope and try to do OK. I told a few of my buddies that it was possible, but I needed a miracle to happen.”

Unexpected Slump
The Minors were caught off guardwhen they entered the last week outside the top 15. They hadn’t had a bad year, really. They won Denver’s National Western Stock Show and Rodeo to kick off the season, and they won Loveland, Colo., too. They placed at Red Bluff, Calif., Casper, Wyo., Caldwell, Idaho, Hermiston, Ore., and Lynden, Wash., to name a few.

“But then Brady told me we went to 11 rodeos and won $1,600 at one point,” Riley laughed. “We were winning $4,000 to 6,000 a week there for a while. Right there about Labor Day, it went down hill.” 

They usually do well at their own circuit rodeos in the Northwest, but this year Ellensburg, Puyallup and Pendleton weren’t very good to the Minor brothers. At Ellensburg, they tied for seventh in the second round and won $378, but that was it out of the three biggies in the Northwest. Without their usual early-September push, they were in a bind. Brady, rodeo’s master statistician, had dozens of scenarios mapped out as to what could happen and what he and his brother needed to happen. But it was all a long shot, and they knew it.

Lighting a Fire 

Before they ran their first steer at Kansas City’s American Royal, nothing was going right. They couldn’t even get entered the way they wanted, let alone win where they wanted. They drew up Friday in the performance in Kansas City, but needed to rope Wednesday in the slack to be able to rope at Omaha’s Justin Boots Championships Thursday and then head to Amarillo, Texas, Poway, Calif., and San Bernardino, Calif.

“Travis Woodard traded us because I couldn’t even get up right at Kansas City,” Brady recalled. “I’ll never forget our steer had been at Pasadena (Texas) and I called Anthony Lucia, and he said he’s terrible and he stopped. He sent me the video. And he was terrible and he did stop.”

Woodard traded the Minors despite the fact that it forced him into some extra driving time, but they’d buddied all summer, so Woodard took one for the team, as they say. Though they got the trade they needed, the position they traded for was second-team-out in slack—not exactly what Riley wanted on an unfamiliar start with a tricky steer.

“I was second out in slack,” Riley said. “I didn’t know the start. I didn’t know the steers. But then I got a great start on that steer and we were 3.6. It was the fastest regular season run I’d ever had. That kind of pumped me up a little bit. I never left a rodeo thinking I’d win it. But I figured pretty much we won Kansas City. It paid $2,992.”

“Riley got out of the barrier really good there, and I kind of hung back,” Brady added. “He checked off and the run came together as perfect as you can make it. It kept my hopes alive. I knew I could win fourth or better at Omaha.”

Things weren’t great in Omaha, though—or so they thought. Thursday night in the Century Link Center, their steer didn’t handle very well, and Brady took an extra swing. The flag fell in 4.7 seconds, and they headed to Amarillo, Texas, winning fourth.

“The barrier was three foot under,” Brady said. “I thought we’d not place or split last hole at best.”

“We left there with our heads down,” Riley said. “That steer wasn’t great, and Brady had to take another swing. We were 4.7, and with the best guys in the world the next day I thought we weren’t going to place.”

Losing Ground
The momentum they lost thinking they were in trouble in Omaha carried over to Amarillo, where Riley missed.

“I had a great shot and I got in a hurry,” Riley said. “There were two 4.5s already. If I’d have caught, we were middle 4 all year long.”

But something important did happen in Amarillo, despite Riley’s miss, which would help turn the tide for the brothers.

“Ryan Motes was watching Omaha on Periscope and everybody kept messing up,” Brady said. “And all of a sudden, we won fifth at Omaha, and that paid $2,422.”

In the meantime, JoJo LeMond, who was at #13 on the head side going into that last week, went down in the steer roping at Pendleton, fracturing his collar bone. Despite his best efforts at Amarillo and Kansas, he was not able to continue on for the last few rodeos of the season. That changed things on the head side for sure, because LeMond wouldn’t be winning anything else in the crucial final week of the season.

California Dreamin’
“Brady’s chances were still looking slim, but mine were all right so I needed $2,000 to pass JoJo at two rodeos,” Riley said. “We thought Poway would pay $1,900.”

That next day, they pulled into Poway with their good horses—Bob and Rey—who they knew they needed to ride to have a real shot.

“We got to Poway, and I think my chances are real slim at this point,” Brady remembered. “JoJo was done and his heeler (Dakota Kirchenschlager) still had three rodeos left. Then we had a steer they didn’t catch in slack, and 5.2 was winning the rodeo. Riley got out the barrier good and then I heeled him fast to be 5.0, but I thought Riley didn’t have enough still, and that my chances weren’t good still.”

Then Poway paid more than expected at $2,038 a man. Riley was pretty safely inside the top 15 as he knocked LeMond out, but Brady needed something special to happen in San Bernardino.

“We are watching Russell (Cardoza) and Quinn on Periscope at San Bernardino, and they both catch and they’re both first and second,” Brady said. “So I thought I was really done. And then I found out I was only $462 behind Quinn when the standings updated. I figured out I didn’t have to win first at San Bernardino, just two holes higher than Quinn, to get $500.”

They stayed Saturday night in Poway, and spent the next day hanging out in steer wrestler Blake Knowles’ room, who also needed something big to happen at San Bernardino to get into the top 15. 

“I’m not going to lie: It was a stressful day yesterday,” Brady admitted. “The rodeo started at 5 p.m. They were going to rope until 6:30 p.m. I had been up all day. It was going to go one way or another, and if it had gone the other way, I was going to think about it for a while.

“I never go check the draw early. But we got there a couple hours early. I got there and went to the office to try to figure out what we had. I didn’t get real nervous ’til the team roping started. I wanted to just go catch him. He was kind of a big steer, he ran with his head low.”

With the steer’s head down, Riley didn’t exactly crack it off him.

“I always watch the header’s loop, and it kind of went on right horn, left horn,” Brady said. “I wouldn’t call it sloppy but it wasn’t the best loop. I’m not saying mine was either. I don’t want to run that steer again today.”

“He had bigger flat horns, and he was probably 600 pounds,” Riley said. “It wasn’t the best loop, but it doesn’t say that on the check. Brady sure gave me crap about it.”

The announcer stalled calling out their time, but finally said 5.5 as they rode out the back. They ended up tied for third, with Matt Sherwood and Quinn Kesler tied for seventh with their 6.3-second run. 

“We crunched the numbers, we went to the office,” Riley said. “We just weren’t sure yet.”

Other team ropers were at home sitting in front of computers adding up the numbers, as the PRCA hadn’t yet updated the standings Sunday night. The Minors used all 75 rodeos to get by Sherwood and Kesler, who got to rope at Stephenville, too. Sherwood would stay inside the top 15, though, as LeMond dropped out. But Kesler, the Resistol Rookie of the Year sensation who made big waves this summer, fell out by $240. The Minors’ final-week charge actually bumped Riley and Brady both to #14, with Sherwood and Cardoza in the last hole. Sherwood will rope with Travis Woodard in the Thomas & Mack, while Cardoza will heel for Jake Cooper. 

Had Riley’s last head loop not gone on, or had Brady missed his dally in San Bernardino, they would have still been grateful. This winter, while they were in Texas, Brady’s wife Ashley unexpectedly went into labor at just 25 weeks pregnant with their first child, Maverick.

“They said if he had been born three or four days before he wouldn’t live,” Brady said. “Even when he was born he was on the bubble. We’ve had lots of ups and downs this year. But he’s alive and healthy. When we thought we weren’t making it, I thought I was so happy with Maverick surviving so well that I would just start again next year.”

So as they pointed their rig toward Montana, with just three days left on the road this season, the manic feeling of the last week began to subside. Brady drifted off to sleep across the back seat, and Riley got a minute to reflect.

“I’ve had a shot the last week of the year about four different times. And two of the times it worked out. One other good win throughout the summer and I wouldn’t be in this spot. But the feeling of getting something done that was pretty much out of reach, that’s something else.”

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