The morning before the 2009 Bob Feist Invitational, Coleman Proctor ordered room service for Stephanie Arnold, his girlfriend of a year-and-a-half.
Arnold didn’t directly tell Proctor how she wanted her eggs—she figured she didn’t have to—when they arrived at the room exactly how she didn’t want them, she wasn’t thrilled. After all the time they’d been together, Proctor still didn’t know how she liked her eggs.
A few days later, the morning before the Crooked River Roundup in Prineville, Ore., Arnold, Proctor and Jake Long pulled into a Denny’s restaurant for breakfast.
“Stephanie had come along to help drive,” Proctor explains. “Jake had to go the bathroom. While he was gone, the waitress came to take our order. She asked if we wanted to wait because Jake was gone, but I told her that I can go ahead and order for him. Jake came back and I told him I got him his eggs over medium, he smiled and sat down. Stephanie wasn’t thrilled.”
In 2014, Proctor and Long would come out of nowhere to qualify for Proctor’s first NFR and Jake’s fourth. Spin To Win Rodeo’s fans recognized their talent, voting them Spin To Win Rodeo’s Header and Heeler of the Year. But talent alone didn’t win them the hearts of team roping fans—their story of friendship, perseverance and a little bit of humor would put them at the top of their class in the eyes of the team roping world.
Proctor and Long’s friendship—and their in-arena chemistry—started before they were born. It’s a safe bet that Coleman’s dad, Keith, could accurately order eggs for Jake’s dad, Cricket, too.
Keith Proctor, from Miami, Okla., and Cricket Long, from Coffeyville, Kan., rodeoed together in the 1970s—having their fair share of fun and getting into their fair share of trouble. They still can be found enjoying a cold one while watching their boys win a go-round at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo or telling an old rodeo story about someone getting arrested a few decades earlier while watching the NFR in Oklahoma City.
It’s safe to say Coleman and Jake come by their friendship and their propensity for a good time honestly.
Proctor and Long have been best friends since they were two and three years old (Jake is a “strong” year and a half older, Coleman points out). They started roping together in high school, when their ends were reversed and Long headed for Proctor. (Coleman even won the Prairie Circuit as a high school senior on the heel side.) In the early part of the century, they roped on and off together until Proctor made the switch to full-time heading in 2007.
In 2007, with Proctor heading, they made their first run at the NFR. They won a little over $42,000 that year, and finished 22nd and 24th in the world standings.
“We won like $25,000 in two weeks, and then the wheels fell off,” Proctor said of that disappointing season. “At that time it took about $45,000 to make the Finals. My good horse collicked and we just couldn’t close the deal.”
Like sometimes happens in rodeo, teams try something new and even best friends go their separate ways. The next three years Proctor and Long would enter the winter rodeos together then find other partners for the spring and summer.
“Me and Coleman had rodeoed for about three years, and I’d seen a lot of people my age have success,” Long said. “In 2010, I was contemplating not rodeoing any more. I was in Tucson, Ariz., and Clay Tryan and Travis Graves had talked to Brady (Tryan) about me and him roping. He asked me if I wanted to go to California and give it a try. I thought about saying no. I had no money, I had nothing going that I needed. There was just enough of me that still wanted to try, and I took out a credit card. I was going to go for a month. Then a few weeks later, I won the George Strait [with Proctor]. Coming from where me and Coleman came from, the only guy who had only done anything was Britt Bockius. It seemed like a big pipe dream to us to win a roping like the Strait or to make the Finals and compete against the best in the world. We were second callback. Luke (Brown) and Cesar (de la Cruz) were high call, and we knew we weren’t going to beat them on time and just wanted to make sure we’d go to the lead when we had the chance. Being second at the Strait would be the biggest thing we’d have ever done. So when Cesar roped that leg, we were stunned. We were watching from the back of the arena, and Coleman started hat whipping me. It was all surreal.”
Coleman and Jake had entered the George Strait Team Roping Classic as second partners and won it, surprising the field and taking home almost $80,000, plus the famed George Strait trucks and trailers.
“It was the fact of knowing I could win something like that,” Long remembered. “It made everything seem a little more possible. I had never had any kind of money at all, so it was fun rodeoing and not worrying where the next check would come from. It made it so I was roping more for the standings and not the money. It took a lot of pressure off.”
For Long, making the Finals was quickly becoming a reality thanks to some friends who encouraged him by example.
“Getting to hang out with the Tryan family was a huge advantage to me,” Jake said. “It’s just what they did—rodeo and make the Finals. I had never been around that level of expectation. It’s more of a sense of doing what you’re supposed to do. To them, it’s your job. You’re supposed to do it. Getting that mind frame that it is achievable. You work for it as a team, and when you make the Finals, people are happy for you, but it’s more of a job-well-done than achieving the impossible.”
Long would finish the rodeo season with Brady Tryan and qualify for his first NFR. He’d prove himself on the big stage, winning two rounds and placing in three more.
“It was a childhood dream. You’re super giddy just to be there,” Long remembers of his first trip to the Finals. “It hit me when we broke in the steers. I’m pretty sure we might have caught one steer clean that day. I felt horrible. I roped a leg on the first two steers, and I went out to the trailer and thought I’d miss every steer at the NFR. But then we ended up turning it around and I felt good about what I’d done there.”
Proctor watched Long rope in Las Vegas from his couch after long days of working construction, making up for a rodeo season that hadn’t gone as he planned. 2011 brought more of the same—Long made the Finals with Tryan again, and Proctor finished 28th in the world with $36,051 won.
Then came 2012; the year Speed Williams took the header from Oklahoma under his wing. The year that would change everything for Proctor.
“Speed said, ‘What are you doing here?’” Coleman recalls. “I said, ‘Man, I ain’t gonna lie to ya. I’m burned out. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m not getting any better.’ Speed said, ‘Well, what’s your goal?’ And I told him, ‘I want to rope with Jake Long again, and I want to make the Finals.’”
What does a guy wanting to make his first NFR do when he lives with one of the greatest headers of all time? He heels, of course.
Heeling behind Williams, Coleman got to see great horsemanship from a new angle and feel how it affected his shot as a heeler.
“I learned more in the two months rodeoing with Speed than I ever have,” Proctor said. “Everything from horsemanship to character to what it takes to win. He spent countless hours in the arena with me.”
For Long, 2012 brought another NFR qualification, this time with Travis Tryan. They’d place in three rounds but not have the Finals that either would have liked, finishing 13th in the World Standings.
Travis Tryan and Long would go at ‘em again in 2013, and despite earning $60,745, would fall one hole short of a return trip to the NFR.
Proctor spent 2013 bouncing back and forth between partners, first roping with Matt Kasner, then Caleb Twisselman, who broke his leg in a freak accident in Casper, Wyo., mid-July. Proctor would finish the year off with Jett Hillman and end the season 19th in the world standings, closer than he’d ever been.
Despite the fact that Proctor and Long both failed to make the Finals in 2013, that season would be perhaps one of the most important in their partnership. It would set them up for the success they’d enjoy in 2014, as Proctor made an important decision that reshaped his career.
“My character wasn’t going to hold up where my talent was going to take me,” Proctor admits. “The first step in all of it was when I quit drinking two years ago. Speedy and my good friend Shane Boston bet me I couldn’t do it. I was down on some bets with Speedy, and Shane bet me $1,000. I definitely didn’t do it for the bet, but that was some added motivation. Now, I feel like my talent can take my character wherever it wants to go.”
Popping the question
And after a hard-fought seven years, 2014 would be the year that would bring the Proctor and Long partnership full circle.
“October 15, 2013, Jake Long asked me to rope. I knew we’d make it,” Proctor said. “Roping our goats in our little arena, roping our Fastlane, we’ve spent thousands of hours roping in the Thomas and Mack.”
“We both didn’t have the success with other partners we’d have liked,” Long explained. “We got to spend more time together in 2013—our two teams buddied—and we thought we’d give it a try again. Coleman had to get some stuff in line, and he’s done that.”
They’d win the St. Paul (Ore.) Rodeo, the Sikeston (Mo.) Jaycee Bootheel Rodeo, the Jayhawker Roundup Rodeo (Hill City, Kan.) and the American Royal ProRodeo (Kansas City, Mo.). They placed consistently all year long, and were set up to make the Finals heading into September.
“I’ve got the best heeler in the world, I’ve just got to turn steers for him.” Proctor said, heading into their first NFR together. “People ask me if I’ve got first-year jitters. But I watched the NFR from my couch in college, and I got my first-year jitters out right then. Coming into the Finals, I was ready. When I walked into the box for my first run, I felt sharp, I felt focused. I saw the steer stumble at the neck rope, I took one extra swing like I’m supposed to, like we practiced. I did everything correct, and I waved it off. That was so frustrating.”
But they’d rebound to pick up a go-round buckle in Round 5. Backstage at the South Point Hotel and Casino’s buckle ceremony, the Proctor and Long families gathered in a reunion of sorts, with Jake’s young daughters, Haven and Haizlee, wrapping their arms tight around their Uncle Coleman. Everyone in their crew would pass around the girls’ stuffed pony, taking family photos, and patting each other on the back. A go-round win at their first Finals together isn't by any means the end of the journey, but it's a heck of a start. The rest of the trip will surely have more stops at the South Point, and of course, a few thousand more stops at some Denny’s in small-town-America for Coleman to get Stephanie’s egg order just right.