Many of the favorites coming into the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo came through to win the world titles in 2007. Even when the odds-on favorites didn't, there weren't too many surprises. Except for, that is, Jason Miller in the steer wrestling.
At only his second Finals, coming in 13th in the world with guys like Lee Graves, Luke Branquinho and Shawn Greenfield in front of him, he was definitely an afterthought in the race. The sleepy-eyed, 33-year-old from tiny Lance Creek, Wyo., was undaunted.
After spending the weeks leading up to the Finals practicing with Branquinho, he came to Las Vegas prepared and confident.
"I came out to California and practiced with Luke," Miller said. "That was really great because he's a great bulldogger and a great guy and he's got a great family it was so much easier to practice there than in Wyoming.
"You can just drive down the road and learn stuff from him. That's why he's a world champion and why he does so good every year. I didn't have to worry about feeding cows or chopping ice. I had one thing to do and that was bulldog every day."
When the season started, Miller's chances for a second trip to the NFR seemed slim. So slim, in fact, he came off the road.
"I didn't win very much in the winter," he said. "I went home and calved and didn't go to any of the spring rodeos. I cracked back out at Reno and it was kind of just a little here and a little there, never really anything big until I won Cheyenne. I kind of chipped away at them there in the fall. I was third at Pendleton and that kind of sealed the deal for me."
In the winter, he rode Rodney Burks's three-time AQHA/PRCA Steer Wrestling Horse of the Year, Zan. Then, during the spring and early summer he was traveling with Branquinho and rode his horses. To wrap up the season, he mounted out on Curtis Cassidy's great horse Willie.
Miller may have been looking ahead. Willie carried Rope Myers to a world title in 2001 and Lee Graves to one in 2005. At 21, the horse is still as strong as ever.
"I rode him at the Canadian Finals and I rode him here and he worked great every single time," he said. "After the third go round he had two guys and after the fourth he had three."
Originally, Miller was the only cowboy planning to ride Willie. However, Sean Mulligan and Casey McMillan were both using Mulligan's horse, who they decided to rest after he threw a shoe. Cassidy probably ended up breaking any unofficial earnings for a hazer/horse owner, pocketing around $200,000 in mount money.
"That horse did great and Curtis done a great job hazing," Miller said. "That's a pretty thankless job out here and he did an outstanding job every single time. Willie's got a little age on him but he sure didn't show it here."
While one key to Miller's success may have been his horse, it was winning the average that put him over the top in an incredibly tight race. The world standings leader changed with every performance. Miller however, went to the lead in the average after winning the third performance and never looked back.
"You know, I never looked at the numbers or the money all week long," he said. "I didn't want to know because I didn't want to get caught up in it all. I just wanted to get a good start and do good in the rounds."
As it turned out, he edged Lee Graves by $14,000 for the title, won the average with a 42.7-second time on 10 and made $116,434 in Las Vegas to bring his year-end total to $178,768.
"Every time I buy my card at the beginning of the year I have one goal and that's to win it all and I finally got one," he said.