The night before Luke Brown and Joseph Harrison roped together at RFD-TV's The American, Harrison called his shot.
You see, he came across a photo on the wall above a urinal at a local Oklahoma restaurant that he thought was worth sharing with his future partner.
"There's this photo of (World Series catcher for the Cincinnati Reds) Johnny Bench," Harrison recounts, in a level of detail that only he would include. "He's just taking off toward first base, with his bat still in his hand and that ball is going out of there. The look on his face says, 'HOLY CRAP'. I took a picture of that picture, and I text Luke that that's the look he'd see on my face when I pulled back on the last one to win The American."
Sure enough, Harrison was spot on, and he and Brown roped that final steer of The American in 4.3 seconds, netting each man $103,000—$50,000 of which counted toward this year's PRCA world standings.
Brown and Harrison will enter the 2020 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo first in the PRCA world standings with $89,664.97 and $70,299.00 won, respectively.
Brown, 46, will make his 13th consecutive Wrangler NFR appearance when the Finals kick off Dec. 3 in Arlington, Texas's Globe Life Field, the NFR's 2020 home thanks to the COVID-19 crisis.
Harrison, 33, will rope at his fourth Finals this year, coming of a season in which professional rodeo was deeply stunted by the effects of COVID-19 on gatherings and the economies of towns small and large across the country who produce these cowboy competitions.
"Things have went my way several times, and I’m very fortunate it’s been that way," Harrison, of Overbrook, Oklahoma, said. "But I’d like to capitalize on that to be honest. We’ve talked about it several times, guys winning a big check sneaking in—and even I've asked before: How would I feel getting in on a big check like The American? But now that I'm living it, I know that’s not the only way I can get a back number."
[Related: The Strong Stop with Joseph Harrison]
Harrison won a round at the Gold Buckle Beer Tour Finale in Rapid City, South Dakota, behind World Champ Nick Sartain, worth $4,000, and won another chunk of his funds at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo with Lane Ivy. He picked up checks throughout the season with Wyatt Imus as well.
But getting another shot behind Brown for big money? Harrison's up for it.
"Luke obviously knows the drill," Harrison said. "I’ve roped with him enough. I know what he’s going to do and how he’s going to do them."
And Brown—who's won the NFR average three times already (in 2010 with Martin Lucero and in 2013 and 2015 with Kollin VonAhn)—plans to put the ball in Harrison's court.
"It’s a good thing he throws fast because I’m going to go catch," Brown affirmed. "He can be the superstar. I’m going to turn the cow."
The chance to be the hero sounds about right to Harrison.
"Honestly, I don’t even want to look up until Round 5 or 6. I want to go at them. The rounds are great, and Luke is great at going fast even when he's just going to catch the cow. I would just as soon Luke go at them and duck them back like we’re trying to win something to make a living. After Round 5 or 6 we can look up and see where we’re at and what we've got going on in the average. If we’ve blasted five or six in a row, maybe we don’t change anything—then go back and look as the rodeo goes on. I don’t care how we do it, however Luke wants to do it is how I’m going to do it."
And with the horse power Harrison plans to bring to Arlington in his great 16-year-old gelding Main Street Boon, that superstar status shouldn't be a problem at all.
"He’s a freak of nature. He’s bigger than most everybody else’s heel horses. He doesn’t ever mess up hardly. I’ve been very fortunate to have several of those great ones myself because of being in Bob's (Bobby Lewis') program. That Street—he’s one of those once in a lifetime horses. The other day, the guys were all sitting around and asked me, if I just had unlimited money to spend, which great heel horse I'd own. One of them named off Brady Minor’s Rey, and one named off Jackyl, and these are all horses that are pretty much done. So they asked me what I’d do, and I said if we’re just waving a magic wand and throwing fairy dust on stuff, I’d give $200,000 to turn Street into an 8-year-old again. I’d borrow the money at the bank today. I guarantee you I’ve won over a million on him, with just the last two or three years roping at places for real money. There’s no telling how much I’ve won on him, but if another guy had him, they’d have won that much too. Whoever rides him is going to win."
Harrison—who just roped 10 in a row, and in a hurry, to win the Capitalist's 10-steer roping, worth $12,500 a roper with Blake Hughes—will take more reps in the practice pen than perhaps anyone else getting ready for the Finals. After all, he's got at least 11 head to get ready for the American Quarter Horse Association's World Show.
[Related: Cutting Royalty: Harrison's Main Street Boon]
"I'll show four junior heel horses and four senior heel horses, and I've got maybe one junior head horse and two senior head horses," Harrison said. "Then I'll do a bunch of helping. It won't be that bad. I’ve had a bunch of guys say they don’t know how I ride young, green horses fiddle farting around just roping for them, and then right after that get up there and rope for me. But honestly I’m still roping for me the whole time I’m roping for them colts. I’m watching the steer jump and swinging and working on the basics the whole time I’m riding a young one."
Brown will be mounted, too, but he's not as certain as Harrison about which of his string of great horses he'll be on.
"I've got Cowboy, my new gray Durango and the yellow (Bob) I bought from Driggers," Brown said. "With the score two-foot under this year (instead of the traditional four-foot under like in Las Vegas) I am still not sure what I'll ride."
Cowboy is the gelding who pinch-hitted for Brown in Vegas last year, after he lost his NFR mount in a freak accident just days before the Finals. Durango, the running-bred gray horse that Brown finished the season aboard, proved himself valuable across multiple setups, while Bob is the good palomino that Kaleb Driggers rode at the 2019 Finals.
Brown will surely figure his ride out between now and Dec. 3, though, as he and Harrison are gearing up for some serious NFR practice. They've both broken in a fresh set of Mexican corrientes, and both have plenty of horses ready to go at them at both places.
"I've got all kinds of practice horses—from young horses that need it to pure practice horses to my good ones who I'll just run a few steers every couple days on," Brown said. "Me and Patrick (Smith, Brown's regular-season partner) have been roping about every day, and Doug (Rich) and Paul (Eaves) and Clay Futrell have been here. Plus my nephew Carson lives with my dad and he ropes all day, too, and he loves to heel so he can heel plenty of them.I’m as excited as I’ve ever been. It’s a once in a lifetime deal to get to go to Texas, so it’s cool to be a part of that. If you make the NFR and you’re not excited, you have issues. That’s the greatest rodeo ever. I don’t know what year was more exciting than the other."
Brown will enter this year's Finals in first place in the world standings for the first time in his 22-year PRCA career. He's $19,961.42 ahead of second-place Clay Smith, who's won back-to-back world titles. Harrison will also enter the NFR first in the world for the first time, but he's just $595.45 ahead of three-time Champ of the World Jade Corkill.
"I told Luke I was glad he waited for me to win the American, and I told him the other day I appreciate that he had a couple chances to get a gold buckle and it's sure nice of him waiting on me to actually win it," Harrison said.
For Brown, a husband and father first—who came painfully close to a gold buckle in 2015 when his partner VonAhn did in fact clinch one—the Finals this year are another chance to set himself up for the future.
"I need money," Brown said. "A gold buckle would be great to say I did. But more importantly, I need money." TRJ