While Jr Dees and Levi Lord took the 4.3-second Round 1 victory lap last night, six teams were dealt the devastating blow of no-times straight out of the blocks at the $14.1 million Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
Who better to comment on how it all went down and dish out a little friendly advice than ultimate dream teamers Speed Williams and Rich Skelton, who were famous for staging sensational NFR comebacks that led to eight gold buckles after going down in flames in Round 1.
Both Hall of Famers watched Round 1 on TV. Their observations?
“Apparently, they got steers like the ones we ran the first year I was here in 1988 (when Williams heeled for Casey Cox),” Speed said. “The steers they ran last night were big, stout and strong, and a lot of the head horses were tight. These guys prepare to go fast here, and if the head horses are quick—especially if they’ve already been in this building a couple times—it’s a struggle. It was a struggle for me to keep Viper free here.
“The steers won the battle last night. It’s a very different situation at the Thomas & Mack. If you make one little error and, say, miss the barrier, it’s not easy. Kaleb Driggers has evolved. He can throw as fast as anybody living, but he rode his horse last night (and world leaders Driggers and Nogueira placed third behind Dees and Lord’s 4.3, and Clay Tryan and Jade Corkill’s 4.5 in 4.7).”
“The first round last night looked more like a typical eighth, ninth or tenth round most years to me,” Rich added. “The steers were strong, a lot of the head horses were tight, and the combination of those two things caused some trouble. It all goes back to the head horses, and Driggers’ horse, for one, stayed with the steer. That makes it so much easier.
“Andrew Ward and Coleman Proctor’s head horses looked good, and that made their steers come around and handle good (Ward and Buddy Hawkins were fourth in 5.2, and Proctor and Logan Medlin finished sixth in the round with a 5.6-second run). Jr Dees’ head horse was outstanding, and they won the round. Bottom line, the head horses that kept their shoulders up gave their heelers good shots.”
Speed and Rich’s friendly advice to the guys who did not get off to the start they were hoping for going into Round 2 tonight?
“It’s not what I would say,” Speed said. “It’s what those guys have to believe. They have to believe they did a good job last night. You can’t second-guess yourself at the Thomas & Mack. I’ve had more sleepless nights after Round 1 than anyone. But you have to come back with confidence, because that’s what you need to go forward and be successful the rest of the week.
“You can’t let starting off bad make your whole Finals go bad. Stick with what you know, and what got you here. I don’t care if you have to lie to yourself. Whatever it takes to believe that you will be successful tonight, because you have confidence in yourself, your horse, your run and your team.”
“It’s way better to go out in Round 1 than Round 9,” Rich added. “And at $30,000 a night (it pays $28,914, to be exact, to win a round here this year), why not go at ’em now? You never know, with six teams already out, people are probably going to get paid on nine steers. The guys who went out last night have a chance to regroup—change horses, if they want. The good news is, they know what their game plan is now for the rest of the week.
“Don’t be too tough on yourselves.The Thomas & Mack is the hardest place in the world to rope. It’s easy to sit home and watch from your chair in the living room. But I’ve never been to a rodeo where steers leave any faster, and that arena is short. Stuff happens, and it happens fast. Stay hooked, and keep going at ’em.”