Among the many twists to this first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Texas since the third one ever in 1961 is the fact that the bulldogging and team roping steers hang out in the catch-pen at the back end of the arena until after each performance, when they’re then trailered out of the arena. This is done to prevent them from circling left, if they were to figure out that the ultimate out-gate is back up at the same end as the team roping/steer wrestling, bucking and tie-down roping chutes. NFR 2020 protocol also includes each team riding into a small holding pen between the two sets of steers at the back end right after they rope. They sit there together—win or lose, money or mud—while gathering up their ropes, so the arena’s clear for the next team. That post-run team huddle is good watching, actually, and depending on how each team fairs each evening, I’m calling it either the NFR Hot Box or the NFR Ice Box.
Six teams lost loops and dropped jaws on opening night by going out of the average straight out of the blocks. That little header/heeler holding tank—where two guys had to huddle up horseback moments after the air was let out of their NFR balloon—looked a little awkward. But no. I talked to teammates from four of those six teams who rallied for checks in Round 2 last night to see how it really went in those close quarters at the catch pen.
Colby Lovell and Paul Eaves went out in Round 1, but were 4.4 for second in Round 2 (behind Dustin Egusquiza and Travis Graves’s 3.8).
“Colby and I get along so good that nothing ever gets said when one of us messes up,” Paul said. “We didn’t talk in the arena, but Colby called me right after we got done and said, ‘Hey, I’m sorry. I messed you up.’ Colby’s just that good a guy. He’s always looking for how he can do better. When we were riding out that first night, after I missed, I talked to him about what I did wrong and how I was going to correct it. That’s how good teams are, and how we both see it. If Colby misses one, I feel like I messed up hazing. I kick myself and feel partly to blame. Lucky for me, none of the partners I’ve roped with in the last 10 years have played the blame game.”
Chad Masters and Wesley Thorp went out in Round 1, but were 4.7 for fourth in Round 2.
“We missed the first night (Chad waved it off),” Wesley said. “If you miss, you’re supposed to go straight out to the left. If you catch, you’re supposed to go to that holding pen. They lock you up in there while the next team ropes, then you’re supposed to lope out of the arena. Nothing’s really been said between Chad and I either night. There are a lot of new rules, and we’re all just trying to hurry up, so we don’t get hollered at and hold up the show. That first night wasn’t all bad for Chad and me. Our goal was to catch 10, but that lifted the pressure off. Good runs are going to win money every night. We don’t have to lay off or be conservative now. We can just enjoy it and make good runs. We can still get a good average check, but now we can be pretty aggressive each night, and we don’t have to worry about backing down.”
Andrew Ward and Buddy Hawkins went out in Round 1, but were 4.9 for fifth in Round 2.
“Win or lose, it’s never much different for me and Buds,” Andrew said. “When we make a successful run, it brings a smile to my face. We failed that first night trying it on a stronger steer. Buddy’s one of the best catchers in the team roping world. The way I see it, if I’m making it so hard that he can’t catch him, I need to do better. After our first steer (Buddy missed him), I apologized for that steer not being heel-able, and we went on. I always put our success on my shoulders, and Buds puts it on his. Bottom line, this is a team event.”
“One of the special things about my partner is that his expressions toward me are always the same,” Buddy added. “Big wins make us all more excited. But we’re the same people when we win or lose. That little holding tank is a tight environment for us, and we’re required to rush in, then rush out. We visited a little in there, and riding out of the arena. We talk every chance we get. In my mind, when you start naming names of the greats, my list has more to do with how they handled their failures than their successes. Trevor (Brazile) talks about the importance of short-term memory on your failures, and that’s huge. So he’s a great example. Speed Williams is another great example of what I’m talking about. Clay Cooper is the epitome. Half of that was his heel loops, but the other half is how he handled losing. One year, Speedy turned Clay a perfect steer at the George Strait. Right after Clay missed that steer, a little 5-year-old girl yelled at him. Clay stopped, rode over to her and shook her hand. That, to me, makes him more unique than somebody winning a roping or rodeo and celebrating afterwards. Andrew’s on that same track, because of how he handles the mistakes and tough times. The greats are let down and disappointed when they lose, but it doesn’t last long or lead to depression. That’s why Clay’s The Champ.”
Charly Crawford and Logan Medlin went out in Round 1, but were 5 flat for sixth in Round 2.
“It all happens so fast that there’s not much time for talking, win or lose,” Logan said. “Charly and I didn’t have time to talk in that little holding pen, but we visited a little riding out of the arena. The first night, I said, ‘Sorry, dude, I should have done a better job.’ We talked out back, where we warm up, after our run. Charly came over to me and said, ‘Hey, we get to run nine more. I like the aggression. Keep your head up, and we’ll try again tomorrow.’ He’s been like that all year. When I mess up, Charly’s always the first one to remind me that it’s not the end of the world. Last night, I told him, ‘Well, that’s better. At least I can say I caught one steer by two feet.’” TRJ