Matt Tyler and Patrick Smith were men on a mission at the 2003 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, and by Finals end it was mission accomplished.Eighteen-year NFR veteran Tyler and 2003 PRCA Rookie Heeler of the Year Smith roped 10 steers in 62.3 seconds to come within striking distance of icons Jake Barnes and Clay O'Brien Cooper's 59.1-second NFR record, which they set back in 1994.
"I do this for a living, not to break records," said Tyler, 39. "It's really tough to win this rodeo. It's so tempting to run over yourself here with so much money up every night. Once we had things going pretty well in the middle of the week, I tried to use my head and be smart."Smith showed no signs of freshman jitters, and stayed solid throughout the 10-day marathon. In fact, he was flawless less a leg in round five. Take off that one piddly penalty and you'd have had a new 57.3-second NFR record. "This is awesome," said Smith, 23. "I'm just going to give glory to God for my whole year. He set everything up for me. I started off the year with Tee (Woolman), then I roped with Jason Stewart toward the end of the year and God just had his hand on me all through the year. I've got one of the best partners to have at the National Finals. Matt roped awesome all week."
Tyler and Smith hooked up almost by process of elimination at regular season's end."Patrick and Boogie (Ray) were the only two heelers available, and Patrick called me first," said Tyler, who lives in Dennis, Texas, with his wife, Staci, and daughters, Mattye, 3, and Torrye, 1. "It was meant to be."Other than a world title, this is something you dream of. It's taken me 18 years to finally get it, and I just praise God for the opportunity and being with me all week. I had a great partner who roped consistent all the way. This is his first time here, so that says a lot about Patrick."Tyler roped with Britt Bockius most of the regular 2003 season. He also shifted gears on the equine side just before the Finals."I bought a new horse at Dallas (the last rodeo of the regular season)," he said. "I'd been looking for a smaller horse that works good in little buildings, and finally found one."Jack's 13 and sorrel. Smith rode his sorrel sidekick, Jaws, 8. The Finals was actually Tyler and Smith's first rodeo together. It was also the first rodeo Smith won in his professional rodeo career. "This is the first rodeo I won all year," said Smith, who lives in Midland, Texas, and gets a lot of support and encouragement from his girlfriend, Christi. "I won second 10 or 12 times this year, but never first. If I was going to win one once a year, this is the one I'd want to win. It's just overwhelming. I'm loving it, and can't wait to be back."Smith, who's heeling for Tyler Magnus in 2004, was wiped out when it was all said and done on Round-10 Sunday."I feel like I could go to sleep," he smiled. "I love the National Finals, but I'm glad it's over. This is overwhelming-to win my first one. I'm pumped."Matt's as good a partner as you can have here. He made my job easy. I didn't really know what to expect. My game plan here was two feet, regardless of whether it was for the round or the average. My job was just to rope two feet."
Tyler's ringing in the new year with his old friend Kory Koontz. But he's not about to discount Patrick's part in sending last December out with a bang. "This is the biggest thing I've ever accomplished," he commented. "I give my wife and family a lot of credit for encouraging me to continue my career. This is a big shot in the arm. God will use this in a mighty way in my life."The Steady Eddie that he is, it's hard to believe Tyler hadn't won the Finals already. This guy's about as consistent as they come."You always think about winning the NFR," Tyler beamed. "It's something I've wanted to do my whole career. We didn't have any room for error with Jake (Barnes) and Allen (Bach), and Speed (Williams) and Rich (Skelton) right behind us from the seventh round on. I just tried to stay with the same thing we did all week, and that's ride the barrier as good as I can and give Patrick the best chance to win. They let us draw good enough steers, and I had
a great partner. Nine out of ten steers by two feet says a lot about his ability, especially for a first-year guy.""I was very pleased with my first Finals," added Smith, who thanked his entire family for all the support and won the Finals on his grandma's (he calls her "Dean Granny") birthday, with her looking on from the stands. "This really makes me look forward to next year, and I get to start over at my hometown rodeo (in Odessa). This is as big as it gets other than a world title, which I hope to get someday. I love it."