Today’s the day the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo team ropers get to run all the steers. I got to thinking this morning about how much fun it is to see each year’s first-time finalists lay eyes on their first-ever NFR back numbers for the first time. That’ll happen tonight. But first, it’s time to run the steers through in the Thomas & Mack Center Arena. It’s a chance for the steers to get to know the arena, and the guys to get to know the steers.
It’s always interesting to see the strategies used by different guys on this day. Some make more runs on their A-team horses than others. Some headers reach on at least a few steers to get the feel for what it’s like to be 3 and 4 in that building where the gold buckles live. Others are clearly content to kick their horses in there and keep them as freed up as possible, knowing so many head horses will be anticipating just how fast things happen there soon enough.
Every year, there are a few guys who really shine on this day and ride out the back gate and headed to the barn whistling with great big smiles on their faces. There are also always others who have heck on this day, be it a head horse dropping his shoulder with frustrating regularity or a heeler who for some strange reason keeps stabbing a righty all the way through this little NFR warm-up drill.
What we’ve all learned by now is that how this day goes is not always a sneak peek into the crystal ball. The guy who spent this little session freeing up his head horse has lost his rope in Round 1 plenty in my 30 years of covering Rodeo’s Super Bowl. Just ask the guy with the most gold heading buckles ever—Speed Williams. That heeler who all but broke a few beef ribs trying to catch two feet on this day has emerged the hero by week’s end here, too. That, ladies and gentlemen, is why we play the game. No lead is safe, and anything can happen.
There are four Finals freshmen in this year’s NFR field—Dustin Equisquiza, who’ll head for Kory Koontz; Joseph Harrison, who’ll heel for Charly Crawford; and the first-time team of Junior Dees and Tyler McKnight. As Charly and Kory have 30 NFR qualifications between them, with nine and 21 respectively, I thought it would be fun to turn the respected team roping veterans loose with the assignment of capturing the Vegas rookies with their cell-phone cameras back in the warm-up tent. I can’t see any pucker factor going on here. Can you?
Thank you, CC and KK, and good luck everybody! May the best men win.