Mastering Morale

Luke Brown and Jake Long keep their heads up after a first-round misfire.
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Luke Brown has learned a lot in the 10 straight years he’s roped at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. He and his heeler, seven-time NFR veteran Jake Long, leaned on that wisdom in the early going here in Las Vegas this week, and it came in so handy that it helped them rebound in a big way to win Round 3 with a sizzling 3.9-second run.

After the way their at first fiery-hot Finals went up in flames at NFR’s end here last year, a lot of hearts went out to them both when Jake missed their first steer here this week. Jake obviously felt terrible, but Luke did not flinch.

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“I told Jake to keep firing,” Luke said of their post-Round-1 huddle. “I told him, ‘You keep doing that and it’ll all work out. I guarantee it.’”

Jake slipped legs in Rounds 7 and 9 at NFR 2K16, and “flat missed our 10 steer, which cost us both gold buckles,” he said. “I left here last year with a mix of emotions. I had a chance to win my first world title and didn’t come through in the clutch, which is something I’ve always been good at. On the other hand, we won a lot of money ($123,596 a man). So in the grand scheme of roping for a living, it was a good week.”

There was disappointment, no doubt. They then opened this year’s NFR in the ditch.

“I rode out the back end thinking, ‘I need to trust God, and let the negative emotions trying to clutter my mind go,’” Jake said. “I chose to focus on the positive of having nine more steers to run here this week. There’s just too much money to win here in Vegas to limit yourself with negativity.

“Tonight (winning Round 3) feels so good, because I’ve roped really good in this building. To have a rough patch here last year and miss the first one this year, then come back and make two good shots these last two nights (Rounds 2, in which they finished fifth in 4.8, and 3) and feel like myself again takes a lot of pressure off and will let me rope good the rest of the week.”

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There’s a lesson here for ropers at every level of the game. Before you let your temper flair into a tantrum you can’t take back, and you throw your head back in disgust only to humiliate yourself and your team, try asking yourself one question: What would Luke do?

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“Luke called me Friday morning after I missed that first one, and told me to keep firing and we were going to do good the rest of the week,” Jake said. “He reminded me that we practiced hard for this, that the run we can make every time is fast enough, and that by the time it’s over we’ll win our fair share. He was right, and him talking to me like that gave me a lot of confidence.

“For the last month we’ve run 100 steers a day. We’ve put in the work, so we deserve to win. Like Luke said, ‘If we mess up, it’s just a mistake and part of being human. It’s not because we aren’t taking care of business or lack preparation.’ He also reminded me that our practice run is fast enough to win something, so we need to trust that. We can’t let ourselves get too low or we won’t be ready when the next opportunity comes up. It sure helps to have a guy who believes in you on your team.”

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