Two teams stand alone in terms of all-out, historic domination in the sport of professional team roping. Eight-time World Champions Speed Williams and Rich Skelton made it eight straight from 1997-2004, and basically took the team roping torch after the reign of seven-time World Team Roping Titlists Jake Barnes and Clay O’Brien Cooper won their last gold buckles in 1994. When it comes to individuals in the Cowboy Sport, one man stands alone at the top of that mountain, and that’s King of the Cowboys Trevor Brazile. With 19 gold buckles on his belt—all-around, tie-down roping, steer roping and team roping—he’s the undisputed all-time master when it comes to winning in the rodeo arena.
Four of these five guys will be included in the field at this year’s Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, which runs December 4-13 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. Rich will heel for Nick Sartain; Jake will head for Brazilian rookie Junior Nogueira; pending the final qualification appeals process, which had not yet played all the way out at press time, Clay will heel for Chad Masters; and Trevor will head for Travis Graves.
I fired off five questions to my five Dream Team panelists, and asked that they shoot straight back from the hip and not include their own team in their answers. Given these guys’ humility I know they wouldn’t have done that anyway. But in fairness I figure anyone who’s won as much as they have just has to be thinking that way, whether they’ll admit it or not.
Kendra Santos: Who in all the world has the best shot at being the next historic dynasty team, and why?
Speed Williams: In my opinion, that’s not really a fair question because a dynasty team—what Jake and Clay did, and what Rich and I did—takes a lot of years of staying together and fighting through the highs and lows. There’s no team out there right now that has won as much as Clay Tryan and Jade Corkill have. Clay has done a great job at keeping himself surrounded with head horses. He understands the game of not breaking the barrier and not missing, and Jade has done the same at keeping horses and catching. To be a dynasty team, you have to keep yourself surrounded with great horses for a long time. The problem with a dynasty team moving forward is that the yearlong battle is going to mean less once you get to the Thomas & Mack, with $26,231 a round and $67,269 for the average in 2015. It’s going to be the team that can perform at a high, consistent level at the National Finals Rodeo that’s going to get it done.
Rich Skelton: Right now you’d have to go with Tryan and Corkill. To me, they’ve got the mojo going. They’ve got good horses and they rope good together. They rodeo and jackpot well, and to be a great team you have to be able to do both.
Jake Barnes: I would stay Clay and Jade. They’re the current world champions, No. 1, and they pretty much dominated this season. It seems like they win every jackpot, too.
Clay O’Brien Cooper: Clay Tryan and Jade Corkill obviously have to be one of the teams in that mix, because they’re a dominant team and they’re both individually at the top of today’s game. Then I would say Trevor and whoever he’s roping with would have to be in the mix, because Trevor is right there with Clay Tryan. He’s right at the top of the game. He’s won a (team roping) championship, and he’s one of the dominant winners in the game. Trevor’s got the horses, and he’s got the style that’s the dominant style today. The next guy who’s right there, even though he hasn’t yet won a championship, is Travis Graves. There’s no weakness in his game, and he’s steadily climbed the ladder. He sets it up right and he doesn’t miss. It won’t surprise me to see Travis and Trevor win the championship this year.
Trevor Brazile: That’d probably have to be Clay and Jade, with the success they’ve had and how they’ve stuck together. In order to be a dynasty you have to stay together. Sticking it out is one of the prerequisites.
Kendra Santos: Which team do you like best in the rounds at the Finals this year, and why?
Speed Williams: I’ve got to go with Coleman Proctor and Jake Long. Not only am I helping Coleman with his roping and have been very, very involved with him the last two years, but those guys go fast very well. I also like Kaleb Driggers and Patrick Smith in the rounds, because Driggers understands the short game very well.
Rich Skelton: I think Trevor and Travis, because Trevor’s been roping really, really good. He’s roping fast, and really consistently fast. And Travis doesn’t drop the ball when he gets one turned. I think they’ll be a really consistently fast team in Vegas this year.
Jake Barnes: If my life depended on a team in the rounds, I would say Kaleb Driggers and Patrick Smith. Kaleb is phenomenal. He has a lot of range, and it takes that kind of team—a guy who can get it on ’em fast, and a clean-up guy like Patrick, who very seldom misses. I’d have to go with Clay and Jade in the rounds also. The cream always comes to the top at the Finals. Anything can happen there, but the odds are that the guys who’ve had an exceptional year will continue to do well.
Clay O’Brien Cooper: Every team on the NFR roster has the ability to be fast. It’s hard to say who’s going to dominate that part of it. Everybody is so capable that it’s about impossible to pick one team. The team that gets hot might be winning first and second in the rounds and catching all their steers. Other teams will make a 3-second run, then be hit and miss.
Trevor Brazile: Riley and Brady (Minor) always seem to do good there in the rounds. I like Nick and Rich there also. They’re great in those types of situations, and they’ve really done good in the buildings this year.
Kendra Santos: In your opinion, which team is most likely to win the NFR average this year, and why?
Speed Williams: I have a hard time betting against Clay Tryan and Jade Corkill. They’re very consistent and don’t make many mistakes.
Rich Skelton: I think Charly Crawford and Shay Carroll will have a good chance. Charly rides his horse good and takes a good, high-percentage throw, even when he’s trying to be fast. It’s a catching game out there, and Charly’s really good at being consistent. Shay’s roped good all year, and is kind of the same type of roper.
Jake Barnes: I need two bangs on this one, too. I’ll go with Trevor and Travis, and Chad and Clay. Trevor’s got really good horses and he’s smart. He takes good shots. Travis is the same way. They’re catchers. Same way with Chad and Clay. If you don’t have any success at the first of the week, it’s easy to go for the go-rounds. The average deal is a hard one. Because if you try to just stay in the average and don’t go for any rounds, then go out at the end for some reason, you’re done. I hickeyed a horn for Clay in the ninth round one year when we hadn’t done much in the rounds. Then you end up not winning anything. Speed and Rich won world championships multiple times after going out on their first steer. They went for first every night after that. It worked for them. You don’t take the same shot if you’re out of the average as you would if you were right in the thick of it.
Clay O’Brien Cooper: It depends on who goes in there with the frame of mind that they’re going to be solid. Clay Tryan is the first one who comes to mind, and Chad Masters is the second one who comes to mind. Trevor has roped extremely aggressive in the rounds in recent times, even though he’s such a consistent guy. That’s a hard call. Guys like Turtle Powell and Charly Crawford score good and don’t miss, so you have to include them in the average conversation also.
Trevor Brazile: I like Chad and Champ (Clay O) for the average. The name Champ speaks for itself, and Chad is able to overcome the day-money pressure. He’s not too proud to rope smart.
Kendra Santos: Name your favorite head and heel horse on the planet right now, and tell me why.
Speed Williams: My favorite head horses on the planet right now would be the ones I own. I actually have two bay horses that remind me a lot of the Bob and Viper days. Quannah Kool reminds me of Bob, and G.R. reminds me of Viper. He’s the only one who’s ever done that to me since Viper. I have two head horses that make it fun right now. It’s been a long time since I could say that. I’m going to have to go with my son Gabe’s heel horse, LaLa, because she takes care of my son. She’s 7 years old, and a pretty blue roan. He falls off of her, and she waits for him to climb back on. She’s also (Speed’s wife) Jennifer’s backup heel horse everywhere, and when the guys come through and rope some on her she’s pretty cool.
Rich Skelton: Other than my team’s head horse, I like Trevor’s sorrel horse. He’s fast, and he came from Jay Mattson up in South Dakota. Trevor’s got several nice horses right now, but I really like that one (Banker). The two things that stand out about him to me are that he’s really fast and he faces outstanding. On the heeling side, I like Corkill’s Switchblade. He’s my type of horse. He’s a little more compact, and he’s just solid. Every time you go to win money he never cheats you.
Jake Barnes: The bay horse Brandon Webb bought from Arky Rogers is my favorite head horse. I don’t even know his name, but he scores so good and he’s so fast. He doesn’t even look like he’s running, but he catches up so fast, he pulls and faces. He has all the ingredients when you describe a great head horse. I’d have to say Jade’s bay horse Switchblade is my favorite heel horse right now. He’s proven year after year to be great. Kory Koontz rode him for years. Then Allen Bach had a lot of success on him. Now Jade’s going on with it. He’s just been a phenomenal horse.
Clay O’Brien Cooper: Clay Tryan’s little bay horse (Dew) is my favorite head horse. He’s just such a little grinder. He’s so fast, and has the same pattern every time. He fits Clay’s style so well and he’s just so consistent. It’s hard not to pick him, because he’s part of Clay’s domination at the rodeos and the ropings. He’s just so good. There are some really good heel horses out there, so that’s a hard one. I like Jade’s horse Switchblade. I think they’re a really good combination. Travis Graves and his dun horse work so well together, too, as do Paul Eaves and his grey horse.
Trevor Brazile: My brown horse Boogie is my favorite right now. There are a lot of great horses, like Clay’s little horse Dew. He’s so fast and makes it look effortless. I like the fact that Boogie’s as good in the Thomas & Mack as he is at Salinas or the BFI. I really like Brady Minor’s heel horse (Rey). He’s the best horse going. I love Patrick’s horse Amigo, too, but Brady’s horse is younger and more in his prime. He’s sound and he’s just so good. He’s not to the stage where he has to pick his spots. He can ride him anywhere.
Kendra Santos: Rhett Anderson of Anabella, Utah, is this year’s PRCA/Resistol Rookie Header of the Year. Junior Nogueira is the Rookie Heeler of the Year, and we’ll be seeing him in NFR action. What’s impressed you most about Junior so far this season?
Speed Williams: His ability with a rope. Junior can go fast, and he has lots and lots of ability. I’ve been to Brazil, and there are a lot of guys there who can really heel. They rope muleys over there, and it’s hard. To be a young kid, come to a foreign country, be away from home and compete at the highest level takes a lot of dedication. Junior’s living his dream, and I’ve never seen him when he wasn’t smiling ear to ear.
Rich Skelton: What impresses me most about Junior is coming over here and making the Finals his first year that he really rodeoed. That’d be like us going to another country and not knowing the ways or the language. I lived here and it took me two or three years to make the Finals. And Junior hasn’t gotten to ride the same horse all the time, so he’s had to borrow horses. That’s not easy to do.
Jake Barnes: The ability to come from another country to the United States, not even planning to try and rodeo—with limited funds, horses and not speaking the language—and being able to make it is amazing. More than anything, Junior’s enthusiasm and eagerness to fulfill a dream has been amazing. He’s realizing his dreams the hard way.
Clay O’Brien Cooper: I think the most impressive thing about Junior is the kind of person he is. He’s just a sweet kid—good as gold—and he’s fearless. To come all the way over here to pursue his dream took a lot of guts. He’s obviously talented, and you can tell he’s working extremely hard at perfecting his skills. Junior knows what he wants, and he’s a great kid. That’s the way it’s supposed to happen. It’s been a storybook start to his career.
Trevor Brazile: Junior’s got a little bit different style, but he stays true to it. He didn’t conform, and that impresses me. I love Junior’s aggression.