Remembering the Good Times With Dearly Departed NFR Header Denton Payne

Denton Payne joined the brigade of cowboy angels on November 23 when COVID took him from us way too soon at 52.

Watching Tyler Wade and Trey Yates win Round 1 on opening night here at the 2021 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo triggered a lifetime of memories for me, as I work my 35th NFR. I just know Grandma Jan Yates was smiling from Heaven seeing her pride and joy Trey take that victory lap. And Denton Payne just joined the brigade of cowboy angels on November 23 when COVID took him from us way too soon at 52. Thirty years ago, Trey’s dad JD heeled for Denton at back-to-back NFRs here in 1992 and ’93.

The Score BONUS: Wade and Yates Win Round 1 of 2021 Wrangler NFR

Denton and JD at the 1992 NFR. Dan Hubbell Photo

“When Trey and Tyler were practicing to ready to rope here at the NFR, it took me back to Denton and I getting ready for the Finals 30 years ago,” JD said of Denton, who headed for Terry Selland at his first of three NFRs in 1991. “This one hits hard. Denton was a great competitor and a great guy. His life was too short. I wish we were practicing for that moment again instead of having to say goodbye. Denton will be dearly missed.”

Right Where They Left Off: Wade and Yates Get Round 1 Win

Back in the day, Bob Payne and Pete Woolsey hauled their sons to every roping they could get to in the greater Arizona area and beyond. Theresa Payne ran and announced a lot of them. Denton and Rube roped at all of them. Those two little boys grew into world-class headers, which by definition made them rivals. And yet they were the best of friends.

Tyler Wade and Trey Yates taking Round 1 in 4 flat last night. PRCA Photo by Rod Connor

“Denton and I were either going to be enemies or great friends,” Rube said. “As it went, we were best buddies from the time we were little bitty. Denton and I were the same age, and in the late ’70s and early ’80s when we were coming up, there were no numbered ropings. They categorized ropers by age, and there was typically the 12 & Under, the 16 & Under and the open. Denton’s family and my family jackpot team roped together every weekend.

Carrie and Rube Woolsey with Denton and Dawnie Payne.

“Denton was funny. He was ornery sometimes, but you couldn’t get enough of him. And he was a competitor. Denton had a lot of fight to him, and he was a sore loser. Losing did not set well with Denton.”

Our hearts are with Denton’s wife, Dawnie, and sons, Brady and Masen, at this impossibly sad time. Momma Theresa and his countless cowboy friends, too.

“It sure doesn’t seem real that Denton’s gone,” Rube said. This one’s going to leave a mark—for the rest of my life.”

Denton and JD, NFR ’92. Dan Hubbell Photo