Speed and Rich. Like Jake and Clay before them, last names are optional. We all know exactly who you’re talking about when it comes to the winningest teams of all time. One key component of both dominant dynasties was their clutch performance at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. It’s no coincidence that these two dream teams can’t be trumped in terms of NFR go-round wins.
Williams and Skelton have taken 64 NFR victory laps between them; Barnes and Cooper, 60. Speed, who’s won 28 total rounds, is third on the all-time list of NFR heading round-winners behind Jake, who’s won 31, and Doyle Gellerman’s 30. Rich is #1 among all team ropers with 36 NFR go-round buckles, which is just ahead of Allen Bach with 30 and Champ at 29 on the heeling side. With just one team winning more than one round—Dustin Egusquiza and Travis Graves topped Rounds 2 and 3—the go-rounds here this week at Globe Life Field have gone to a wide variety of teams.
So from the guy who’s won more of them than anyone, what’s it really take to win rounds at the NFR, Rich?
“Rope with Speed Williams,” Rich laughed.
Appropriate short answer. Now please humor us and expand a little in longhand.
“The magic for us was that Speed could get it on ’em really fast, and Viper (Speed’s signature short-score ride) was the ticket in that (Thomas & Mack Center) building,” Rich said. “He was short-strided and handled steers outstanding. When I came around the turn, Speed and Viper gave me two or three chances; not just one big one. I could heel steers whenever I wanted. As a heeler, that was a luxury and made my job a whole lot easier.
“I had a lot of great partners with great head horses over the years, who roped fast, set steers up and handled them good, to where I could heel ’em fast. Having quarterbacks like Speed, Tee (Woolman), Dee (Pickett), Trevor (Brazile), David Key, Travis Tryan, Jay Ellerman and Mark Simon in your corner is a big advantage.”
How would Speed describe his partner in those record eight gold buckles in a word?
“Consistent,” Speed said. “In all the years we roped together, I was the team gambler at the Finals. I got it on ’em and set ’em up fast, and Rich didn’t miss many. That was our strong suit. It’s what we did, and what gave us our best odds of winning.
“I love the Finals setup this year. The two feet under (which is two feet longer than the NFR scoreline in Vegas) really gives guys the ability to show what they can do. You have to score a little, but the guys who have a little game with their ropes and really ride their horses have a shot at breaking the (3.3-second) world record. I love watching the Finals like this. It’s not just nod and go. You have to see a little bit, then go make a run. I texted (Kaleb) Driggers: ‘You know this is your setup.’ He texted back: ‘Don’t remind me.’”TRJ