What was it about some of the most successful teams in roping history that set them apart and allowed them to really stand out and dominate? Some call it chemistry, and there’s a mysterious “it” factor that creates that dynamic-duo type of result. To me, it seems like things just kind of fall into place more than you can force that to happen.
On the flip side, there are always also pairs that on paper we all expected to be standout teams that didn’t win up to expectations. But once in a blue moon—whether by fate, chance or destiny—there’s almost a magic about a team.
Speed Williams and Rich Skelton won eight straight world team roping titles from 1997 to 2004. They knew they needed to beat the seven Jake (Barnes) and I won to own the record, and they stayed hooked and had the strength, fortitude and talent to get it done. That’s sort of how Jake and I got to five—because Jim Rodriguez and Leo Camarillo each had four, and that was the mark.
In the beginning, Jake and I wanted to win that first gold buckle. Then we wanted five, so we’d have the record. That was our goal. There were a lot of hard-fought battles right to the very end some of those years, and there were years in there we got our butts kicked. There were some amazingly tough teams during that time. But Jake and I worked at it, and we were pretty good at the NFR (National Finals Rodeo).
Then came Speed and Rich. They had our mark of seven world championships in front of them and knew that eight got them the history book. You have to hand it to a team that can stay hooked for eight solid years of grinding. That’s not an easy feat.
When Speed and Rich won their last championship in 2004, David Key and I were the last team to rope in Round 10 at the Finals, which means we were in the lead in the world standings. The way it went, when we roped we had to win the round to win the world. The stage was set to knock Speed and Rich off, but we didn’t get it done and they out-roped everybody right down to the last steer. That’s how championships are won and lost. It starts with the first steer of the year, and the last man standing wins.
There is so much individual talent out there today that it’s hard to say which team will be the next big thing. I don’t know if those records are so far out there now that people don’t set their sights on them anymore or not. Speed and Rich set a high mark. They pinned their ears and went at what they wanted whipping and spurring. They were after eight, and they got there. Once they accomplished their goals, they went about the business of making a living and raising their families.
Winning nine world championships would be a tall task. Somebody will surely come along and try. But the road is hard. The chemistry Jake and I had was based on the fact that we were just warriors. We were all-in to be as good as we could possibly be as individuals and as a team. Jake’s tenacious and an absolute war horse, and I’m a little hard-headed myself.
It’s hard for any team to dominate in any era, and as tough as it is today I don’t see it getting any easier. Jake and I, and Speed and Rich, didn’t have social media and all the other distractions cowboys have now, so I think it was a little easier to focus on our dreams and goals in our day. The roping talent pool is so much deeper today than it’s ever been, but that gives more teams a good chance at winning. And spreading the money out makes it tough to dominate and build dynasties.