WNFR photos courtesy PRCA
First team out Clay Tryan and Cory Petska jumping out and setting the pace at 3.8 was our first clue. That run would have won six of the 10 rounds. But it turned out to be the mere third-place ice breaker on a round that saw the eight-year-old world record fall-twice-in less than five minutes.
The second team to rope that night was Charly Crawford and Russell Cardoza. They made a smooth run on a neck shot, stopped the clocked at 5.1 and served as the sixth-place bookend to the latest, greatest chapter in team roping history. Brothers Minor took their shot in the third spot, but Riley pulled the trigger a hair early-3.8 plus 10.
Fast forward to team six, then-world championship contenders Nick Sartain and Kollin VonAhn. Coming off a broken barrier in round eight, and at that time second in the all-important NFR average, their 3.9 in round nine was huge. Who'd have thought at the moment they made it that it'd only split fourth in the round with David Key and Rich Skelton? Amazing.
JoJo LeMond and Randon Adams rode in ninth that night-with reckless abandon. Those two words are JoJo's calling cards, and Randon is clearly good with it and makes a great match on the back side. Three point four seconds later, the Thomas & Mack Center erupted. New world record. New NFR record. Holy smokes.
The 3.5-second world record was set back in 2001 at the ProRodeo in San Angelo, Texas, by Blaine Linaweaver and Jory Levy. The four teams who'd since matched it included Clay Tryan and Patrick Smith, 2005 NFR; Colter Todd and Cesar de la Cruz, Dallas, 2008; Travis Tryan and Cory Petska, 2008 NFR; and JoJo and Randon, Corpus Christi, Texas, 2009. Thus, the Tryan Brothers, along with Patrick and Cory, shared the 3.5-second NFR record.
That 3.5 held for eight years. But when it fell, it fell hard. Four teams after JoJo and Randon rallied that sellout crowd to the rafters, Chad Masters and Jade Corkill rode in. And 3.3 seconds later, Jade was launching his hat at a brand new world and NFR record. To the delight of all involved, he sacrificed his rope and roping glove to the crazed crowd on their victory lap.
I was still rubbing my eyes over seeing Chad ride in on his old gray horse, Handsome, when the whole rodeo world went wild. Chad sold Handsome to Wade Wheatley, who sold him to Shain Sproul. Last we saw Handsome was with Matt Sherwood in round nine of NFR '08, when he and Randon won that round en route to that year's gold buckles.
"If anything was going to change our luck, it was going to be that horse," Chad told me. "That run was Handsome luck. I'll give him all of that. To have that much confidence in a horse and what he's going to do means a lot. To get on one you know is a winner-that you've won a lot on-means everything. I've run more steers on that one horse than two or three others combined. I rode him for eight years. I'm totally at home on his back."
Handsome's round-nine Thomas & Mack magic dates further back than the last couple years. Chad and Dugan Kelly split the ninth round with Tee Woolman and Petska, and Speed Williams and Rich Skelton with three 3.8-second runs at the 2004 NFR. A year earlier, again with Chad astraddle the gray go-rounder, he and Michael Jones finished second in round nine with a 4.4-second run. Chad didn't take Handsome to the Finals in 2005, and sold the horse to Wheatley in 2006.
At NFR '09, Masters made a comment to Corkill at dinner earlier in the week that it felt like his other horses were making him take an extra swing. Corkill called his friend Casey Felton in Las Cruces, N.M., who knew someone who was headed to Vegas from that part of the country and could swing by and pick up Handsome at Sproul's place there.
"Shain was at Disney World in Florida with his family when we called him at 1 in the morning," Jade said. "He told us Handsome didn't have any shoes on, and that his hair was long, but that he was ready to roll. They got him to Vegas at midnight Thursday (about 18 hours before Friday evening's ninth round). Chad ran a few practice steers on him, and he ducked every time, which is what we wanted him to do."
"I ran six practice steers on him that morning (of the ninth round)," Chad explained.
"And he did duck every time. That's why I had him there-because I knew he'd make me throw. He felt really good. I'm just so comfortable on him, because I know him so well."
Corkill watched LeMond and Adams' 3.4-second run from the alley behind the timed-event chutes, where he was, "Close enough to see the run and the clock. It looked like a blur. Then I saw 3.4. My heart kind of sunk, because I knew we had to win the round to have a chance (at the world championship). Chad and I looked at each other. I didn't know what to say, so I said, '3.3, I guess.' I was kind of joking. I didn't think there was any way. I was happy for JoJo and Randon. It was an amazing run. But I honestly thought that put the crunch on my hope for us."
"I was thinking the exact same thing," Chad said. "I knew we had to win the last two rounds to have a chance, and all it was going to take was a 3.3, and that hadn't ever been done before. I watched JoJo and Randon be 3.4 and it's the best run I've ever seen. I didn't really have a mad or sad feeling. I just knew we had to be faster than we'd ever been."
I'd visited with JoJo for an hour or so just before round nine for this issue's One on One. We got back together with Randon for another visit right before round 10. "My whole goal this year was to get the world record by myself," JoJo said. "We were whooping and hollering riding out of the arena. We wanted that record all year. We held the record for four teams."
After they rode out on their run, JoJo and Randon rode up the tunnel and watched the rest of it on the TV screen in the contestant tent, where they all gather before the grand entry every evening. "Chad and Jade's is the greatest run I've ever seen," JoJo said.
"The greatest in the history of rodeo. When Chad rode in on Handsome, I knew they had a chance to get us, because there's only one thing you can do on that horse and that's go fast. And they did."
Just for fun, JoJo, Randon and I watched the 3.4- and 3.3-second runs on the pair of paint steers on a little TV down by the Thomas & Mack NFR Press Room before round 10. "That was awesome," JoJo beamed of the 3.3. "Golly, that was an amazing run. What a night of team roping."
"That night was not nice," Rambo ribbed, knowing he packed a large punch in the performance's wonderment, but not about to admit it. "There were some real competitors. It's felt like I've been getting in too tight all week and covering steers up. I felt like I was late last night, but ended up being just right. This arena is hard to ride position in. (His four-time and reigning Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association/American Quarter Horse Association Heel Horse of the Year) Diesel's good here. He's good everywhere. He can run and has good spacing, unless you override him, like I have on some steers here this week. If he doesn't work great, it's my fault.
"I guess I should be happy I finally caught one, but how about being 3.4 and getting your butt whipped? I think we made a hell of a run, and they came back and made a great run, too."
VonAhn was there watching it with us. "From second on down, you truly knew how to have the wind jerked out of your sails that night," he laughed, a couple hours before being crowned the 2009 PRCA World Champion Heeler. "That was the second time I'd been 3 in my whole life, the first being round four, when we were 3.7.
"When you're 3, you expect to win a lot. We needed to place high in the round to have a chance to win the world. When we were 3.9, I thought, 'Great.' Then it was the greatest night in team roping and we split fourth. Those other guys just beat us. If you could have told me we could be 3.9 without ever having to run that steer, I'd have said, '10-4.' What a night."
They wowed us all, including eight-time Champ of the World and ProRodeo Hall of Famer Joe Beaver, who did another stellar job on the NFR telecast and is not easily impressed. "You talk about some nasty work," laughed Joe B., who along with wife Jenna and mom Bonnie is personally responsible for packing six extra Thanksgiving pounds under my belt this NFR.
There was no bragging to JoJo's blow-by-blow of the 3.4-second run. "I was a touch late," he said. "I didn't get the start I wanted. I knew that steer didn't handle good, so I knew I either needed to hit him hard or hold him up. I chose to hit him hard." Richard Durham missed the steer for Kelsey Parchman in round three, and Blaine Linaweaver and Justin Davis were 3.6 plus 30 for a crossfire and five for a leg on him in round six.
"I knew the steer was OK, he just took real long, wild hops," JoJo said. "After I got out a little late, I just tried him on. I knew we had to win the next two day monies to have a chance at the world title. That steer was wild and coming underneath Randon, and he hammered him. That steer didn't handle well at all. I'm proud of Randon. My hat's off to him, and my hat's off to my horse (Bull; he started the week on Hollywood). I thought he was too free to ride here at the Finals, but he was awesome. He gave me a chance to win first every night I rode him. He runs hard, gets wide and is a strong finisher."
JoJo and Randon won round one on opening night with a 4.3-second run. From there, they were a little hit-and-miss, as were Chad and Jade. JoJo broke the barrier in round two, and they went out of the average in round four. After roping legs to be 3.8 in both rounds five and six, then another leg to tie the 3.5-second world and NFR records in round eight, Randon was feeling pretty frustrated.
"I told JoJo before we roped last night (their ninth-round steer) that if I legged another one I was going to hand him the end of my rope, let him loop it around my neck and hang me," Randon chuckled just before running their 10th-round steer. "That doesn't go for tonight, though, just last night." JoJo missed their last one, but the gunslinger went down aiming at 3.2.
David Key had missed Chad and Jade's 3.3-second steer in round three, when the steer took off and ran right. The steer ran straight for Trevor Brazile and Patrick Smith in round six, but didn't handle the best and Patrick missed him. "I did not like him at all when I found out that's what we had drawn," said Jade, who along with Chad set the record for regular-season team roping earnings to lead the pack into NFR '09 (Chad with $127,749; Jade with $118,277). "All I was thinking about was getting a start, because I didn't want the steer to go right. I knew I had to outrun Chad's head horse to be there that fast. I had to get up around the steer when his head rope got there to be in position to throw that fast. Chad just had to clear the box, but I had to get down the arena.
"If I'd been late, I'd have had to take another swing and we wouldn't have been nearly as fast. I was very happy to be on Ice Cube. I give all the credit to my horse, as far as my end of that run goes. If I hadn't been on a horse that was able to do that, there'd have been no chance for that to happen."
JoJo and Randon were 3.4 on slick horns. Some might have categorized Chad's "rodeo half head" as a "money loop," but there are no bonus bucks for style points. And though you might not want to bank on that shot on a daily basis, when it works it's a winner. Like Rube Woolsey jabbed at Jade after the record run, he's going to quit telling all the headers at his schools that you have to rope horns. "Look what you can do with a half head," Woolsey chuckled.
No, that wasn't the loop Chad set out to throw. But there's no arguing with the results. "People have commented that the rodeo half head was why we were so fast, because it turned the steer faster," he said. "When you look at the picture, I barely got that steer's nose. People say that's why the steer turned so fast-that it turned his whole head faster than it would have if I'd had him by the horns. I don't know for sure if that's a true statement or not, but I've sure heard it a lot."
Jade had the angle on all the rest of us. "I always watch the head loop go on," he said. "I try to pay attention to everything that's going on. I don't just stare at the feet. I try to be sure the steer's shoulders make the move before I start my entry. Then by the time I get there, he's switched. That way, right when I get there he's making his first jump away from me, so if I'm ready to rope I can get him-because I'm in position.
"No matter how fast I have to be, I still have to take it one step at a time. I try to get a start, get in position, make sure I get my loop all the way on the ground, watch the steer's feet go all the way in the loop, watch it catch before I start to get my slack, pull my slack and dally. Whether I have to be 10 or 3.3, I have to stay calm, not get ahead of myself, stay smooth and get all those things done. I went through those same steps in that run as when I just have to catch."
While it looks like a blur to the rest of us, the great athletes all seem to see things unfold in slow motion when they're up to bat. "Every run I make seems like it takes forever," Jade said. "I talk to myself in my head, thinking things like, 'he's got him' and 'there's my shot.' What's funny is that it takes a lot longer than three seconds to explain it.
"From the time I kicked to leave the box to the time I undallied, it was all completely clear. That felt like an easy shot, because I was in position and everything was right there in front of me. There would have been no reason for me to miss that steer."
Chad still can't get over the odds they overcame to get the 3.3. "I knew we were fast, but I didn't have a clue how fast we were," he said. "When I faced and saw the clock and looked at the barrier, it was crazy. I don't know what the odds were of that happening, but I'm betting you could have run those steers in the rest of the night and we couldn't have done that again."
Chad wears the gold buckle dated 2007. Jade has proven pretty close to fundamentally flawless at his first two Finals, with no sign of nerves whatsoever. "I've roped my whole life," he said. "I know exactly what I have to do to catch two feet. Getting nervous is being afraid to miss. I'm not scared to miss.
"Before round nine, we were in a position to have to win two rounds to get what I've always wanted. We had to break the world record to do it. It's something I've worked at for 22 years. The last thing to do in that situation is get nervous, which just increases the odds of doing bad. There's scared adrenaline and there's confident adrenaline. I choose confident adrenaline.
"Just believing you're going to do good leads to doing good. How many times when you say, 'Those guys'll probably beat me' or 'I'll probably rope a leg,' then it happens? So why not say, 'I'm going to win the world' or 'I'm going to catch two feet?' You have to be thinking about your target and the task at hand, not about who's there or what the announcer's saying."
When Jade was a kid a few short years ago, he tracked steers until he knew he could catch them. That discipline has carried over into the 2006 PRCA Rookie Heeler of the Year's young professional career. "If I don't see that shot, I don't throw," he said. "This record means a lot, because I've always been known as the guy who tracks. I've even accumulated the nickname 'Slow Kill' from one certain header (who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty). He says I always get steers caught, but I'm just too slow, so instead of Corkill, it's Slow Kill. I just hope I can lose the nickname."
Fair enough. "Except for Blaine and Jory's, I've seen most of the 3.5s, and they were all great runs," he continued. "When Derrick and Cesar went the other night (they were 3.6 to win round seven on the same walking steer that took Chad and Jade out in round 10), I thought it looked like they were 2. I didn't think it could get any faster. I thought if anybody could do it, JoJo and Randon would be great candidates.
"They're both fast. JoJo is amazing. I've seen him do things I didn't think anybody could do, like win the first day money at a rodeo, then come back with the worst steer in the herd and win the second round, too. He's awesome, and so is Randon. That 3.5 stood all those years, then JoJo and Randon only got to have this feeling for four teams. That hardly seems fair."
JoJo and Randon's reaction to their ripping up of their new record meant the world to Chad and Jade. "JoJo and Randon's is by far the best run I've ever seen," Chad said. "You couldn't have picked two better guys to have that happen to. When JoJo went and got his hat, he went and got Jade's, too. They both were just as happy for us as if it'd been vice-versa. They broke the record, too. That's a great accomplishment."
"When we rode out of the arena, I heard the loudest scream ever," Jade said. "It was JoJo running full speed from the tent, down the tunnel. Of the 27 other guys there, the guy whose record we just beat was the first guy to give me a hug. That was cool. He was as excited for us as he'd been for himself a few runs earlier. For him to be that genuinely happy for us means more to me than he'll ever know.
"When I looked up at that scoreboard by the roping chute, I literally about had a heart attack. My heart froze when I saw a 3.3. I could not believe that just happened. What Chad did was amazing. For us to be in that position, and him to be able to do that was unbelievable. He was the reason we were that fast. I just took my first good shot."
That ninth-round run spelled at least temporary relief for Chad, who wasn't exactly having the time of his life that week. "This is extremely big for us," Chad said. "We kind of got ourselves in a bind earlier in the week, so to have any chance at all figured we'd have to win the last two rounds. To have to be 3.3 to do it, you almost think it isn't possible. But we lucked out and it turned out it was possible after all."
So many twists and turns of fate along the way. So many ways it all could have gone.
So many small details most people don't even know, like the fact that the last two round-10 steer numbers called out by the Pro Official drawing them were for Luke Brown and Chad-best of friends in heated battle for the world title-and it was down to one of the two of them as to who would have to go to war with the dreaded "walker." Chad, who would make the last run of the 2009 team roping season, drew the short straw.
We're all thrilled for the eventual champs, Nick Sartain and Kollin VonAhn. But they'll be the first to understand when I say it's honestly hard for me to say which run made me more sad-Luke's or Chad's. Luke Brown and Martin Lucero are two of the nicest guys ever. All they had to do was stop the clock to break Jake Barnes and Clay O'Brien Cooper's 1994 record of 59.1 seconds on 10 NFR steers and win the world. An illegal head catch said no. But then, so did the late regular-season money Martin won but couldn't count (that's another story for later).
Then came Chad and Jade's last run. What you may or may not know is that the world championship race was over for them before Chad missed. He got out, Handsome headed left, Chad tried to move the horse back over before he threw and missed the steer. It all happened so fast. And all the answers looked so simple to the army of armchair quarterbacks in the crowd and tuned in at home on TV.
"The night we set the record was one of the biggest nights of my life, for sure," Chad said. "The ninth round was a fun night, but the record was only a thrill for 24 hours. Now the one I dream about every night is the last one. I know you can't have everything, but it would have been cool to finish strong, too. I've missed before to win the world (in 2006, when he needed to place in the 10th round to win the gold buckle, but after waving it off his and Al Bach's last steer regrouped, rebuilt and got Big Al the gold buckle, along with their NFR average championship saddles). But if you still have a chance to win the world on the last steer, that's about all you can ask for. I hate for it to come down to the last steer, but it's important to have that chance. In my head, I had to win the round on that steer to have any shot at all. So I had to go at him.
"I'd set myself up on that horse to throw when I crossed the line. My mistake was not throwing. I'm happy with the way I approached that last steer. I just didn't do a very good job of executing. Before I ran the steer, I'd seen them be 3.6 on him by riding pretty wide and getting away from him fast. Why not try that again, when that's what worked on the same steer? I'm supposed to be able to catch any steer in any situation. I didn't think I could beat the horse if I didn't start swinging before I nodded, so I did that. I just wish I'd thrown at the line, instead of second-guessing myself."
I didn't have Chad's number in my new phone, but I did text Jade a note of quick consolation after that run. You should know, Chad, that the kid never did hang his head or kick a single dirt clod in disgust. His response: "We'll be back :)" Yes, he used a smiley face for punctuation. He then promptly purchased and loaded their precious paint 3.3 steer and headed home to Fallon for the holidays.
At an autograph signing the morning after round nine, Masters appropriately signed, "Chad Masters, 3.3." LeMond signed, "JoJo Lemond, Too Slow." If ever you've wondered why we're always laughing when we walk away from JoJo, there you go. "That was an unbelievable run they made, and I'm happy for them," JoJo said. "Just for the record, my hat throwing was better than theirs, though."
"I got 10 texts congratulating me before I got out of the arena when we were 3.4," Randon said. "Ten minutes later, they all texted me back, 'Sorry.'"
"Like my dad always says, 'Don't take your hat off until the rodeo's over,'" JoJo laughed.