Sometimes You Just Have to Hang in There with Clay O’Brien Cooper

When you end the year on a high note, you always hope the following year will be at least that good. But sometimes its hard to capture the same intensity and enthusiasm. Jake and I just finished the 2008 season, and after winning the 2007 NFR (Wrangler National Finals Rodeo) and what that meant to us, the 2008 season was kind of an odd year of competition. On the one hand, we started out winning and making good runs. We won second at the roping in Odessa (Texas), then placed at Denver and San Antonio. We got off to a good start, but we werent winning big checks. Instead, it was a lot of smaller wins. After the winter we were in the Top 15, and doing decent. In the spring, we won second at Laughlin (Nev.), and placed good at Oakdale (Calif.) Then I came home (to Texas) for about a month and Jake stayed in his area (Arizona) for a while. We started back at Reno (Nev., in June), and were about 14th or 15th in the world when we started our summer run. We picked up where we left off and started placing along every week again. But we never really moved up in the standings. We werent really losing any ground, but we werent gaining either.

Sometimes the year can be a roller coaster ride, with high points, then dry spells, then big wins again. Our 2008 season wasn’t like that. We just kept hanging in there. We were roping pretty good and we were winning. We just didn’t have any really big wins. That makes for a long year, because you’re hanging right there on the bubble toward the bottom of the Top 15 cut week after week

In August, (Clay’s oldest daughter) Bailey got married. I took a week off to go to the wedding, and it just so happened to be the first (Wrangler ProRodeo) tour playoff in Caldwell. I felt bad. Jake had a partner lined up, then at the last minute that fell through. I was sure hoping it wouldn’t become an issue, mainly for him. I didn’t want to cost him an opportunity.

From there, we went up to the Northwest. It was the same deal. We were hanging in there. We placed at Ellensburg and Walla Walla (Wash.) and Pendleton (Ore.). We just won a little bit every week. We didn’t do any good at the second playoff in Puyallup (Wash.), so that was another missed opportunity. We were barely treading water at that point. When you get down to that part of the season, there are other teams down there with you in the same spot. If they win big at one of those big rodeos, they get catapulted up the standings. One example in 2008 was Trevor (Brazile) and Patrick (Smith). They won everything in late August. Then at Puyallup, Colter (Todd) and Cesar (de la Cruz) won big. One team after another was leaving us, and there we were still down there at 14th, 15th and 16th.

There was nothing Jake and I could do but keep roping good and being consistent. We were looking for that good win to catapult us up the standings, but it just didn’t happen. The year before (2007), Puyallup put us up there in the safe spot where we had the Finals secured. But 2008 was a grind. It wound down to the very end. Going into the last rodeo of the regular season we still didn’t have the Finals made.

After all the other rodeos were done and we were entered in Dallas, Jake and I were both right around the 15th spot. All the bottom holes were within a couple hundred dollars of each other. There was a leftover rodeo in Sinton (Texas) from the hurricane that they rescheduled to the very end of the season that counted. We won second there, but that still didn’t move us much. It really came down to Dallas. We could have drawn good and roped bad, or drawn bad and roped good. So much could have happened there, and it all rode on one rodeo. We went there hoping for the best, and just had to grind it out and go rope our steers. After it was all said and done, we did some good and secured our spot at the NFR-finally. All we could do was the best we could do. The way I looked at it, whoever won the most deserved to go to the Finals.

Vegas is a big week for all of us. There’s the financial part, and there are all the other commitments out there. It’s fun for me, because my wife gets to go. It’s a great opportunity, but it’s also a chore to go out there for 10 days. You work all year long to get there. Those guys who barely missed it worked hard too. What worked to our advantage was our ability to keep hanging in there. Years and years ago I might have panicked and tried to overdo things. But at this point in my career and life, I realized all we could do was try as hard as we could. If our best wasn’t good enough, I was OK with knowing the guys who beat us deserved it more. I just kept trying to rope two feet as fast as I could and to not make mistakes. That outlook kept me grounded and doing the things it takes to get the job done. That’s what got us to the 2008 NFR, which was my 25th Finals and Jake’s 24th

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