The early nineties seem like yesterday sometimes. Other times they seem like a million years ago. It just depends on the day.
In those years we were listening to Garth Brooks, George Strait, and the Gin Blossoms, laughing at Seinfeld on a weekly basis, gawking over “car phones” that were larger than our landline units (yes, we all had landlines), and wearing our southwest-printed shirts with Wrangler jeans that were too tight. Way too tight. Those were also the years when a group of professional bull riders decided that they had the knowledge, ability, and determination to develop a sports league that wasn’t just focused on their event – it would be solely their event. With a bit of money in hand and a whole lot of “Cowboy Try,” they started what we now know as the Professional Bull Riders. You and I know it as something much simpler:
Subject to both scrutiny and a pretty fair amount of doubt, the biggest names under some similarly big hats took a risk that was even bigger still. It wasn’t just doing something new that was risky — it was finding riders, stock contractors, sponsors, and all the details to turn themselves into a legitimate western sports association. Knockoff leagues have a way of coming and going, but this group of friends and cohorts was determined to make it happen and make it happen they did.
Twenty-five years later (wait, it’s been that long since “Hey Jealousy” hit the airwaves?), the PBR is not just a western sports juggernaut, but a sports juggernaut in general. What began as a presumptive hair-brained scheme soon turned into a tour de force that turned the responses of critics from derision to jealousy, just as quickly as the Gin Blossoms’ big hit was swallowed up by another jangly band’s three-minute effort. The money grew exponentially, as did the exposure of the PBR, and suddenly some of the most prominent names in the business were engraved on buckles from this new league. These days our jeans aren’t worn quite so tightly – thank heavens – and the PBR keeps getting more and more monumental.
Since 1999, the little town of Nampa Idaho has hosted one of the most prominent stops on the PBR tour, and this past weekend was the latest incarnation of the event. The DeWalt Flexvolt Invitational is now the final tour stop of the season, which brings a level of excitement and anticipation leading up to the Finals, as riders on the bubble give their utmost to ensure their shot at the winnings in Vegas. There’s a great deal on the line down CanAda Blvd these days, and this year did not disappoint.
While the stories in the Ford Idaho Center were many and varied, a few rose to the top. Of course there was the young stud Kaique Pacheco coming off his stellar rookie season, JB Mauney bringing down the house with cheers every time he stuck his hand in the rope, PNW favorite Derek Kolbaba with fans everywhere in the house, and of course Cody Teel winning the whole thing after a stunning 92.25 ride on Sunday. The hero no one expected, though, was Chase Outlaw, who came to town, in the process of making his return from an injury at this year’s Cheyenne Frontier Days that left him with 68 screws and 11 plates in his face. Not only did he ride well, he rode all four bulls that were put under him, all the while sporting a sweet new 100X helmet. That’s the cowboy way, and Outlaw does it in the classic tradition of toughness that made this sport what it is.
That’s the best thing about the sport, I think. Whether it’s this year’s Nampa Invitational, the first PBR event that paid out just whatever money the founders could scrape together, or the first time over a century ago when a whiskey-fueled cowboy dared another to have a seat on that nasty bull in the back pen, bull riding has always been the ultimate man-vs-beast competition. While today’s riders may be more athletic than ever before, and today’s bulls stronger than they ever have been, the sport is still as simple as this: get on a bull, and stay attached by one hand for eight seconds. They’ve been doing it for twenty-five years now in the PBR, and it’s never been better. Bring on the Finals.
All photos via Thomas C. Duncan, Sr., and used courtesy The Equine Times.
Click here to see all Thomas Duncan photos.