To briefly recapture the events of this past weekend’s Professional Bull Riders event at the Ford Idaho Center in Nampa, aka #PBRIDAHO, it may be summed up rather easily in three words: The bulls won.
From top to bottom, the stock roster at this event was as strong as any I’ve seen in a very long time, and the roster of human athletes was not exactly sub-par either, so my excitement going into the Friday performance was rather high. It doesn’t hurt that the PBR’s manner of introducing their riders is nothing short of spectacular, making sure you know that you’re seeing the best of the best, so by the time hooves hit the ground, we were pumped. As exciting as it was to welcome champions like Robson Palermo, Silvano Alves, Douglas Duncan (no relation, dang it anyways), and Kody Lostroh to the Idaho Center and our neck of the woods, there was a substantial buzz that took over the building when the chute opened for the introduction of a 9-year-old, 1,750-lb. athlete with a brand burnt into his hindquarters. As soon as the arena became aware that it was none other than Bushwacker, the place lit up with applause, led by the riders on the floor for introductions themselves. Oh, and one of those riders was J.W. Harris. I’m still processing that one.
Bushwacker would have his night (I’ll have to admit to a bit of ridiculous excitement when I saw his name paired with third-ranked Joao Ricardo Vieira on the daysheet), but this bull was not alone in his dominance Friday night, nor for the weekend in general. Eduardo Aparecido won the weekend with three qualifying rides for 261.25 points, and almost $40,000, but the results sheets show one line consistently: “0-0 score, 0-0.00 points, $400.00”. At one point on Friday, I was actually beginning to wonder if there would be any qualified rides at all, as riders were greeting the dirt prematurely with alarming regularity. The stock is getting ridiculously good, and the cowboys simply were unable to keep up with them for these performances.
The comparison between the power of the bulls and riders became more prominently displayed, though, when things turned serious at the end of the night. Toward the end of the 15/15 challenge, there was great excitement as #2 ranked Fabiano Vieira pulled out a full 8 seconds atop Cowtown Slinger for what ended up being a night-topping score of 89.25, but his landing knocked him unconscious, lying motionless on the arena floor with the bull still in the zone and bucking fiercely. In a bizarre, but completely appropriate move, bullfighter Frank Newsom quickly grabbed Vieira by the leg and literally dragged him away from the action, while the tossed rider simply remained stiff and immobile, completely unaware of the action or his surroundings. The shock of seeing him put on a board and carried from the field of play was uncomfortable and alarming, but the mood of the crowd was further deflated when the very next rider, Tanner Byrne, found himself tossed underneath his own bull. With an uneasy feeling already surrounding the action, seeing the animal trampling a defenseless man on the floor was jarring, and it was exacerbated by the fact that arena personnel could not seem to move the bull away from him, even to the point that bullfighter Jesse Byrne – yes, the rider’s brother – resorted to diving under the bull’s path and lying on top of the younger Tanner to prevent further injury. Fortunately, as uncomfortable and scary as these wrecks were to watch, Byrne walked off the floor with help, sustaining only minor injuries, and Vieira (whose further contact with the bull was prevented), was diagnosed with a concussion.
All this drama could only have been saved by the potential of the highest magnitude, and that’s exactly what awaited, as the #1 bull, and the animal-athlete some consider to be the finest to ever buck in a PBR event was still to take the stage, with a top rider strapped on his back. Joao Ricardo Vieira only got 2.4 seconds on top of Bushwacker, though, before a hard front plant was followed by an skying kick to the right that gave the the Brazilian cowboy an early introduction to some Idaho soil. Vieira landed on his feet without so much as a bit of shock on his face, and Bushwacker threw a few extra kicks for good measure before mildly wandering back to the chute, then out to his pen. He took his 45 1/4 points, and left his rider with a lesson learned. Lostroh had informed us that this bull was a “freak,” and if no one believed before, they did by the end of the night. With retirement looming, that was the last time we’ll see Bushwacker here in Nampa, Idaho, and he was sent off with a standing ovation.
I’ll have to admit to a fair amount of disappointment at seeing Silvano Alves disqualified for a new sort of rule that was implemented over this past weekend, a clock violation. We were already missing Guilherme Marchi and J.B. Mauney on the night because of travel and injury issues, so to see a top rider pulled from the back of his bull on account of this new rule was frustrating. Riders now have a 60-second “shot clock” that begins when they tighten their rope, before the expiration of which, they must nod, or otherwise signal the beginning of their ride, or they will be granted a zero score and denied the opportunity to attempt a ride. (Additional time may be granted by the judges if the stock is deemed to be uncooperative in the chute.) Sixty seconds may seem to be plenty of time, and there are certainly a few riders who milk their chute time, but when someone is actually risking their life for the potential of the type of money the PBR is paying, it really doesn’t seem like all that much. I wasn’t favorably impressed with the implementation of the rule, the quality of the monitoring, the distraction from the rider’s prep, and definitely in missing out on Silvano. Being a new piece of the PBR landscape, it deserves a mention.
All in all, though, the PBR is still putting out a dazzling product that is still faithful to the classic wild-west bull ride and a modern sports spectacle. The 2014 edition was no less awesome than any year prior, and predictably enough, I already can’t wait for next year.