Jim Murray used to say that you can’t write about golf and horse racing every week or you’ll lose the truck drivers. So, this week is for the blue-collar working folks out there. Those with dirt on their jeans and callouses on their hands. The ones who root for the guy on the back of the bull, not the bull. We’re going to the rodeo!
This week concludes the 60th Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. The Super Bowl of ropin’ and ridin’. Where eight seconds is an eternity and being able to walk away is considered a victory. Today we take you back to November of 1962 when Jim Murray wrote about the animals that the rodeo competitors are up against. That was the first year the NFR was held in Los Angeles. LA played host to the event until 1964 when it was moved to Oklahoma City. It stayed there until 1985 when it was moved to its current home, Las Vegas.
The 2018 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas runs through Saturday.
from Thursday, December 6 through Saturday, December 15.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 25, 1962, SPORTS
Copyright 1962/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY
On Bull Throwing
The next time you go to a game and get to your feet to cheer a tiny safety man who brings down Jim Taylor in the open field, try to imagine what would happen if Taylor weighed twice as much and had horns and two more hooves.
And if you ever have to face Sonny Liston in the ring, take comfort in the fact, at least that after he knocks you down, he probably won’t try to bite and kick you. At least, I hope he won’t.
Rodeo cowboys aren’t so lucky. They’re the first guys since the Roman Christians who have to fight wild animals for a living.
And these are not just ordinary wild animals. These are the Mafia of the animal world — four-footed rubout artists. They should show up wearing pin-stripe suits and pearl fedoras. If they were human, they’d get the electric chair.
Rodeo stock is drafted as carefully as NFL players. Scouts comb the country for the national finals looking for the meanest, orneriest cayuses they can find. Any animal that missed a chance to step on a baby carriage or push an old lay’s wheelchair down a cliff is automatically rejected. Any sign of sentimentality is fatal. These are horses you can’t feed a lump of sugar to — or they’d take your hand with it. Brahma bulls which would use you for silage if you didn’t get out of their way.
Some of the bucking horses picked for the National Finals that opens at the Sports Arena next week have killed more cowboys than Billy the Kid. The calves get YOUR liver for a change.
It has been said a rodeo is unique in that the bull throws the man for a change but the nationals are unique in that it is a contest of pure champions. Both man and beast are the best at their specialties that can be found. No third-round draft choices need apply. You have to be one of the 15 top cowboys in your event to qualify. And this is not left to a sportswriters poll. To prove you belong you have to have won more money at rodeo than No. 16.
There are six events in the finals: Bull-riding, Bareback Bronc Riding, Calf Roping, Team Roping and Steer Wrestling (better known as “Bulldogging”).
Now, high among the things I never expect to do is ride a bull. Those dagger-horned cross-bred Brahmas might be the answer to a cow’s prayer but the cowboy on his back offers up a prayer of another sort. He is one ton of hate – a 4-H club of his own, head, hooves, hate and heave. You’re on him only eight seconds but if you play it right, that’s enough.
You don’t have to rowel a bull to get him sore. But you’re expected to do this to a bucking bronc. This is a little like being asked to spit in the eye of an opponent at the introductions or telling him you think his wife’s pretty ugly and so are his kids; but a cowboy on the scent of first money would rather find a rattler under his saddle than a sweet-tempered horse.
Some of these critters are so long in the teeth that they might have got mustered out of the army by General Grant himself but their claim to fame is they have been ridden by men for years but these guys’ total elapsed time on horseback wouldn’t be enough to hard-boil an egg. These equine octogenarians are to rodeo what Man O War was to racing.
They give these brutes names like “Midnight,” “Homicide,” “War Paint” and “Sidewinder” because, compared to them, Jack the Ripper loved people. If all the human bones they broke were laid end-to-end it would look like an explosion in a paleontology museum but at that, they’re not a patch on the Brahmas. A superannuated bull rider named Freckles Brown was far in the lead in his specialty this year with $18,675 won to Nov. 1 when he got aboard a freight-car-sized bull named Black Smoke.
When he got off, his vertebrae were rearranged, and his yearly take might just be enough to pay for the six weeks in traction. At 41, Freckles is the oldest living bull-rider in captivity but the bulls sometimes seem determined he not get any older.
On bull or bronc, the cowboys spend their time in the spotlight somewhere between the animal’s back and the sky. Also, they have to be careful with their spurs that they rake the animal’s neck and not their own.
I come from a long line of horse-haters. My people followed the horses either with a scratch sheet or a broom and shovel. Either way, you find out what double-crossers they are. And bulls, I can take or leave alone — preferably the latter.
When I wrestle, I prefer an opponent you can tap on the shoulder and say, “OK, I give up. You’re hurting me.” But to win the All-Around Cowboy which is the Most Valuable Horse and Cow Fighter Award, you have to be good at two or more of these events. Also, of course, you have to survive them. The Rodeo Cowboys Association frowns on posthumous awards. Gives the game a bad name. Its proper name, of course, but a bad one.
But I wouldn’t miss this horse-and-bull Olympics at the Sports Arena Dec. 4 to 10. Ninety of the best cowboys against a couple hundred of the worst outlaws on four feet has to make the Rose Bowl look like a spelling bee.
I’ll tell you something else: It’s nice to go to a wrestling match that isn’t fixed for a change. If these are fixed, I have to say those steers are awful good actors when, in truth, they’re bad actors.
I also want to see the year’s leading All-Around Cowboy. Dean Oliver, go legit. Dean, you may remember, is the Idaho boy who used to hide in the ditches and ambush the cows going home to milking to practise his bulldogging. Things went all right till they started to give buttermilk. So next week it’ll be nice to see Dean getting paid to do something he used to get shot at for.
So, fetch me my Stetson and shootin’ arn, son, I’m going into town to see thet thar “row-dee-oh” and I’m laying 8-5 on the bull. At least, I know he’s trying.
Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times
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