I went to see bull riding last night. Professional Bull Riding (PBR) is exciting alright. Sort of like hockey games that feature fights are exciting. Borderline mayhem.
The athletes that ride bulls in the PBR are top-shelf young men. What a hard life. To stay astride a bucking, twirling 2,000 pound enraged beast with horns for eight seconds (using only one hand-this crucial part will become apparent in a minute) and then to get off of it and get away unscathed is an awesome athletic feat.
What happened last night at the John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, which featured a PBR event? The first rider was thrown and trampled. The third rider was thrown headfirst into a metal fence. Another rider sailed off the bull upon dismount and landed on his tailbone from six feet high. One rider had a horn whizz an inch by his head as he scrambled up after being violently thrown. Yet another rider got his spur caught in the cinch rope as he was dislodged by the bull and hyperextended his knee as he was whipped around three feet in the air by one heel like a rag doll. At least two more riders limped off wincing, and two others sagged dazedly against the fence after their rides when they got to its relative "safety" (you clamber up the fence to get out of the way of the rampaging bull). The horse of the only "safety rider" ( a mounted cowboy who can lasso the bull or distract it with his trained horse) got gored broadside by a charging bull (a perfect T-bone collision, as State Troopers would say) and both horse and rider went down. The horse got up and was led away, but the rider did not. He was wheeled away on a gurney, feebly waving his hat to the crowd with one hand.
The show went on with no horseman, only rodeo clowns on foot trying to get the bull out of the arena after each bull ride. The PBR is not for the faint of heart or those debilitated by pain.
The first round was forty bull rides. If you get thrown off before eight seconds, no score. See ya at the next meet. Successful rides are judged by some point-scoring system that grades the actions of both the rider and the bull. Ninety is a perfect score (I think). There are no points awarded for anything that transpires after the eight seconds (no style points for a dismount where you stay on your feet versus getting flung into the ground). The top ten riders go into the championship round.
My second cousin, 20 year old Jimmy Anderson from Colorado, is a typical PBR bullrider. He is currently ranked 59th in the association (based upon his earnings, he's earned a little over $22,000 in three years) and is considered a comer. He had come to Charlottesville from a PBR event the night before in San Antonio, taking a 6 o'clock flight to Dulles that morning. He drove to Charlottesville in a rental car and napped in the locker room. After the event he drove back to Dulles to catch a 6 am plane back to Texas where he attends college, napping in his rental car along the way. His story is not atypical.
Another cowboy at the meet was summoned the day before to replace a competitor who pulled out. He spent a thousand dollars on airfare and arrived without his luggage. He borrowed a cinch rope and a helmet. He was thrown in less than 2 seconds and went home.
Jimmy was hyped by the announcer before his first ride as having a record of staying on the bull on 80 percent of his rides. Apparently that's a whole lot.
He had a great ride on Marshmellow, a name which belied the energy and ferocity of his bull. He was thrown off right at 8:00 seconds but the ride counted. He garnered an 85, which put him in fifth place going into the final round.
So Jimmy made the finals. NO ONE except for Jimmy stayed on his bull for eight seconds in that round. Jimmy had a strong ride but Jimmy's time was frozen at 4.30 seconds as his ride atop raging Encore went on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on (yeah, that's how long it takes for eight seconds to go by when nothing's really in control). The dismount horn never sounded. Finally a dozen seconds later Jimmy got thrown off.
He had been disqualified for touching the bull with his free hand as it whipped back and forth from the force of each buck. Slapping the bull, they call it. The ONLY DQ of the night in 50 rides!
The crowd booed lustily. I didn't see the touch, either in real time or on the replay on the jumbotron.
"There's no replay flag in bull riding," the announcer said to the booing crowd. "It is what it is." The crowd booed louder.
In the final round, Jimmy was the only man to stay on a bull. Imagine the score tied in an NBA playoff game with one second to go in regulation time. Tweet, the ref calls a ticky-tacky foul as a player dribbles out the clock. Happens all the time, right? Not!
Too bad, Jimmy would have won. The DQ call cost him $3,000. As it is, he gets fifth place money, about $600. I didn't get a chance to see him after the event but I saw him ride and it was beautiful. What a talented young man doing such a hard thing with grace and aplomb. Proud to know ya, Jimmy.
PBR. I have never seen anything like it.