Saturday, February 11, 2006

You should have been a cowboy

You should have been a cowboy
BY GENE SAPAKOFF
The Post and Courier
A real cowboy can tell another real cowboy from clear across the rodeo.
It's not so much the way he's dressed. Anyone can buy a hat, boots and tarnished belt buckle.
It's not the way he talks, either. A lot of city slickers can pull off an Elk City, Okla., accent for a clever line or two.
It's the way he walks, always with a hitch in his giddy-up. You simply don't rope and ride without sustaining a few major injuries along the way, and the cowboys who make up the Professional Bull Riders Tour on display tonight and Saturday night at the North Charleston Coliseum are as tough as athletes come.
"I've seen guys ride with broken arms and broken legs," said author Josh Peter. "It's almost like they take a sick pleasure riding in pain.
"People who haven't watched bull riding will be shocked. At times guys get what they call 'hung up.' They wrap their hands around the rope in a 'suicide wrap' - the idea being that the tighter it is, the harder it is for the bull to yank it loose. The danger is you get hung up and can't get out of the rope and basically get dragged around the arena like a tin can on the back of a car. A little bit like NASCAR, people will be amazed at what these guys walk away from."
But mamas maybe you should let your babies grow up to be bull riders. Peter, a reporter who has worked at newspapers in South Carolina and in New Orleans, got a weekly dose of respect for his subjects as he spent most of 2004 on the road to write "Fried Twinkies, Buckle Bunnies & Bull Riders - A Year Inside The Professional Bull Riders Tour."
Buckle bunnies explained
The annual champion in a sport rapidly growing in popularity under the mainstream radar makes well over $1 million in prize money. Everyone in the top 10 makes more than $150,000.
The Colorado Springs-based PBR Tour got 500 hours of television coverage in 2005, ranging from NBC to OLN.
Fried Twinkies?
Ah, the best concession-stand item on tour, deep fried Hostess wonders available during championship finals week at Mermaids Casino in Las Vegas.
Buckle bunnies?
The dedicated groupies who show up in Fort Worth, Anaheim, Kansas City and Mandan, N.D., as well as other stops on the PBR Tour. Big league buckle bunnies wait for Las Vegas.
"They're serious," Peter said from Denver, where he was doing a book signing held as the National Western Stock Show is in town. "If they pay for a flight to Las Vegas and three or four nights in a hotel, they expect to find a cowboy."
Broken necks, etc.
There are bar fights and Bible studies on the PBR Tour, and star power.
Justin McBride is the defending 2005 champion, and from Elk City, Okla., of all places. He was in contention for the title for four of the previous five years but always seemed to get hurt right at the end.
Adriano Moraes, from Sao Paulo, Brazil, of all places, has the kind of charisma fans love. He won PBR championships in 1994 and 2001.
But the actual bull riders are only part of the show. It also includes rock 'n' roll production techniques and rodeo clowns.
The Barrel Man - aka Flint Rasmussen - is a hit inside and outside his steel barrel.
"It may sound silly to say this about a rodeo clown, but he's an incredible athlete," Peter said. "He is just so spontaneous."
Rob Smets is a veteran "bullfighter," one of the guardian angels who protect bull riders by distracting bulls just after riders are unceremoniously bucked off into the dirt.
"It's like throwing yourself in front of a runaway truck," Peter said.
My heroes have always been cowboys. Rodeo clowns and bullfighters, too.

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