What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas; except when it's the PBR World Championship, the bull riding equivalent of the Super Bowl. I discovered PBR (Professional Bull Riders) last March at the Glendale Invitational when our Arizona Sports 620 crew visited Jobing.com Arena to shoot a "behind the chutes" video. It sounded like a fun opportunity to learn about a sport that's different and unconventional. After seeing one ride, I was hooked, and have followed the PBR since. I was down on the dirt for the final bull rides of the season, and I can honestly say that it was one of the most compelling sports events I've ever been to.
Here are the Top 10 reason I love the PBR:
1. The rules are easy to understand. As soon as the gates open, the rider tries to stay on the bull for eight seconds. The ride is considered over when the riders' hand lets go (voluntarily or not) of the rope wrapped around the chest of the bull. There's a metal weight at the bottom of the rope that drops to the ground when the riders let go.
2. The bulls are not injured. It's a common misconception there's an abrasive strap tied around the bulls' genitals. The flank strap, as it's called, is actually tied around its hips; it gives the bull a sense of timing when it bucks. The bull is supposed to buck with some kind of rhythm, that's what makes it a strong competitor.
3. The riders don't wear cups. Seriously, they don't. I don't even have all the right parts and I'm still pretty sure if the bull bucks in a direction you weren't expecting, it would hurt.
4. Both the riders and bulls are considered athletes. There are 4 judges; each judge gives a score out of 25, making the rider's final score out of 100 points. Half of the judge's score is based on the rider's performance, the other half on the bull's. A rider is judged by how well he keeps pace with the bull, and how well he maintains control. The bull is scored based on his athleticism, height of bucks and difficulty to ride. If the rider doesn't stay on for eight seconds, he doesn't get a score. I didn't actually try it, but I imagine it's the longest eight seconds of your life.
5. It's dangerous. Right, you knew that. But it's more than the bull ride that's risky. The bull fighters are the real nutcases (and I mean that in the nicest way). They try to distract the bull after the rider is bucked off.
Joe Baumgartner has been fighting bulls for 29 years, and he took a horn to the chin on Saturday night, see the video here. He suffered a concussion but returned for the last ride of the night. His comment at the end of the evening, "It's bull riding, not a rodeo."
6. You can take the whole family. You can buy tickets for $17 apiece. The in-arena entertainment by the rodeo clown is witty for adults but fun for the kids. Commercial break activities include Stanley's "stud finder," and the best dressed fan receives free Wranglers Jeans (Brett Favre not included). There are no tussles among fans because there are no opposing teams. People have favorite riders, but there's no reason for hatred of another's autographed cowboy hat.
7. There are no lockouts in bull riding. There are no contract negotiations. It's really simple. If you don't ride, you don't get paid.
8. There are no egos. One rider told me the quickest way to squash an ego was to get bucked off a bull. And then have the 2,100 pound beast land on your leg. Each rider will stay at the event until every single autograph is signed. At the press conference they quietly walk in to the adjoining room, mingle with the media, and will take pictures, answer questions, and do it all with complete humility. I've been to a handful of NFL, MLB, and NCAA press conferences, and I've never seen anything quite like the PBR pressers.
9. Bull riding is an all or nothing sport. You don't get four downs. You don't get three strikes. You get one ride, and if you can't hang on, you don't move on. Each ride is like pitching to Albert Pujols on a full count. It's a fourth-and-goal-with-two-seconds-left-to-win kind of pressure every time.
10. It's a team sport. The camaraderie is tangible. There are about 40 riders at each event and they all cheer each other on, help each on the bull and prepare for the ride. Shane Proctor told me, "we don't compete against each other, we compete against the bulls."
Now that their Super Bowl is over, the riders will take a two month break to spend time with their families and try to recover from injury (think fractured ankles, legs and ribs, and severe concussions). PBR kicks off their season in January in Madison Square Garden. And you can bet when the PBR is back in Glendale next March, I'll be there.