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
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
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
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
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.