With September 30th being the last day of the 2017 regular season, the timing of this issue falls right on top of the finish line to make the cut for this year’s (Wrangler) National Finals Rodeo. There’s a knife fight for those last few spots every year down the backstretch, and this year is no exception.
Over the course of a career as long as mine, I’ve been in about every situation— years when everything felt so easy and we got it done early, and others where it was a struggle and a grind to the very end. A lot of recreational ropers find themselves feeling similar stress trying to qualify for a big finals, so this pressure is something all levels of ropers can relate to.
By the backstretch, a lot of teams that don’t feel like they have a legitimate shot call it a year. What you find out on the pro rodeo trail each fall is a situation where only the wolves are left out there fighting for every dollar. It’s really tough to win, because all the best teams are still entered. But there’s actually less money to win without the entry fees of all those other teams. I’ve been there, and the noose just gets tighter and tighter.
Typically, about the top half of the top 15 figure they’ve punched their ticket and have the Finals made. That leaves the bottom half of those 15 holes still up for grabs about the last month of the regular season, which makes the Northwest run a gunfight every fall. It’s like the OK Cor- ral. Checks are harder to get, and they’re smaller.
This is the first time in my 37-year professional roping career that I’ve ever gone home before it was over. But we (Jake and Tyler Worley) didn’t have a legitimate shot, so I headed home the middle of August after Lovington (N.M.). I’m the first to admit that I didn’t rope good enough. I didn’t deserve to make it this year. I just didn’t have the rhythm and get into the flow a guy needs to have to make it. It was time to go home and get better. We didn’t have enough money won to have a chance, so it was time for me to wave the white flag and surrender.
If you aren’t making the NFR you aren’t making a living. So it’s time to go back to the drawing board and make a new game plan. This is new territory for me, so naturally it wasn’t an easy decision to pull the plug. But I’m a realist. It was time to go back to the drawing board and make a new game plan.
I’ve come back from a lot bigger obstacles than an off year, like losing my thumb, a serious head injury and knee-replacement surgery. I still feel really competitive and like I have a lot left in me. But I’m not going to stay out there rodeoing when I’m not winning. It has to pencil out.
I’m not alone in missing the NFR boat this year. Patrick Smith went home when I did, and Clay’s (O’Brien Cooper) probably not going to make the NFR this year, either. We didn’t get into the winter rodeos this year, so didn’t really get going until spring. But there are no excuses. You have to find a way to be at the top of the food chain, and I put all the weight on my own shoulders. Figure out a way to win or go home.