FORT WORTH, Texas ― After six months of anticipation, this weekend’s Dr Pepper Iron Cowboy V and THE AMERICAN at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, lived up to its billing as the most historic weekend in the history of professional bull riding and rodeo.
Rooted in rodeo’s steep tradition, the PBR’s four-year proven track record at the famed NFL stadium, which is the home of the Dallas Cowboys, THE AMERICAN organizers used the Iron Cowboy as the foundation of bringing the 21-year history of the mainstream success of the PBR back together with rodeo.
The two events offered a combined payout of more than $3 million in two days.
“It’s a great step for the PBR and a huge step for rodeo and two equally great, (but) different events and huge crowds,” said Cody Lambert, 52, who, in addition to being a co-founder and longtime livestock director for the PBR, has been associated with rodeo since birth. “It’s amazing really.”
Lambert added, “If you’ll build something like this people will want to see it.”
Michael Gaffney, another co-founder who got his start in rodeo, added, “I can’t help but reflect on where we came from.”
Gaffney said it was great to see “all cowboys and not just bull riders” have a chance to earn a life-changing amount of money in a single weekend.
The winner of the Iron Cowboy – Joao Ricardo Vieira, who won his second Built Ford Tough Series event in the past three weeks – earned himself a $1 million matchup with two-time and reigning World Champion BullBushwacker in the Bad Boy Mowers Million Dollar Ride.
Unfortunately, Vieira fell short of the 8-second whistle.
However, THE AMERICAN paid out $1.1 million on Sunday to the aptly named bareback qualifier and event winner Rich Champion.
Recently retired PBR fan favorite and 2011 Iron Cowboy winner Colby Yatestweeted:
Yates was among many who sent out other congratulatory Tweets as well. At the conclusion of the weekend, he tweeted.
Moments later, he tweeted again:
PBR co-founder, Ring of Honor inductee and former PRCA world championCody Custer said he wasn’t planning on attending the event, but, in the end, couldn’t bear to stay home and watch it on TV.
He and his son drove from Western Oklahoma despite winter weather advisories.
“It’s pretty sweet, isn’t it?” he asked.
Nine-time World Champion Ty Murray, who won seven all-around titles and two bull riding titles in the PRCA, was a key television analyst for both marquee events this weekend, including the CBS network broadcast of the final rounds of the Iron Cowboy.
Murray said he enjoyed seeing old friends he hadn’t seen in years.
Two-time PBR World Champion Justin McBride accepted an invitation to come out of retirement for one day to try and win a $1 million bonus at THE AMERICAN and said that in spite of breaking his left foot before he ever nodded his head on Sunday afternoon, he loved watching a rodeo “with that many great guys competing.”
McBride spent his entire professional career in the PBR, but said he has a longstanding appreciation for great rodeos like the Calgary Stampede and now THE AMERICAN.
J.W. Hart, who also spent his pro career competing in the PBR, agreed.
“Bull riding was generated from the sport of rodeo,” Hart said, “and all the older generations of PBR guys started in rodeo – that’s what we did for a living and that’s where our roots are – and over the years my personal story has gotten away from rodeo.
“I’m still a fan and I still watch it on TV, but this is on such a much bigger scale than even the National Finals Rodeo with the number of fans and the money that’s up for one day, one performance.”
Flint Rasmussen, the exclusive entertainer of the PBR, said it was great to see cowboys excited.
The longtime rodeo entertainer went to say it was refreshing to see everyone with an extra bounce in their step and to be part of a historical event that bridged a gap between the PBR and rodeo.
“It’s fun to see PBR bull riders in there with bronc riders, with calf ropers and, I mean, we’re all in the same business,” Rasmussen said. “It’s just fun to have a big mix of it.”
Hart recalled going into the locker room and expressing his appreciation for rodeo with legends like Joe Beaver.
The 1994 PBR Rookie of the Year and 2009 Ring of Honor inductee said this past weekend has “sparked a new flame” for rodeo.
“I’m so proud to see that something this big can come back together where my roots really began in rodeo,” said Hart, who paused and chose his words carefully. “I don’t know that I should even say this, but it feels like there’s been some animosity between PBR and rodeo for several years now and to none of our wanting. We know where are roots are. We honor and we mention and talk about the World Champions of rodeo in our telecast and in our world. To see those guys and visit, I mean, we’re all really a big family. We’re all from the Western heritage. We all put cowboy boots and cowboy hats on and go do our job. I just love the aspect that it’s all come back together.”
Gaffney added, “In the end all that aside, however we got here, we’re here.”
Lambert said THE AMERICAN is a different rodeo than anyone has ever seen, just as the Iron Cowboy is a different type of bull riding than the PBR hosts throughout the rest of the year.
For starters, it’s a huge stage, to say the least—one the PBR is used to being on every week.
“I’m proud to have been a rodeo cowboy and to see rodeo cowboys get a shot at something like this,” Lambert said. “The Iron Cowboy—I’m proud that people are starting to understand that it’s a really special event, that it’s not something you can do every week, but for once a year it’s an incredible event.”
Hart added, “I would love to see the PBR and THE AMERICAN team up once or twice a year for special events like this.”
Lambert surmised, “It never even occurred to me that one weekend could be so big, but I feel like this is the beginning of something huge—something that could be the biggest weekend in PBR and definitely the biggest weekend in rodeo. It could be longer than a weekend.”
The PBR started as a dream of 20 bull riders.
THE AMERICAN was the dream of its one-time CEO Randy Bernard, who is credited with teaching the founders to dream big.
Though he never imagined a weekend like this prior to its inception, now that he’s experienced it, Lambert can’t imagine it being a one-time deal.
“I wouldn’t believe it if it was,” he said. “I would be shocked if somebody told me this is the last time we would see something like this. … It could grow into something that’s unbelievable—the place to be the first weekend in March or two or whatever.”
Years from now, Gaffney concluded, “I hope it’s that much more grandiose.”
Follow Keith Ryan Cartwright on Twitter @PBR_KRC.
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