PUEBLO, Colo. – Four-time and reigning PBR Stock Contractor of the Year Jeff Robinson tried his best to contain his emotions around his kids this weekend following the sudden passing of his star bucking bull Rango.
On Monday, Robinson was still coming to terms with the fact that a bull that had not only become the face of his operation (Jeff Robinson Bucking Bulls), but that a genuine member of his family was no longer there.
Gone was the bull with the white face waiting to greet him every morning. The playful bull, who loved to dig holes and mischievously try to sneak out of his pen by lifting the gate handle with his horns and taunt other bulls like I’m a Gangster Too, had been taken away far too early at 7 years old.
Robinson was beginning to prepare himself to bury his prized possession and loyal companion when the latest tear of the past couple days began to trickle down his face.
It was then that his 5-year-old son, Cutter, came up behind him and patted him on the back.
“He came up to me and rubbed my back and said, ‘Daddy, it is time for you to be a big boy now. Rango has gone to heaven.’”
Robinson and his family buried Rango on their Mars Hill, North Carolina, property about 30 yards from their house Tuesday morning. He had passed away on Sunday morning after experiencing heart troubles, while being admitted to the hospital for intestinal issues and receiving treatment.
Rango was more than a bull. He was truly a member of their family, and saying goodbye to a loved one is never easy.
“I was visibly shaken,” said a solemn Robinson on Tuesday. “It’s been a tough deal. It is tough to swallow. It is just hard anytime you lose something like that. My kids loved him. He was just special. He was the best bull we had, he might not have been the rankest bull we have right now, but time in and time out for the last three years he has been the best bull we have had.”
However, Robinson was not alone. His bucking bull business is a family affair. The Robinsons have connected with plenty of their bulls, and Rango, who was named by Robinson’s kids after the 2011 movie starring Johnny Depp, had developed into the face of their operation.
Rango continued to warm the Robinsons’ hearts with his performance in and out of the arena, while he also caught the attention of a caring fan base, after Robinson retired Chicken on the Chain following the 2012 season.
“It is just hard to put into words,” Robinson added. “Everybody, and every contractor, has a face of their program and we had Chicken (On a Chain) and Voodoo (Child) and Gunpowder and Lead and all of these bulls, but he was definitely the face of our program.”
Robinson first acquired Rango in 2011 from Center Point Ranch. The soon-to-be Stock Contractor of the Year was impressed with the son of Playboy’s athleticism and kick, something to this day he still calls the “best he has ever seen.”
The bovine athlete made his Built Ford Tough Series debut later that year in Oklahoma City and he went on to buck off all 10 of his opponents. Rango then appeared in a career-best 21 BFTS outs in 2012 and was only covered three times, the first by Austin Meier for 91 points at Iron Cowboy under the flashing lights of a raucous Cowboy Stadium.
“He was sure something special,” Meier recalled. “(I am) honored to be one of the few guys that rode him. He was a bull rider’s kind of rank bull (with) no tricks – just honest, smart and rank. When you rode him you smiled and when you got slammed by him you tipped your hat to him because he just flat bucked you off by being rank, not by cheating you or using dirty moves. I loved getting on him and watching him too.”
Only four more riders – Matt Bohon, Emilio Resende, Joao Ricardo Vieiraand Brant Atwood – would make the 8-second mark on him over his next 36 BFTS outs before this season.
Even though he had been ridden six times in 2014, Rango looked as good as ever two weeks ago in Nashville, Tennessee, when two-time World Champion Silvano Alves rode him for 92.25 points. It was the highest score ever recorded by a rider atop him.
“He is a good bull to draw,” Alves said in Nashville. “I rode him one time before break (Colorado Springs, Colo., for 89.5 points) and he was good. I got a good score and a good ride today.”
Not that anyone could have expected it to be his last out ever, but Robinson said that it is nice looking back at it that Rango went out with one of his finest performances.
Marco Eguchi recorded both of his 90-point rides this year aboard the Robinson bull, who he faced a total of three times in his career (all of which were this season).
The 25-year-old from Poa Sao Paulo, Brazil, called Rango the best bull there was on tour.
“Not only for me, but for all lovers of PBR, this week (we) lost a star of the arena,” he said. “We talk about best rank bulls in the world – he was certainly one of them. I was very sad about the news and have good memories when watching my rides on him. My condolences to Jeff Robinson and fans.”
Rango never won a World Champion Bull title in an era where he consistently competed alongside Bushwacker and Asteroid. Yet, he was always right there in the conversation as a Top-5 and Top-10 bucking bull. He ends his career with an 83 percent buckoff average on the BFTS and an average bull score of 44.66 points.
Director of Livestock Cody Lambert called Robinson on Monday to offer his condolences. He was one of many riders, stock contractors and others that reached out to Robinson since news broke of Rango’s sudden passing.
Robinson believes he received close to 25 phone calls, 300 text messages and even more comments on Facebook and other social media outlets. He was thankful for every single one of them.
“He was Jeff’s favorite bull,” Lambert said. “Jeff was more attached to him then he was to the rest of his bulls. It is hard for him.”
Rango was marked a career-high 47 points on the BFTS in three different occasions – July 2012 in Asheville, North Carolina, against Skeeter Kingsolver; 2013 at the Built Ford Tough World Finals versus L.J. Jenkinsand in Fayetteville, North Carolina, last October when he bucked off Meier in 3.59 seconds.
Lambert also pointed out that Rango bucked off some of the toughest bull riders in the industry during his four-year BFTS career.
“There is not one guy in his career that rode him that wasn’t a contender for a World Championship, except for the day he bucked off Matt Bohon in Kansas City,” Lambert added. “In his career, that was his only off day and (Bohon) was still 86.25 points.”
Two of those riders were 2004 World Champion Mike Lee and 2013 World Champion J.B. Mauney. The two riders each faced Rango four times, making the 8-second mark just once.
“Great bull,” Mauney said, “was always one you wanted to have in the short round; bulls like Rango don’t come around often.”
Lee echoed Mauney’s sentiments, calling Rango one of the best bulls in the PBR at one time.
“He was big, strong, got a lot of air,” Lee said. “He would kick high and he was really showy and fun to watch. Rango himself enjoyed his job. He rolled up into the alley and his eyes were wide checking everything out.
“The time I got him he leaned on the chute gate and it was like he was watching the gateman out of the corner of his. He really liked his job and he was ready to start. He was one of a kind. You don’t come across them kind of bulls very often.”
Rango’s fame, and his awareness of it, was only beginning to grow after the bull was the star character in the upcoming film adaptation of the Nicholas Sparks’ best-seller, “The Longest Ride.”
Reece Arnold, who works for Robinson, was given the honor to haul Rango to Jacksonville, North Carolina, and Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for two weeks of filming in late July and early August.
It was the first time Arnold had ever flanked Rango, and he said over the course of the two weeks he became closer with the bull than ever before.
It was an opportunity he will be forever be grateful for to Robinson.
It is what made the drive home from Springfield, Missouri, that much harder once he received the phone call with the tragic news from Robinson. At one point, he merely had to turn off his phone as he headed down Interstate 40 with nothing more than Rango on his mind.
“They are more than just bulls,” Arnold said, before pausing to compose himself. “They are part of your everyday life. They kind of consume your whole life, especially one like him. It is just hard to know he won’t get to go no more.”
Rango loved to play at Jeff Robinson’s Mars Hill, N.C., ranch. Video courtesy of Reece Arnold.
Rango was never afraid of the spotlight and during the filming he became a star gaining praises from producer Marty Bowen, director George Tillman Jr., and everyone involved in the movie.
According to Arnold, there was no question Rango was meant for the big screen.
“Rango stood out down there more than any of the bulls because it was almost like he knew when the cameras was rolling,” Arnold said. “He knew when they needed him to trot around the arena and turn around and look at the camera. He would kind of just trot around the arena and look at the camera.”
Robinson said the movie will be another fond memory of his when it comes to the legacy of his bucking star.
“It’s really special and it will probably be more special now that he has passed,” he said.
After a very long couple of days, Robinson is going to get back to work towards his drive toward a fifth stock contractor of the year and will haul some of his bulls to the Desert Showdown in Laughlin, Nevada.
He also will be keeping his eyes open toward finding the next superstar bucking bull.
Yet, one thing is for certain.
“We will keep trying to find another one,” Robinson said, “but it will be like Chicken and now Rango. Nobody will replace him. They will always be compared, but there is no replacing him.
“He thought he was special and he knew he was special and he was special to us. Other than Chicken, he was my favorite bull. Period.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.
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