By: Justin Felisko June 12, 2014@ 03:30:00 PM
BISMARCK, N.D. – Chad Berger remembers every second of it.
Every memorable, heart-pumping second that nearly ripped the roof off the Bismarck Civic Center in June 2011.
The three-time Stock Contractor of the Year remembers watching Smackdown load into the bucking chute, Robson Palermo climbing aboard Berger’s prized bovine athlete and eventually nodding his head to the glory of 94.5 points.
Berger lets out a reminiscent sigh, before recollecting that early summer night in the capital of North Dakota.
“I remember every second of it just like it was yesterday,” he recalls. “I can replay it right back in my head. It was one of the greatest rides I have ever seen in person, if not the greatest ride I have ever seen in person. I saw 95 on Copperhead Slinger and some of those other bulls of mine, and I still think that was a better ride. I think it is just one of the better rides I have ever seen.”
Bismarck bull riding fans still talk about that bull ride to this day, says Berger. You couldn’t hear anything inside the building as Palermo began his emphatic celebration.
“I don’t know of anything that tops it,” Berger said in reference to his event’s 14-year history.
It is another reason why this weekend will be a bittersweet moment for Berger as he wraps up his hometown Touring Pro Division event, which can be watched Friday and Saturday exclusively on PBR LIVE. Click here for more information.
Saturday night will be Smackdown’s final out in Bismarck, which will come during the championship round, before Berger retires the bull at the conclusion of the 2014 Built Ford Tough World Finals. He is also expected to buck during the championship round on Friday.
“It will be a little bit emotional for me on Saturday night,” Berger admitted. “It is just the last time I will buck him here and I know that within a matter of a few months he is going to be retired forever and I will miss watching him buck. There are a lot of bulls that retired that I would sure like to see buck again. I miss Little Yellow Jacket. I miss Mud Slinger. I miss a lot of those great bulls.”
While the build-up to the DCB PBR Bull Riding Challenge has been focused primarily on two-time World Champion Bull Bushwacker squaring off against reigning PRCA champ J.W. Harris with $100,000 on the line, it is easy for Smackdown to once again arrive at the arena in the shadows of one of the greatest bucking bulls of all time.
However, this weekend, Smackdown may stand out a little more than normal after having his left horn removed in early May after Berger discovered an infection.
According to Berger, Smackdown has since gained 150 pounds of muscle and looks rejuvenated heading into his first event since the horn was removed.
“He looks like he is 100 percent,” Berger said. “He is real active. I hope he brings that to the arena on Friday night. I hope for the best, but he looks like he is in pretty good shape.”
Smackdown has been ridden in seven of his last 10 outs, dating back to last year’s Built Ford Tough World Finals, where J.B. Mauney rode him for 93.75 points in the second round. Ryan Dirteater also picked up 90.75 points aboard him during the championship round of the Finals, and Dirteater knew instantly that he had the opportunity to score major points on the bull that many riders aspire to get a chance to take on.
Regardless, before attempting Smackdown at the Thomas & Mack Center, Dirteater certainly hadn’t forgotten their last meeting a little less than two years earlier. Smackdown put forth one of the rankest outs of his career in January 2012 when he tossed Dirteater off his back like a lifeless pillow in 3.09 seconds at the BFTS event in Sacramento, California.
He was marked 47 points as Dirteater struggled to find any positioning on the quick-bucking bull. It was the second-highest mark of Smackdown’s career, behind his 47.5-point score from Palermo’s Bismarck ride.
“I nodded my head and I didn’t see him,” Dirteater said. “It was kind of like a rollercoaster and flipping upside down. You don’t know what is going on and you are just getting jerked around. That is what happened. I nodded my head and my feet were flapping, and I was looking at the rafters and he flung me out 20 feet away from him. It was pretty wild.”
Earlier this year, Dirteater, who is scheduled to ride this weekend in Bismarck, was one of three riders that Smackdown dispatched on the BFTS – the other two being Stormy Wing and Matt Triplett – when he was bucked off in 5.33 seconds In Oklahoma City.
Dirteater believes that if not for other talented bulls such as Bushwacker, Asteroid and Shepherd Hills Tested, Smackdown could have become a World Champion Bull.
“He is honest. He is a veteran of the sport. He has been a really great bull for so many years,” Dirteater said. “I think he deserves to be a World Champion bucking bull, but he is competing against Bushwacker and Tested and stuff like that. But that is a type of bull you can be a lot of points on and win a lot of money if you stay on him.”
Smackdown also reached a marquee milestone this year in Billings, Montana, when he bucked for the 100th time (76th overall on the BFTS).
“Yeah, it’s quite an honor to have a bull like that,” Berger said. “To reach that pinnacle is pretty hard for any bull, especially when they live their whole life in the PBR against the best riders in the world. Every time they open the gate, they have a Top 30 guy in the world on him.
“He has been a special bull and he is a bull I will never forget.”
Smackdown enters the weekend with a 72.37 buckoff percentage (77 percent on the BFTS) and an average career mark of 45.04 points in PBR events. However, he has yet to be marked 45 points or higher at all this season.
Berger believes the summer break could be good for Smackdown, and he is excited to see what his bull has in store for the Bismarck faithful.
Just last year, Smackdown proved he could turn himself around in the summer months leading up to the second half of the BFTS.
He ended the first half of the 2013 BFTS by being ridden in three of his final four outs before Cody Nance took him to the 8-second mark for 92 points on the first night of action in Bismarck. Yet, it would be the last time a rider would cover him until the World Finals, as Smackdown went on to buck off seven consecutive riders.
“He was a notch off earlier this spring and they were marking him in the high 80s (with rides) on him, but if they ride him, I hope he is bucking good enough that they are in the 90s. That is why I want to retire him. Only the great guys rode him before and I don’t just want anybody to be able to ride him.”
If one thing is for sure, Dirteater would love for another crack at the bovine before the season is over.
“I would like to get one more opportunity at him this year,” Dirteater said. “Hopefully at Bismarck.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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