By: Darci Miller
PUEBLO, Colo. – It’s been said before, but it bears repeating: 2020 has been a year – and a season – unlike any other. While the competition on the dirt was as rank as ever, with one of the most dominant seasons in PBR history by Jose Vitor Leme, a number of breakout rookies, grizzled veterans returning to form and an impossibly tight bull race, the circumstances off the dirt threw curveballs that nobody expected. But with the 2020 season in the rearview mirror, we can confidently say it was one we’ll never forget.
In no particular order, here are 20 moments we’re thankful for in 2020, and we wish you a safe and Happy Thanksgiving.
Tune in to CBS Sports Network on Nov. 26 and 27 for a PBR marathon of some of the highlights of the 2020 season.
Bucking bulls on the USS Lexington for charity
Earlier in November, the PBR ended the 2020 season in an entirely unique way: bucking bulls on the flight deck of the USS Lexington Museum, a World War II-era aircraft carrier, in Corpus Christi, Texas. The team-formatted event wasn’t for points, but for charity, and raised $250,000 for various military charities.
“PBR may have done incredible things in leading sports back to competition during a very challenging year, but none of it is possible without the sacrifice and service of our military,” PBR Commissioner Gleason said.
“It felt appropriate to end the 2020 season on a note of gratitude and awe – on top of a U.S. aircraft carrier symbolizing the sacrifices of freedom while supporting military charities. I want to thank our partners who made this unforgettable event possible, our fans for sticking with us all year long, our cowboys and stock contractors for putting on a great show, and most of all, the heroic men and women selflessly serving our country so we can do what we love.”
PBR keeps on bucking in Duluth, Georgia
When the COVID-19 (coronavirus) hit the U.S. in full force in March, it changed the live event landscape immediately. Some leagues shut down entirely, but the PBR kept things going with the Gwinnett Invitational in Duluth, Georgia, with no fans permitted in the arena.
“We are just out here having fun,” Keyshawn Whitehorse said live on CBS Sports Network. “Not letting anything get in the way. Just being able to enjoy the moment. This goes back to all of our roots, going to jackpots and stuff. Just allowing that moment to stay with us and enjoy every second.”
After such a unique setting in 2020, the PBR will begin the 2021 season in Duluth on Jan. 8-9.
The Unleash The Beast takes up residency in Guthrie, Oklahoma
Following Duluth, the PBR shut down events for more than a month, all the while brainstorming ways to get the Western sports industry back up and running. It happened successfully in late April, as the PBR moved into the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Oklahoma, for three consecutive premier series events – all socially distanced, without fans and with proper health and safety protocols.
“I know this is going to be beneficial to everyone in the PBR family, from bull riders and stock contractors to staff and crew,” Colten Jesse said. “It’s been a long month of no events, and I know everyone is chomping at the bit to get back. I know I am! There for a while it seemed uncertain as to when we’d be able to get back at it. So I’m thankful it’s here now, and thankful for the PBR doing everything in their power to take care of all of us!”
The Monster Energy Team Challenge makes its debut…
In June, fans and riders alike were treated to an entirely new event, as the Monster Energy Team Challenge took over the South Point Arena in Las Vegas. Twelve teams battled it out over a month of competition before Team Cooper Tires ultimately took the victory.
…and fans return to the arena in Sioux Falls
The Monster Energy Team Challenge was noteworthy in another way as well, as it was the first time fans were allowed back into PBR arenas. In July, a socially distanced crowd was on hand to watch Championship Weekend as well as a Velocity Tour event.
“It feels amazing, just to be able to compete in such a great arena with great fans, and having great teammates alongside with us,” Keyshawn Whitehorse said. “It doesn’t get much better.”
The Team USA Eagles win a Global Cup title on home soil…
The Team USA Eagles became the first-ever World or Global Cup team to win a title on home soil, going 6-for-16 to hold off a hard-charging Team Australia and defending champion Team Brazil to take home the trophy in Arlington, Texas.
“It is different being on a team,” 2019 World Champion Jess Lockwood said. “This is the closest we get to feel like a U.S. army soldier defending our home country, fighting for lives and stuff, which we are obviously not doing. We are just trying to do the Team Eagles name good. This is the closest thing we will ever feel. When you ride, you just did something for your country. It is different kind of feeling.”
…but not before giving back to the community
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Before competition got underway at the Global Cup, the riders took part in the Rider Day of Service, attending four different volunteer opportunities in the Arlington area. Groups visited Arlington Animal Services, the Humane Society of Dallas County, Cook Children’s Hospital and Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children.
“That’s huge, to be able to go to an organization that’s going to use it for animals that come here, and just all-in-all help support dogs that get left or basically abandoned,” Matt Triplett said after his visit to Arlington Animal Services. “So money that can go to that, it’s a huge honor to be able to do something like that.”
Joao Ricardo Vieira starts the season with a win – and the world No. 1 ranking
After finishing 2019 ranked No. 3 in the world, Joao Ricardo Vieira began the 2020 season with a bang. At the season-opening Monster Energy Buck Off at the Garden, Vieira earned the event win, ascending to the world No. 1 ranking for the first time in more than four years.
“I had a dream to come here and win in this city,” Vieira said in New York. “It is a special arena, and there are a lot of people here. It is good energy, and to come here and get a win, I am so glad for this.”
Kaique Pacheco’s flawless start to the season
2018 World Champion Kaique Pacheco struggled mightily in 2019, going just 9-for-29 (31.03%) in 11 Unleash The Beast events before he tore ligaments in his left elbow in June and ending his season. 2020 was a different story, however, as Pacheco began the season a flawless 8-for-8.
“I’m just happy to ride the first eight bulls, and I try to keep my mind clean and work to ride my next bull,” Pacheco said.
Cole Melancon wins big at Iron Cowboy
Before Iron Cowboy, Pacheco was the only PBR rookie to have ever won a PBR Major. Cole Melancon changed all that as, at his first-ever Unleash The Beast event, he went 3-for-5 to win Iron Cowboy and surge to the lead in the Rookie of the Year race.
“Getting on all these bulls at the Iron Cowboy takes a lot out of you, but we train all year for opportunities like this,” Melancon said while holding his six-figure winner’s check. “This is an awesome event I grew up watching. It’s a dream come true standing here. Words can’t explain it. I’m here to stay.”
Fabiano Vieira makes an incredible recovery
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In July, Fabiano Vieira sustained two brain injuries at a Touring Pro Division event. He remained hospitalized for 56 days, improving greatly as he underwent rehab and therapy. He returned home to his ranch in Decatur, Texas, in August, and was on hand to watch his friends compete at the 2020 PBR World Finals.
“Thank you God for the opportunity to be here today, gratitude is the summary of my life,” Vieira wrote on Instagram.
Jose Vitor Leme wins three consecutive events
Jose Vitor Leme had one of the greatest seasons in PBR history in 2020. He won seven events, won 16 rounds, had nine 90-point rides and rode 67.69% of his bulls. In Billings, Montana, in September, Leme capped off his most incredible stretch of the season with a 5-for-5 performance to capture his third consecutive event win.
J.B. Mauney catches fire to qualify for 15th straight World Finals
Two-time World Champion J.B. Mauney missed the first seven months of the 2020 season recovering from right shoulder surgery, and in September was ranked No. 98 in the world standings. But in the last four events of the regular season, Mauney notched a Top-5 finish – and a round win – at each of them, soaring to No. 29 in the world. In doing so, he qualified for his 15th consecutive World Finals.
“You never change no matter where you are in the standings, whether you’re first or at the very bottom,” Mauney told Kate Harrison on CBS Sports Network. “It’s got to be the same mentality whenever you crawl into the bucking chutes. You want to win. I know the past couple weeks I have been first on one seat I didn’t want to be first on, and that is the intro list. That means you are coming in last hole so I wanted to change it.”
Silvano Alves gets back in the winner’s circle
It had been four long years since three-time World Champion Silvano Alves last won a premier series event. But in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in October, Alves finally returned to the Unleash The Beast winner’s circle, going 3-for-3 to climb to No. 25 in the world standings and ensure his 11th World Finals qualification.
One final ride for the Cherokee Kid…
Earlier this year, Ryan Dirteater announced that he would be retiring following the 2020 PBR World Finals. Despite missing several months of the season due to thoracic fractures and then a broken collarbone, Dirteater qualified for his 12th PBR World Finals. The final ride of his career came in Round 3, when he rode Payin Debts for 91 points.
“I’m going to miss every moment of it,” Dirteater told the crowd inside AT&T Stadium. “It’s been a huge honor to ride with some of the legends, the superstars and the future superstars of the sport. I just want to thank the PBR, the fans and all my great sponsors. Thank y’all very much. It’s been one hell of a ride.”
…in a Round 3 for the ages
Dirteater wasn’t the only rider to go 90 in Round 3 of the World Finals. He was just one of six 90-point rides – Kyler Oliver (90 points on Chain Smoker), Boudreaux Campbell (90 points on Safety Meeting), Keyshawn Whitehorse (90 points on Skeeter Peter), Derek Kolbaba (90.75 points on I’m A Secret), Dirteater and, of course, Jose Vitor Leme, who clinched his world title with 95.75 points on Woopaa.
“Six 90s!” Dirteater exclaimed. “I mean, you’re at the best bull riding in the world. It’s expected.”
Inaugural Women’s Rodeo World Championship breaks the glass ceiling
In March, the PBR and WCRA announced they would be partnering on a new event: the Women’s Rodeo World Championship, which would take place in conjunction with the 2020 PBR World Finals. In AT&T Stadium, five women became the first in history to claim their respective world titles while Jackie Crawford earned the first-ever Women’s Rodeo World Champion All-Around Cowgirl title.
Boudreaux Campbell clinches Rookie of the Year with World Finals victory
Boudreaux Campbell spent his 2020 doing double duty, competing in both the PBR and the PRCA. He spent most of his PBR time on the Pendleton Whisky Velocity Tour, competing in just five Unleash The Beast events, and entered the World Finals ranked No. 33 in the world. But when all was said and done, Campbell stood center stage in AT&T Stadium, winning both the World Finals event title and Rookie of the Year, and finished the season ranked No. 3 in the world.
“I’m lost for words,” Campbell said. “I’ve been working at this all year long, especially with the year we had. It was crazy. We had to go through a lot of obstacles. PBR went through a ton of stress to get us to where we are. And heck, my emotions right now are so happy.”
Smooth Operator goes back-to-back
After Smooth Operator won the 2019 YETI World Champion Bull title, stock contractor Chad Berger debated retiring his now 10-year-old bull. But luckily he didn’t, as Smooth Operator dominated all season long, scoring 46.25 points in his final out to become the oldest back-to-back bovine champion in PBR history.
“That bull has won two world titles just with the heart,” Berger said. “It’s all heart. That bull has got the biggest heart to keep doing what he does. He just reminds me of an old campaigner that knew what he had to do to win. He came there, knew just what he had to do. He never got excited, never got nervous. He just come and did his job. That’s the best way to explain it. That old bull just knew what he was there for.”
Jose Vitor Leme clinches world title with 95.75-point ride
In both 2018 and 2019, Jose Vitor Leme ended the season with heartbreak and the world No. 2 ranking. In 2020, he finally climbed the mountain, clinching his first world title with a sensational 95.75-point ride on Woopaa with two rounds remaining in the World Finals.
“You see, someday I want to be like J.B. (Mauney),” Leme said. “People love him. The fans. The 90-point rides. He is the best. There is still so much I want to accomplish. I have always said I wanted to be a World Champion, and if I got that accomplished, I know I want to be a two-time World Champion. But, really, I want to be the record-breaker. I want do so something impossible, something nobody has ever done.
“I have that drive. I always want to do better and do the impossible because I know I can do it.”
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