Last Friday, my colleague Aaron May and I had the opportunity to report on (and attend) our first rodeo. Let’s just say, as the night unraveled, my eyes were opened to, what I believe, is a hidden American gem and masculine masterpiece called bull riding.
7:16…Arrived at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, NC (home of the Charlotte Bobcats) to get our press passes. I was suddenly overwhelmed by the concentration of cowboy hats and Wrangler jeans. I half-expected to hear someone yell, “DRAW!” or see a tumbleweed blow by. (Thank you, “Fievel Goes West”, for contributing to my narrow worldview of cowboy culture.) But I must say, I felt rather islanded dressed like a schoolboy in polo and plaid.
7:26…Got our seats on the front row. I couldn’t help but smile thinking that this seat would have cost $100 for a fan. It also helped settle my grudge for the parking vendor that charged us, the media, $10 for parking. (What? Don’t think I’m stingy. That’s nine sweet teas from McDonalds—a whole week’s worth of beverages.)
7:33…Read through the PBR (Professional Bull Riders) media program and found a page called “Guide to the Gear.” I quote: “ATHLETIC CUP: Hard to believe, but not one PBR athlete wears one.” Perhaps bull riders only go one generation deep.
7:41…Took a stroll through the bull riders’ locker rooms with our helpful guide and interview coordinator Darrel Vesta, who works with Riding High Ministries. It was only 20 minutes until kick-off (literally), and I noticed that the riders, too, were preparing for war just like any other team that came into that arena. But their situation was unique in the sense that their opponent wasn’t human. It was an 1,800-pound bucking bull that may as well be a torqued off dinosaur.
7:50…Got back to our seats.
7:53…Aaron notices a sign on one of the rodeo worker’s equipment just below the first row: “Pyro Zone.”
8:00…Judging from the raging flames that shot from the mouths of two metallic bulls and the startling POPPING noises of a hundred fireworks, we understood the reasoning behind the sign.
8:01…Captivated by bull riding. Apparently, only the riders who stay on their bull for more than eight seconds get judged, and they’re judged partially on their riding technique and partially on the fierceness of the bull. Wouldn’t it be great if all sports were like that? Apply it to NASCAR, for example. You’d earn more points based on the dangerousness of your car. Paint the windshield black. Make it a convertible. Drive with bicycle tires. Now, suddenly, I’m a racing fan.
8:23…I take advantage of the first break in the competition by analyzing all the bull names and tweeting about them: “Coolest name: Black Cuervo. Dumbest full name: Dougie Fresh. Most biblical bull name: Moses. Most satanic: Rated X. Most Disney: Stitch.”
8:24…Regretting the tweet.
8:30ish…We see a North Carolinian named J.B. Mauney mount his bull. On the jumbo screen, we notice that he’s won more than $2 million this season.
8:31…I tweet that I’d ride a bull in my boxers before every meal if it involved that much money.
8:32…Regretting the tweet.
8:45…I slowly begin to notice that some of the riders wear cowboy hats, and some wear helmets. I take out my handy-dandy “Guide to Gear.” I quote: “The cowboy hat offers a layer of protection between the cowboy’s skull and a bull’s sharp hooves.” Isn’t that like a policeman wearing a winter coat instead of a bulletproof vest?
9:16…Darrel takes us up to a seating section called, “The Chute,” which is located directly above the bucking chutes.
9:32…I witness a rider named Luke Snyder fall off his bull and take a horn to the pelvic region. My mind begins to wander freely, and I pray to God that the poor guy isn’t merely weeks away from getting married.
9:33…I make an oath to never straddle an 1,800-pound beast until my honeymoon is over and I’ve lost my virginity. After that, it’s fair game.
9:45…Darrel takes us to a platform below the seating section where we’re standing with all of the riders. I suddenly feel like I’m on the set of “Blazing Saddles.”
9:50…A bull kicks up an asteroid sized chunk of dirt that flies into the chute and pegs me in the left shoulder blade. “I’ve been struck!” I yell, dropping to my knees as the riders turn around and stare at me…but not really.
10:15…By now, the rodeo is over, and we’ve interviewed Travis Briscoe (check out his story in our upcoming digital magazine or Winter 2012 issue) and Mike Lee (look for his story as well), thanks to Darrel.
10:45…Our last interview is with Josh Koschel. We talk about his career, his faith, and then I ask him about the injuries he’s had. “Oh, I’ve actually been really blessed,” he says. And then he rattles off something about a broken leg, a broken arm and a handful of concussions. “And you call yourself blessed?” I ask.
10:50…Wrapping up our interview with Josh Koschel, I ask the question that’s been burning in my mind all night. “Does bull riding hurt your…ahem?” I ask. He tells me that it doesn’t. And then he proceeds to tell me about his family—about how he’s married but doesn’t have any kids.
And I hope he can’t see me connecting the dots in my mind.
Stephen Copeland is a staff writer and columnist at Sports Spectrum magazine. His column tackles sports and faith from another angle, whether it’s humorous, personal or controversial. Follow him on Twitter-@steve_copeland or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. All photographs were taken by Aaron May.