Rodeo followers a courteous bunch


It's not that different, attending a boxing news conference one day and strolling around the National Finals Rodeo the next. Cowboys have enough bling in those buckles, some bigger than your standard wall clock. They also repeat a certain four-letter word over and over, although I'm not sure "ma'am" is suitable competition for most boxing lingo.

Maybe the Metropolitan Police Department is correct in fearing what could happen Saturday night when those attending the NFR spill onto the Strip with those here to watch Floyd Mayweather Jr. fight Ricky Hatton, when cowboys who have been tipping bottles of beer for a few hours watching others ride bulls and wrestle steers encounter British fans who have been tipping pints since birth.

Then you add Mayweather fans to the mix and wonder if there are enough $1 bills in Southern Nevada to cover all those tips needed for dancers.

But the thing you can't deny is how those who flock to the NFR for 10 days each December conduct themselves in and around the Thomas & Mack Center. I've never seen a group of people nod so much, like some sort of power switch is on the back of their hats that turns on every time someone wanders by. They're either really courteous or just passing on condolences for all who had to sit through another UNLV football season.

They're an incredibly thoughtful bunch, these NFR types, to the point of offering a shooting gallery game that temporarily can appease any NBA All-Star fan who might have taken up residency since February.

"The crowd we see at the NFR is corporate America from the Western market front and middle America," said Daren Libonati, executive director of the arena and one of the few people around it with a clue how to manage events big and small. "It's just a special group of people who are kind and have great values and principles.

"We have relationships with these fans. I have ushers who exchange Christmas presents every year with generations of families who have been in the same seats for 24 years. It's all these fans have known."

It's more spectacle than anything, a big enough party that one scalper at Thursday night's opening go-round was asking $500 for a lower-level ticket. Rodeo grows on you, but if I'm paying that much to watch it, I'm riding home to Summerlin on a new horse.

It's possible to not even enter the building and still enjoy yourself. You can eat massive pieces of meat shaped like that club Bam Bam Rubble used to hold and ears of corn bigger than those standing in some Iowa field.

You can ride a mechanical bull, which Beverley McDonnell did for 45 or so seconds without falling. She is 26 and here from England with friends, some of the few Brits you will find in town this week not to watch Hatton. In fact, one woman in the group has no idea who he is.

"Never heard of him," said Jayne Wyatt, 43. "I don't do boxing. I like horses."

I'm guessing Wyatt will be taken into custody upon arriving home some time tomorrow for breaking a few English laws. She not only doesn't care how Hatton fares in his welterweight title fight but also spent her entire time here without accompanying her friends for drinks.

"And," McDonnell added, "she doesn't have sex."

"I've been married a long time," Wyatt said.

At least she has a reasonable excuse for something.

Lines weren't long at the souvenir stands, but when you've seen one $59 hooded sweatshirt and $20 flask, you've seen them all. Several interested folks were standing around a Charmac trailer that goes for around $80,000. Inside, you were greeted with a leather couch, large bed, soft music, candles and a mirror on the wall.

It seems that when they put these rodeo horses out to stud, they go all out to set a mood.

It's not to say the action inside isn't exhilarating, and (trust us, boss) we're not talking about the press room which is anchored by a keg big enough to serve all fraternity gatherings within 10 miles.

It's the entire atmosphere. A national anthem sung the way it should be. Beautifully. Fireworks. Music. Announcers who are never-stop-talking Louis L'Amour novels. The opening parade of contestants.

One even carried a Florida flag Thursday, which is like a surfer from Wyoming showing up at a big wave contest in Hawaii.

But he looked the part. Wranglers, a cowboy hat and a horse. I bet the guy even nods a lot.

Ed Graney can be reached at 383-4618 or egraney@reviewjournal.com.

 

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