Jake Barnes left the starting box a hair too quickly Wednesday night, and it cost him and roping partner Clay O'Brien Cooper a five-second penalty.
Their adjusted time wasn't good enough to earn a paycheck in the seventh go-round of the National Finals Rodeo at the Thomas & Mack Center. They sit 13th in the rankings without a chance to win a world title.
This won't be their best NFR, but at this point in their careers just finishing the regular season as one of the world's 15 best teams should be reward enough for Barnes and Cooper.
Together they have won seven team roping world championships in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, and this could be their last time roping together in the NFR.
Barnes, 49, plans to cut back on his roping schedule next year, while Cooper, 47, will team with header Speed Williams, an eight-time world champion.
"Jake says he doesn't want to go as hard next year," Cooper said. "But I wouldn't bet on that."
It's the 25th Finals for Cooper, who began in 1982, and the 23rd for Barnes, whose first was in 1980.
Once they teamed up, the result was a string of five consecutive world championships beginning in 1985 -- the first year the Finals were held in Las Vegas. They added prized gold belt buckles in 1992 and 1994.
They've seen their event mature -- and its contestants get younger.
"The talent level has grown by leaps and bounds," said Barnes, who joined Cooper this year by passing the $2 million mark in PRCA career earnings.
"In the last 20 years there are more roping clinics, more instructional videos, and a lot more guys are trying to make a living at it," said Barnes, who resides in Scottsdale, Ariz.
One member of the sport's younger generation, heeler Patrick Smith, teamed with Trevor Brazile to win Wednesday's go-round in front of a crowd of 17,121.
Smith was born in 1980, the first year Barnes qualified for the NFR.
Smith said he was 17 when he bought his first instructional team roping video, which featured Barnes and Cooper.
He still watches it.
"I couldn't tell you how many times I've watched it, and a lot of times it's been in slow motion. I've about worn it out," said Smith, who roped with Clay Tryan to win the 2005 world title.
"Jake and Clay have had a great impact on the team roping world," Smith said, noting their consistency. "They're legendary. Leo Camarillo changed the event, then it was Jake and Clay, and Speed and Rich (Skelton) after them."
Camarillo won four world titles in the early 1970s as a heeler. Skelton was Williams' heeler when they won eight straight world buckles.
Barnes said the competition at the NFR seems to get younger each year.
"The young guys just put the pedal to the metal and really gas it," he said.
But there's a lot to say for experience.
"We know how each other are going to react," Barnes said of his partnership with Cooper.
It's appropriate that the 50th anniversary of the NFR could be their last rodeo together.
"It's a good feeling that we're still competing against the best of the best," said Cooper, who lives in Morgan Mill, Texas. "We're still able to come back here and have a shot at winning a lot of money."
Barnes and Cooper have earned only $10,006 apiece for placing third Monday. But three rounds remain, and it wouldn't be an upset if they add another go-round title to their resume.
Contact reporter Jeff Wolf at jwolf@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0247.