Near the end of my first year working at the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 1999, my sports editor, Jim Fossum, asked if I was busy in December.
After telling him I didn’t have much to work on in the world of motor sports — my primary beat — he told me I’d spend 10 days covering the NFR.
“No problem, Jim,” I replied.
But I had one question for him: What’s the NFR?
“It’s the National Finals Rodeo. It’s the biggest rodeo in the world!” he said, almost in disbelief that this Midwestern boy had no clue what the NFR was.
He winced when I said the only horse I had ever ridden or been close to was the kind you drop a dime into a slot to get it going.
I haven’t missed a go-round since.
The year before joining the R-J, I worked for a motor sports facility near Colorado Springs, Colo. Co-workers asked once if I wanted to join them on a visit to the ProRodeo Hall of the Fame in Colorado Springs. Another time, they wanted me to head south to Pueblo, Colo., to attend a rodeo.
I had no interest in going to either.
My, how I’ve changed.
The 10 days of the National Finals are the best days of work for me each year.
The contestants are great. The history is greater. And nothing beats the warmth and kindness of those cultured in the western lifestyle.
Each year I head out to the Thomas & Mack Center about noon on the day before the NFR opens for the grand entry rehearsal. I was there Wednesday.
I go to interview a contestant for a story to run in Thursday’s editions of the Review-Journal. Today I interview Fred Whitfield, a great rodeo athlete and family man.
But it’s also to get some arena dirt and horse poop on my shoes, and chat with champions such as Whitfield, Bobby Mote, Trevor Brazile, Cody Ohl and Chris Harris.
It’s a good time to shoot the bull — figuratively, not literally — before they begin competing.
I hope you enjoy the bonus this space will provide during the NFR as a complement to the daily coverage in the R-J.
If you have something you want to check out or a contestant you want me to interview, just let me know by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Time to cowboy up.