Team roping at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo is usually a pretty simple deal. A heeler and a header rope all season together — or at least most of the season — and finish in the top 15 in the world standings of their respective categories, so they come to Las Vegas and rope for 10 more nights together, trying to win a bucketful of season-ending money in the process.
In other words, you dance with who brung ya’.
But occasionally, a situation arises in which half of the duo qualifies, and the other half doesn’t. Maybe a roper had two or three teammates during the year and still found a way to qualify, while his teammates didn’t; maybe a roper missed a little time with injury and failed to qualify, while his teammate made it.
At that point, it’s less dance with who brung ya’, and more like, “Do you want to go to prom with me?” as the single headers and heelers try to pair up.
That’s the case with two teams at this year’s Wrangler NFR. Cole Davison qualified 13th among heelers, but his partner Kolton Schmidt fell just short at 19th among headers. Bubba Buckaloo was sixth in the regular season among headers and roped a decent chunk of the season — but not the entire year — with Tyler Worley, who was 27th among heelers.
Header Tyler Wade and heeler Chase Tryan had similar issues. So Davison paired up with Wade and Buckaloo with Tryan. It was a pretty fair split, as both Wade and Tryan have previous Wrangler NFR experience, while Davison and Buckaloo are on their first trip to the Super Bowl of Rodeo.
“I think it’s a huge advantage that he’s been there,” Buckaloo said of Tryan, who had a strong run in 2012 and finished fourth in the world standings. “The only year he was here, he won close to $90,000. So it’s not like we’re both going and don’t have a clue what’s going on.”
Indeed, it’s been a good week so far for Buckaloo, of Kingston, Oklahoma, and Tryan, of Helena, Montana. Through five rounds, they’ve each added about $60,000 to their season earnings, putting Buckaloo third among headers ($148,721) and Tryan 12th among heelers ($128,136) in the world standings.
“I’m excited to rope with Chase, and I feel like he’s pretty excited to be roping with me,” the 30-year-old Buckaloo said. “I’ve already accomplished my main goal this year, to make it to the NFR. I’ve been dreaming about it a long time.”
Davison and Wade realized in the final weeks of the regular season that they both stood a solid chance of qualifying, so they came together at that point to discuss pairing up for the Wrangler NFR.
“Tyler asked me about it at Pendleton, in the middle of September,” Davison said, alluding to the Pendleton Round-Up in Oregon. “I said, ‘If both of our guys don’t make it, that sounds like a real good plan.’ There wasn’t much else to talk about.”
And Wade’s previous NFR experience from 2016 helped make the late pairing up a little less challenging.
“It doesn’t matter as much, just because of the level of the guy you’re getting to rope with. Especially since he’s been here once,” Davison said. “It relieves some pressure, just going and roping and having fun, and trying to win as much as you can together.”
That hadn’t been very much through the first five go-rounds for Davison, of Stephenville, Texas, and Wade, from Terrell, Texas. Both earned the $10,000 bonus that each NFR qualifier receives, in all seven events, but they hadn’t claimed any go-round money.
However, on Tuesday night, Davison and Wade broke thorugh with a rock-solid 3.90-second clocking to take first in the sixth go-round, collecting $26,231 apiece. Davison is at 14th in the world among heelers ($102,482), and Wade is 13th among headers ($109,376).
Davison recognizes that while he’s all in with Wade right now — and certainly glad about that after Tuesday’s first-place trip — a tip of the Resistol is due to his teammate through most of the season.
“Kolton and I worked really hard at the end of 2017 and came up with a good game plan,” Davison said. “He got me here. I owe him a lot of thankfulness for putting in the time. I wish he could be here to reap the benefits too. But you’ve gotta go with it and make the best of it.”