For A-J Media
When the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo begins its 10-day run Thursday in Las Vegas, it’ll be the start of the production of great story lines on pro rodeo’s biggest stage. But this year’s NFR also could lack some of the luster that it’s had in the past.
First, let’s look at story lines. At the 2016 NFR, a Brazilian native could claim a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association title for the first time.
On the Professional Bull Riders circuit, a Brazilian has won the world title nine of the 23 years the PBR has awarded gold buckles. But a Brazilian is yet to clinch a PRCA championship.
This year, two Brazilian natives stand an excellent chance of snaring a PRCA title. They are Junior Nogueira, who is ranked No. 1 in the PRCA’s all-around and team roping heeling standings, and Marcos Costa, who is ranked No. 1 in the tie-down roping title race.
Nogueira lives in the North Texas town of Burleson when he competes in North America. Costa resides in the Northwest Texas community of Childress.
Nogueira is ranked No. 1 in the PRCA’s all-around race with $123,786. Colorado cowboy Josh Peek is ranked No.2 with $116,603.
In the team roping heeling title race, Nogueira is No. 1 with $122,342. Missouri cowboy Paul Eaves is ranked No. 2 with $108,785.
Wesley Thorp, a Texas Tech student from Stephenville, is ranked No. 15 in the team roping heeling standings with $63,702. He has a mathematical chance of winning the title during his first trip to the NFR, but it’s highly unlikely.
In the PRCA’s tie-down roping standings, Costa is No. 1 with $125,523. Timber Moore, who is from the North Texas town of Aubrey, is No. 2 with $108,539, Barrel racer Mary Burger could become another great storyline at the 2016 National Finals. At 68, she has broken the record for becoming the oldest NFR qualifier. The previous record was set in 2005 by June Holeman who was 62 when she qualified in barrel racing.
Burger, an Oklahoma cowgirl, also will attempt to become the oldest pro rodeo competitor to claim a world title. Though she became the oldest Women’s Professional Rodeo Association barrel racer to earn a world title as the result of snaring the gold buckle in 2006 at 58, Burger is yet to become the oldest pro rodeo rider overall to clinch a world championship. Ike Rude holds the record as the result of accomplishing the feat at 59 in 1953 when he won the Rodeo Cowboys Association’s steer roping title (the RCA is the PRCA’s precursor).
Burger is ranked No. 1 in the WPRA’s 2016 barrel racing title race with $190,977. Jackie Ganter of Abilene is ranked No. 2 with $116,387.
Carley Richardson of Pampa is ranked No. 13 with $80,875. She has a mathematical chance of winning a gold buckle, but it’s highly unlikely. Richardson, a former Texas Tech star, is competing in her second consecutive NFR.
The NFR traditionally features the PRCA’s and the WPRA’s top 15 competitors in each event based on prize money earned during the regular season. The 2016 NFR will offer fans 10 performances on Dec. 1-10 at the Thomas & Mack Center on the UNLV campus.
Though the 2016 National Finals will produce great stories as usual, it could lack some of the luster that’s existed in past NFRs. The 2016 NFR will lack a very noticeable amount of high-profile competitors such as 23-time world champion Trevor Brazile (who competed in tie-down roping and team roping at past NFRs), four-time world champion Kaycee Feild (bareback riding), three-time world champion Tuf Cooper (tie-down roping) and three-time world champion Will Lowe (bareback riding).
Brazile, Feild, Cooper, and Lowe, along with other popular stars such as former world champions Clay O’Brien Cooper (team roping) and Fallon Taylor (barrel racing) will be absent from the 2016 NFR because they opted to intensely focus on building a new pro rodeo association called Elite Rodeo Athletes throughout 2016. Brazile, Feild Cooper and Lowe were denied the opportunity to compete at PRCA shows throughout 2016 because they owned ERA stock.
The 2016 National Finals could have a very different feel without numerous icons on the card. It could be likened to an NBA Finals without LeBron James or Stephen Curry.
Imagine that. That would be like watching numerous pro players who have some degree of stardom perform on the NBA’s biggest stage, but with the absence of the sport’s biggest stars.
BRETT HOFFMAN, A TEXAS COWBOY HALL OF FAME MEMBER, HAS WRITTEN A RODEO COLUMN FOR THE FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM OVER THE PAST QUARTER CENTURY. EMAIL HIM AT BCHOFFMAN777@EARTHLINK.NET.