By Baxter Black
Hunter S. Thompson, in his book “Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas,” said, “Circus, Circus (a big casino in Las Vegas) is what the world would be like if the Third Reich had won!”
Las Vegas is the equivalent of endlessly switching the cable channel on your television anytime between midnight and 2 a.m.
Las Vegas has changed rodeo. It has been a great host to the National Finals Rodeo (NFR) since 1985, literally launching rodeo into orbit somewhere between Haley’s Comet and Dancing with the Stars.
It has also dragged us middle-aged and Social Security veterans, who have the most money to spend on Dodge pickups and fancy Justin boots and make up the vast majority of repeat NFR ticket buyers, into the whirlwind world of show business.
Each performance at the NFR begins like the Fourth of July and roars non-stop, leaving the audience spellbound, breathless and deaf. When it is over you feel like you’ve ridden or roped every wild domestic animal that ran, circled or crashed into the arena.
It exhausts you. Watching rodeo is not like watching baseball or golf. There are no pensive, thoughtful moments as the steer wrestler ponders the angle of the horns. There are no no-hitters, no left fielders dozing off. Rodeo is more like hockey played with hambones and a whale bladder. Or tennis played with an orchestra and paint gun balls.
But the umbilicus, the life line that holds baby boomers and seniors to the sport and gets them through the roller coaster hyperspace of the Thomas and Mack Arena, is the intimate moment we watch when each competitor puts all they’ve got on the line.
Man touches beast, leather touches hair, silver touches hide. The noise and lights, the fireworks and carnival atmosphere fade into the rafters as we, in our minds, nod our head, throw our rope, rock and fire, turn the barrel, take our dallies and land on our feet right there beside them … to the applause of the adoring crowd.
That’s what brings us back.
That and the remembrance of our youthful attempts, of horses we’ve known, of friends we’ve rode with. We see Billy Etbauer, our Mickey Mantle, Walt Woodward, our Nolan Ryan, Trevor Brazile, our Tiger Woods, and Taos Muncy our LaBron James.
We support rodeo because it is ours, no matter how it changes. If it takes Las Vegas to make it a major sport, we welcome it, glitz and all.
But we gray-haired fans from America’s Outback, where we still punch cows and team rope on Thursday night, appreciate the animals and contestants at the NFR on a much deeper level. One man, one horse, one bovine. We know how it feels, how hard it is, and how good the contestants have to be to get there. They represent the best of what we stand for, for all the world to see.
Sometimes it sends chills down my spine.
Víva Las Vegas!
Baxter Black is a self-described cowboy poet, ex-veterinarian and sorry team roper. He can be contacted at 1-800-654-2550 or by e-mail at: