EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second of a three-part series that will culminate on Wednesday with the unveiling of the official list of the Top 20 Moments in PBR History.
PUEBLO, Colo. ― Some people snickered behind the backs of the PBR's 20 co-founders and others laughed in their face.
At first, most people didn't think the idea of professional bull riding as a standalone sport would work. Others had already tried and failed, so why would the fate of the PBR be any different?
When the foresight of the 20 founders ― David Bailey Jr., Clint Branger, Mark Cain, Adam and Gilbert Carrillo, Cody Custer, Jerome Davis, Bobby DelVecchio, Mike Erikson, David Fournier, Michael Gaffney, Tuff Hedeman, Cody Lambert, Scott Mendes, Daryl Mills, Ty Murray, Ted Nuce, Aaron Semas, Jim Sharp and Brent Thurman ― proved otherwise, the naysayers scoffed and said it wouldn't last.
Three weeks from now the PBR will begin celebrating its 20th anniversary season.
The 2013 campaign starts in New York with the Monster Energy Invitational on Jan. 4 at Madison Square Garden, followed by 24 other BFTS events, which includes customary stops in Oklahoma City, Arlington, Albuquerque and Nashville, en route to the World Finals in Las Vegas at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Those laughing now are celebrating the international success of one of the most recognizable western brands throughout the world. On the eve of its 20th season, the PBR has not only long since established its staying power, but also proven itself as a viable major sport for competitors, sponsors and fans alike.
The PBR was born as a means of making the sport better for its fans, Murray said, and a huge part of that comes in the form of storytelling.
That wasn't always the case.
In fact, Murray agrees with the notion that when he retired from the sport of bull riding as a competitor he was simply known as a nine-time World Champion with the nickname "King of the Cowboys" and that no one really knew him.
At the time, the media hadn't gotten to know him as a person, which would have provided a lot of telling information as to what truly drove him to be one of the most successful professional bull riders of all time.
"When you get to know somebody ― good, bad or indifferent ― it makes all sports more interesting," Murray said. "It takes away that thing where you don't feel like you're just watching a red team and a blue team. You have a vested interest."
For years riders were identified by the buckle they wore and only a few wore the gold buckle of a World Champion. There were also those who wore black hats, brown hats or white hats. There were some fans who knew all the memorable rides and wrecks.
It wasn't until years after he had given up riding and even well after he had co-founded the PBR that not just PBR fans, but also casual observers got to hear the stories behind his amateur titles and the dedication it took resume his professional career after sustaining three consecutive career-threatening injuries that forced him out of competition for the better part of three years.
"I'm passionate to see the guys that do this sport get the credit that they have due."
It wasn't that he was being cagey. He simply hadn't been asked about himself in ways that would illustrate to others who he was and what he was made of other than to say that he was a tough cowboy, determined to win.
"I would say that's fair," Murray said. "I don't even know if I thought about it then. I don't even know that that even crossed my mind. I tried to do a good job with the media. I never turned anything down. That was something that Larry Mahan taught me when I was 13. He said, 'Make time for them. All it will ever do is help you and help your sport.'
"That was some of the best advice that I ever got, and it's something that has helped me in my career tremendously and it's helped the sport a lot. I wasn't inclined to be that way without him giving me a heads-up to that when I was 13."
It's a lesson that in recent years has benefitted fans of the sports as much as it has Murray.
The 41-year-old, who makes his home in Stephenville, Texas, with his wife Jewel and their son Kase Townes, is as focused on giving the tried-and-true fans a deep understanding of what the sport is about as much as he works to keep growing its popularity.
The challenges remain.
It's still hard for some to appreciate a sport they don't fully understand.
As former Major League Baseball manager Tommy Lasorda once explained, he can easily coach bull riders and make baseball players out of them, but the same couldn't be said for a baseball player wanting to ride bulls.
"I'm passionate to get more people to see and understand that," Murray said, "and I'm passionate to see the guys that do this sport get the credit that they have due. It's hard.
"This goes back to the ESPY thing and how it chaps my (butt) because what is athleticism? What is sport? This has it in spades. This has it in ways that other sports can't even dream of."
It's not about belittling other sports, Murray said, but if someone considers speed, quickness and reaction time to be athleticism, then professional bull riding has it. If they want to talk about coordination, body awareness and air sense then it has that, too. It also deals with pressure and the ability to compartmentalize the fact that it's the most dangerous sport on Earth. Obviously it's one of the most ― if not the most ― hard-hitting sports.
He compares teaching those elements to a bricklayer building a house. Every opportunity with the media is considered a brick. Whether it's he or another rider appearing on television or doing an interview with a national magazine or a metropolitan newspaper, each opportunity represents a brick.
When it comes to teaching, Custer is one of many former riders focused on conducting bull riding schools throughout the country. The future of the sport, he said, depends on schools like the ones he others serve as instructors.
While Custer focuses on easing young, would-be riders along on steers and calves as well as bulls that haven't been bred to buck before turning them loose on lower-level bucking bulls, two-time World Champion Chris Shivers, who retired at the completion of the 2012 season, has taken an active leadership role with a national mini-bull organization that staged its most recent championship in Las Vegas in conjunction with the World Finals.
Looking at the future, another two-time World Champion, Justin McBride, said the sport is at the dawning of a new era, where coaches may soon become the norm.
"I've always felt, on the coaching side of things, that a guy needs somebody to help him or tell him who knows more about it than he does," McBride explained. "You can't have somebody who sucks as bad as you do trying to fix you. You need somebody who's great at it. I always had that. I always had somebody there who was better than me, understood it better than I did and could always point things out."
None of the 20 founders could have imagined how the first 20 years would play out and going forward no one has any idea how the next 20 will fare. However, Murray is working diligently to help cast a national media spotlight on the PBR with the hope of one day seeing it recognized with an ESPY nomination, while stock contractors develop their programs and raise the rankest bulls in the world and others look to foster the next generation of bulls riders.
In the mid-to-late 1980s, the founders, who will reunite for a special Founders Forum this October at the World Finals (tickets are available through UNLV box office), were part of what is arguably the golden age of bull riding. They hope their once single-minded vision continues to influence what could be a revisiting of a new era that will one day be celebrated as the golden era.
Follow Keith Ryan Cartwright on Twitter @PBR_KRC.
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