LAS VEGAS - Growing up in Missouri, Luke Snyder knew all about Michael Gaffney.
As a youngster he watched Gaffney qualify for the NFR nine times, become one of the founders of the PBR and eventually win a PBR world title in 1997. Snyder was in Nampa, Idaho, in 2004 when Gaffney rode Little Yellow Jacket for 96.5 points.
He was in Las Vegas, in 2005, when Gaffney was inducted into the Ring of Honor along with Bobby Steiner and Troy Dunn.
That was in the arena, where everyone already knows Gaffney is a legend among legends.
It was outside the arena, however, that Gaffney had perhaps the biggest impact on the generations who came after him.
"He was so smart and he represented the sport so well," Snyder said.
Gaffney tirelessly worked on behalf of his sponsors as well as those of the PBR. He always took time to meet and talk with fans, never turned down an interview with the media and was admired for they way in which he respected his fellow riders, but he knew how to get his point across to them.
He was a onetime board member and a popular broadcaster.
Over the years, that was something Snyder noticed, watched closely and took note. Now as an elder statesman of the current riders, Snyder handles himself the way he once watched Gaffney.
"I learned there are two sides to this sport," Snyder said, "what you do in the arena, but also how you carry yourself and represent the sport."
For the second year in a row the PBR will honor Heroes & Legends like Gaffney.
Tuesday morning the PBR is hosting the annual PBR Celebrity Golf Classic benefitting Special Olympics of Nevada. Cody Custer, Dunn and Gaffney are among the founders taking part along with former CEO and Ring of Honor recipient Randy Bernard.
Last year's Jim Shoulders Lifetime Achievement recipient, Rob Smets, is also among the former bull riders and bullfighters taking part.
Later that day, beginning at 4 p.m. PT in the Grand Ballroom at the South Point Hotel, the PBR Heroes & Legends Celebration and Reception will take place.
Mike White and Ross Coleman will be inducted into the Ring of Honor, Jackie Dunn will receive the Sharon Shoulders Award, Dillinger will receive the Brand of Honor and Tom Teague will receive the Jim Shoulders Lifetime Achievement Award.
Snyder, who traveled and roomed with Coleman, said, "I couldn't be more proud of my best friend."
Coleman and Justin McBride, who would go on to win two world titles, befriended Snyder his rookie year. Those two were already close to Jim Sharp and Ty Murray and, according to Snyder, "It just kind of smoothed me right into it."
Murray was inducted into the Ring of Honor in 2002, McBride was inducted in 2009, Sharp was inducted the following year and Coleman will be inducted this year.
Looking back, Snyder said he's glad to have had an opportunity - albeit for only a couple years - to compete alongside the likes of Murray and Sharp. More important, he's glad to call them friends or in Snyder's case, "my pards."
Sharp still calls Snyder to wish him good luck or to congratulate him when he makes a great ride or wins an event, like the one he did in Las Vegas a year ago when he won the Last Cowboy Standing at Mandalay Bay. Having watched Sharp as a young boy the same way he did Gaffney, Snyder can't believe his hero is one of his closer friends.
He likened it to a young boy watching Joe DiMaggio play baseball for the New York Yankees and then years later having him call you on the phone to say he admires your playing ability.
With the pending retirement of two-time World Champion Chris Shivers, who is competing for the final time this week, Snyder is now the lone rider remaining with a personal connection to the founders - having ridden alongside many of them - and today's young bull riders like Ryan Dirteater, Stormy Wing, Chase Outlaw and others.
"I hung out with those guys, ears wide open, soaking up as much as I could," Snyder said.
"Some of the new guys on tour, I just hope they all realize how important it is to have these guys and I'm sure they do. It's just, I'm glad the PBR came up with a way for all these guys who paved the way for us to have their day," said Luke Snyder.
On Wednesday, there will be a one-hour World Champions Forum at South Point Hotel beginning at 10 a.m. PT, which will be followed by a two-hour long PBR alumni meet-and-greet.
Snyder knows that having ridden against the greats not only influenced him, but also gave him a great appreciation for the sacrifices they made for future generations.
Now in the waning years of his own career, Snyder makes it a point to teach today's youngsters the stories of those who came before them.
This year, all 39 riders competing in this year's World Finals, which includes the Top 35 qualifiers and four international invitees from Brazil, Canada, Australia and Mexico, will be in attendance for the Heroes & Legends Celebration.
"Some of the new guys on tour," Snyder said, "I just hope they all realize how important it is to have these guys and I'm sure they do. It's just, I'm glad the PBR came up with a way for all these guys who paved the way for us to have their day. It'll be great to see all the old guys again.
"Heck, I think, it should last a week."
Follow Keith Ryan Cartwright on Twitter @PBR_KRC.
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