EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first 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. ― In 1982, Cody Lambert was a young, impressionable roughstock cowboy traveling with Bobby Brown.
He was only a few years into a career that continues today as co-founder and livestock director of the PBR, while Brown, who was in his 30s at the time, was nearing the end of his professional rodeo career.
The two were in Greeley, Colo., and headed to St. Paul, Ore., when bad weather forced Brown to land his single-engine plane in Salt Lake City, Utah. It was then that Lambert learned a lesson that he carried with him until retiring from riding in 1996.
The forecast indicated that there was no way they were going to
be able to continue in Brown's small plane, so they checked with
the airlines and there were two first-class tickets available on
the next flight to Portland, Ore. The $600 or $700 price is still
steep by today's standards, and back then Lambert was recently
married and short on money.
"There's no way I can go," Lambert told Brown
Brown, who a year earlier was the runner-up to the world title in saddle bronc riding and who had qualified for the National Finals Rodeo more than a dozen times, refused to take no for an answer.
He explained to his less-experienced travel partner that he had one of the best horses in the draw ― more importantly, one that he could win with― and that he could not afford to miss this opportunity.
In spite of the guilt, Lambert made the trip.
"I felt sick paying for that ticket on my credit card," recalled Lambert, who maxed out his credit limit in order to travel to the second of a week's worth of events, when he didn't even plan to spend that much for his share of the fuel costs during the entire Fourth of July run.
Lambert wound up winning and Brown took second.
"When you draw those good ones you make sure you're there to get on them," was the lesson Brown shared with Lambert.
Ten years later, Lambert played an instrumental role with 19 other bull riders in forming the PBR when they met at a Scottsdale, Ariz., motel room and agreed to each invest $1,000. The PBR was predicated on matching the best bull riders against the rankest bulls and, as a result, future riders wouldn't be faced with the same decision Lambert made earlier in his career.
Lambert said he and the other founders we're proud to have come from rodeo.
In fact, the formation came on the heels of what is arguably considered to be the most celebrated era of bull riding. Among the founders was a laundry list of legends that included Ty Murray, Tuff Hedeman, Cody Custer, Ted Nuce, Jerome Davis, Jim Sharp, Michael Gaffney and Lambert. The list didn't stop there. David Bailey Jr., Clint Branger, Mark Cain, Adam and Gilbert Carrillo, Bobby DelVecchio, Mike Erikson, David Founier, Scott Mendes, Daryl Mills, Aaron Semas and Brent Thurman left no doubt the best riders in the world were all involved in the PBR from its earliest days.
Forming the PBR, which took place in April of '92 and began sanctioning events in '94, wasn't meant to compete with the PRCA, so much as it was an attempt to provide the sport of bull riding with an opportunity to be seen on a bigger stage and by a larger audience.
Although they were not among the founders in 1992, Adriano Moraes and J.W. Hart were among the first invitees two years later.
Hart's transition from amateur bull riding events to the pro level coincided with the PBR establishing itself as an organization and professional bull riding as a viable standalone sport.
In those early years, there weren't many events.
Hart had been recommended to the others by Davis, who had seen him ride, and the eager 18-year-old "burned up (the PBR) phone lines" from one event to the next to see if he had made the draw. Moraes traveled to the U.S. from his home in Brazil and was contemplating a permanent move, so that he could compete throughout the season.
Moraes memorably won the first PBR world title in 1994 and claimed three world titles by the time he retired at the end of the 2008 season.
Despite the naysayers and detractors, the PBR quickly proved itself as a viable organization and just as quickly became an internationally recognizable brand with competitors coming from not only Brazil, but also Australia, Canada and Mexico.
Troy Dunn became the second international rider to win a world title when the Australian did so in 1998.
"That's pretty phenomenal … a no-big-deal situation changed the world."
For Murray, it was about being in the right place at the right time.
He never saw his initial $1,000 as an investment so much as it was a chance to help establish a better opportunity for riders. And along came the likes of Chris Shivers, Justin McBride and, years later, Guilherme Marchi, Kody Lostroh and thousands of others, who have all competed at Built Ford Tough Series events in the past 19 years.
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.
Nuce, who qualified for the National Finals Rodeo a record 14 times and was nearing the end of his career when the PBR was formed, said that learning how to win is about having a winning attitude. The founders shared that winning attitude when it came to the PBR.
From the beginning the decisions ― many of which have been considered cutting ― edge and innovative ― have been made with the intention of making the sport better tomorrow than it was today.
When Thurman, who tragically lost his life in 1994, was inducted into the Ring of Honor in 2011, his then-finance Tara Ferrell said, "I remember him talking on the phone and saying, 'Whatever it is, I'm in. I want this and let's do this.'"
His mother, Kay Goodnight Thurman, added, "He said, 'Mom, it'll
give us all a chance.' It gave Brent something to believe
Truth be known, it's given the entire western culture something to believe in.
More than 30 years after traveling with Brown, Lambert said that
to this day every time he looks at the buckle he won ― St. Paul was
known for giving some of the nicest buckles to the winners ― he
still thinks about the trip to Oregon, what it took to get there
and the valuable lesson learned.
Fournier (and others) know all too well what it was like prior to the PBR.
The Louisiana native said during his career it wasn't uncommon
for a rider to travel 100,000 miles or more in a single season,
spend $12,000 on flights, another $12,000 on gas, food and lodging,
and up to $15,000 for entry fees.
His belief in the PBR was the hope that in his lifetime he could
see a bull rider earn $1 million. To that point, no rider had
earned a $1 million in their career, including eight-time PRCA
champion Donnie Gay.
That's not the case anymore.
There are 26 riders listed on the PBR all-time money list, who have earned in excess of $1 million, and each year the PBR pays $1 million bonus to the World Champion. In 2010, the PBR surpassed $100 million in total prize money awarded.
"That's pretty phenomenal," said Fournier, who added that it's amazing to see how "a no-big-deal situation changed the world."
Follow Keith Ryan Cartwright on Twitter @PBR_KRC.
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