PUEBLO, Colo. ― It was as if Michael Gaffney was predestined to be the all-American kid.
He was born on the Fourth of July and the son of a father who spent his professional career serving his country in the Marine Corps. Raised on a ranch in the Southwest, he embodies the spirit of the iconic image of an American cowboy.
Gaffney has long been thought of as a proverbial good guy.
A longtime PBR fan-favorite, in the eyes of fans he still stands for all that is good in a world that could learn a thing or two from the cowboy culture. To them, he can do no wrong, which only lends credence to, perhaps, the most honest insight he's shared regarding his historic ride on Little Yellow Jacket.
"I really made an effort of over extenuating my posture when I left that day, in Nampa, and that was key because once he did get in the spin he still did wind up, have the kick and the speed and the power-that old saying is 'you get tapped off' and I was there."
In 2004, Gaffney tied the record for the highest marked ride with a 96.5 point effort in Nampa, Idaho.
"I guess the stars were lined up for me that day as well as the judges," Gaffney recalled, "I mean, quite frankly, the judges were all my friends. It was a great bull ride and I spurred him a couple of times, but the 96.5 ― to compare it to Bubba Dunn's or Chris Shivers' rides ― no, it wasn't.
"To be a gift it might have been a 93, 94 maybe. To be 96.5, I don't think so, but again," he continued, now laughing, "I have pretty good friends."
Three men ― Dunn, Shivers and Gaffney ― hold the record for the highest-marked ride in PBR history with 96.5 points. Dunn rode Promise Land in 1999, Shivers rode Jim Jam in 2000 and Dillinger in 2001, and Gaffney rode Little Yellow Jacket in 2004.
Dunn said "it tickles you to death" to know his name sits atop the all-time list of high-marked rides in the PBR and to know someone like Cody Lambert has told him, "Best damn ride I've seen in my life."
Throughout its 20th anniversary season, the PBR will profile the Top 20 Moments in PBR History. "High-Marked Ride" is the latest in an ongoing series of moments.
Both Dunn and Shivers ― it's only fitting Shivers would have accomplished the feat twice considering he scored 90 or more points more than 90 times in his illustrious career ― will be featured in forthcoming moments as well as a second series of features highlighting the "20/20" series, in which 20 of the greatest PBR events will be rebroadcast on RFD-TV, so today's feature focuses on Gaffney's historic outing that took place nine years ago this week.
"It was almost easy," said Gaffney, who had bucked off Little Yellow Jacket twice before, including a week earlier in Colorado Springs, Colo.
By then, Little Yellow Jacket had earned quite a reputation.
He had won the World Champion Bull title in 2002 and 2003 and was en route to winning an all-time PBR record third title in 2004 that still stands today.
Gaffney, who was inducted into the Ring of Honor in 2005, describes him as being one of the greatest bucking bulls in the history of bull riding.
He was young jock that ― like his human counterparts ― turned into a great jock ― and it was a rather quick transformation. In a career that spanned seven seasons he "brought it every time" and never had an off-day.
In addition to his three titles, he accumulated an average bull score of 46.134 points and 33 times in 84 outs he was the high-marked bull of the event, while being ridden only 14 times (11 of which were for round wins).
Click here to view more photos of high marked rides in PBR history.
Gaffney believes Little Yellow Jacket's success was predetermined.
"He had the heart of a champion," Gaffney said. "I think, he was born that way."
In fact, he had the heart and all the tools used to judge bulls.
In terms of difficulty, he could buck, kick and change directions. He had intensity and power and, according to Gaffney, "he was a full load." The difficulty factor was only compounded by the power of a bull that weighed between 1,700 and 1,800 pounds.
"Nothing was in short supply for him," said Gaffney, who described Little Yellow Jacket's first move out of the chute as being a "slump jump" that included a hop, skip and a hesitation.
Gaffney knew that when he got on him, in 2001, at an event in Auburn Hills, Mich., and he certainly knew when he got on him in Colorado Springs - a week before he finally cracked him for 96.5 points in Nampa at the Idaho Center.
"I had been on him several times previous to that final day, in Nampa, where I eventually got him rode," Gaffney said. "I had him the week before in Colorado Springs and he had that, like I said before, that signature move ― that step out, hop and skip and kind of rock you back on your (butt) and then just bring you down over the front end."
He then explained, "I really made an effort of over extenuating my posture when I left that day, in Nampa, and that was key because once he did get in the spin he still did wind up, have the kick and the speed and the power ― that old saying is 'you get tapped off' and I was there.
"I pulled a foot and helped myself out. I was feeling great and gave that aggressiveness that I want to have when I was in the position I was."
Although Gaffney is simply being honest with his self-evaluation of scoring himself "90, 91 or something like that" he's considerably underscoring the fact that he was able to "pull a foot" and spur a bull the size and caliber of Little Yellow Jacket.
"I felt it," said Gaffney, when asked if he could sense the growing excitement in the arena. The 96.5 points he scored that day was a full 11 points over Gaffney's career average of 85.5 points.
It's only fitting that later that year, in Las Vegas, Gaffney faced Little Yellow Jacket one last time.
In the final outing of his own career, Gaffney faced Little Yellow Jacket in the eighth round of the World Finals. Whereas he went right in Nampa, Little Yellow Jacket went left in Vegas and the two went the distance for 93.75 points.
"It took a long time to get there," Gaffney said, "but I enjoyed both directions and had success twice that year."
Follow Keith Ryan Cartwright on Twitter @PBR_KRC.
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