PUEBLO, Colo. ― Jerome Davis' entire adult life has been defined by the evolution of the PBR.
But, in April 1992, he was just happy to be in the same Scottsdale, Ariz., motel room as his heroes. As it were, he hadn't even been out of high school for a year when he became the youngest of the 20 founding members.
Sitting toward the back of the room the 19-year-old from North Carolina was all smiles.
"I had a vision, kind of like they did, but I was so young - it was my rookie year - and, so fresh that I was just going to do whatever my heroes (did)," said Davis, referencing established legends like Ty Murray, Cody Lambert, Ted Nuce, Jim Sharp and Clint Branger. "All (those) guys were guys I looked up to. They were my Elvis.
"It's so far back sometimes it's hard to put it all together," recalled Davis, who doesn't remember hearing anything about the meeting prior to being invited along by David Fournier and Cody Custer, who went to win the PRCA world title later that year.
Days and weeks have quickly faded into years and decades without anyone questioning the profound impact the forming of the PBR has not only had on the sport of professional bull riding, but also the Western way of life.
"We've been working on it and building it ever since day one and we're still busy with that."
Throughout its 20th anniversary season, the PBR will profile the Top 20 Moments in PBR History. "It All Started in a Motel Room" is the latest in an ongoing series of moments.
Arguably the defining moment in PBR history is the monumental meeting that took place in April 1992 at a motel in Scottsdale.
It was there that the 20 founders of the PBR - Lambert, Murray, Davis, Nuce, Sharp, Branger, Fournier, Custer, Tuff Hedeman, Michael Gaffney, David Bailey Jr., Mark Cain, Adam and Gilbert Carrillo, Bobby DelVecchio, Mike Erikson, Scott Mendes, Daryl Mills, Aaron Semas and Brent Thurman - invested $1,000 each to form what has become the world's premier bull riding organization.
To fully understand the significance, it's imperative to know that ― historically speaking ― bull riders were initially thought of as unskilled cowboys. When rodeo was first getting started, bull riders were cowboys who didn't possess the skills to rope and handle a horse. It wasn't until riders such as Jim Shoulders (1950s) and then Larry Mahan (1960s―70s) drew attention to the sport that eventually led to the golden age of the 1980s, which is when the 20 founders were all in their prime.
Bull riders went from being "unskilled" to headlining rodeos, and eventually forming their own sport, which sells out arenas such as Madison Square Garden and can be seen on network television.
In 2011 and again in 2012, a majority of the founders gathered in Las Vegas for the Heroes & Legends Celebration held in conjunction with the annual Ring of Honor induction.
Not all 20 of the original founders were present in the motel room on that historic afternoon, but those who were, gathered together and listened to what Lambert and Hedeman had to say that day.
"The funny thing about it is it was just a regular double motel room where everybody was sitting on the beds or standing by the wall," recalled Lambert, "and whoever was speaking would be standing up between the two beds in front of the TV.
"It wasn't a conference room or anything like that."
Davis remembers a lot of riders then each took turns sharing their feelings.
Nothing about the meeting was formal.
Hedeman invited Brian McDonald, who in turn brought along Sam Applebaum.
Applebaum was a fan of the sport and interested in hearing what the riders had to say about banding together and forming their own organization. Applebaum was the only businessman in the room that day and informally became the first CEO of the PBR.
In fact, when he opened the first bank account on behalf of the PBR he invested $1,000 of his own money just so he could be part of it. He hadn't even asked any of the founders, but when he eventually told them they all agreed it was only fair.
However, the afternoon of the first meeting in Scottsdale was a little different.
"When we were walking out the door, Mark Cain asked me, 'Cody, how well do you know that man?'" Lambert recalled.
"I said, 'He's not going to steal our money if that's what you're asking.' He said, 'Yeah, that's what I'm asking. I just wrote that man a $1,000 check and I don't even know who he is.'"
Cain wasn't the only rider with some concerns.
Davis didn't have $1,000 in his bank account, so he wrote Applebaum a check for $500 with the promise of paying the remaining $500 a week later. Gaffney was among those who did write a check for the full amount only to discover hours later ― during a telephone conversation with his wife Robin ― that the young couple didn't have enough to cover what he called "a hot check."
Luckily the New Mexico native won the Scottsdale event that night and his winnings more than made up the difference.
Call it youthful naivety or a focus on the present, but Davis said once the meeting wrapped up and he'd paid his share he didn't think too much about it. In fact, he likened it to planting a seed and hoping it would grow.
In the 20 years since then, there have been a few times here and there when the founders look back on their decision, but, for the most part, the organization has been focused on the future.
It was formed with a goal of making it better for future generations and it remains that way today.
"We've been working on it and building it ever since day one," Lambert said, "and we're still busy with that. If you ever stop to take time to look at it, it's amazing to think that the third generation is retiring now."
If the 20 founders would be considered the first generation then the likes of Adriano Moraes, J.W. Hart and Tater Porter would be the second generation followed by Justin McBride, Chris Shivers and Wiley Petersen.
Today's top riders make up the fourth (Luke Snyder, Mike Lee and Guilherme Marchi) and fifth (J.B. Mauney, Kody Lostroh and L.J. Jenkins) generation.
Snyder is the only current rider to have competed against any of the original founders and, even in that case, they were young and only starting out in 1992 and at the ends of their career by the time Snyder came along.
Not a single rider competing on the Built Ford Tough Series was of age in 1992 and, in fact, Chase Outlaw wasn't even born until two months after the meeting took place. Outlaw and riders like Marco Eguchi and Ty Pozzobon could even be considered the sixth generation of PBR riders.
"It's hard to believe it's been 20 years already," said Lambert, who joked that he's usually reminded of the occasion because it coincides with needing to file an extension on his income tax.
He later added, "It's sad that we don't always have time to stop and pay tribute to the past because we're trying to build and look to the future."
Plenty has changed from then to now.
Some of the most legendary riders no longer compete, the World Champion earns a $1 million bonus, the BFTS events take place in venues like Madison Square Garden and Cowboys Stadium and there are now 20 years of historical facts, figures, statistics, records and milestones to compare.
With his $1,000 investment, Fournier said he hoped that at some point in his lifetime he would see a professional bull rider earn $1 million in their career.
In just two decades, the dream of 20 bull riders has become a global sports phenomenon that reaches more than half a billion households in 50 nations and territories worldwide.
Its prime time programming airs domestically on CBS and CBS Sports Network. More than 2.5 million fans attend live events each year.
The PBR has awarded more than $120 million in prize money. To date 26 riders have earned $1 million or more and 13 others have earned $800,000 or more.
"It surpassed all our expectations," Fournier said. "A lot of bull riders had ridden for 10 to 15 years and hadn't won $250,000 in their entire career and we give that in one night."
Fournier later added, "That's pretty phenomenal ― a no big deal situation changed the world."
Lambert said during the first 10 years of the PBR comparisons were made by matching up what the PBR was accomplishing to the way it had been when the best bull riders rode in the PRCA.
"Now those days seem like the old black and white days compared to what they are now," he said.
Lambert continued, "You could argue these guys have it tougher than we did because they have to get on a really good bull every single night or you could argue they have it easier because they get to get on a good bull every single night. I can argue either side."
Three-time reigning Stock Contractor of the Year Jeff Robinson feels differently.
He said, "You guys weren't spoiled."
To which Lambert agreed, "Right, because we had a foundation."
Robinson further explained, "The work ethic 20 years ago was a lot different than it is today and I can see that in my kids."
"That's in life in general," Lambert said. "I know we were tougher than these guys, but we had to be because we had to survive in order to get to this level."
"Even my work ethic was a lot different than my dad," said Robinson, who grew up in the '70s and '80s.
"Yeah, we had it a lot easier than Jim Shoulders did or Jerome Robinson," Lambert said. "We had it way easier than that."
Follow Keith Ryan Cartwright on Twitter @PBR_KRC
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