FORT WORTH, Texas ― 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.
In 2004, Gaffney tied the record for the highest-marked ride in PBR history with a 96.5-point effort in Nampa, Idaho, at the Idaho Center.
"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.
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"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."
PBR fans will have an opportunity to watch the 2004 event from Nampa tomorrow night on RFD-TV with the continuation of the new series "PBR 20/20" at 8 p.m. ET.
Three men ― Dunn, Shivers and Gaffney ― currently 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.
"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.
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 a 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, Little Yellow Jacket 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).
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 that bull judges look for.
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 it when he got on him in Colorado Springs.
"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, as he put it, "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.
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