Wednesday, May 03, 2006

From the Oklahoma History Museum

NATIONAL FINALS RODEO. The National Finals Rodeo (NFR), known popularly as the "super bowl of rodeo," is a championship event held annually by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA). That organization established the NFR in 1958 in order to determine the world champion in each of rodeo's seven main events: calf roping, steer wrestling, bull riding, saddle bronc riding, bareback bronc riding, and team roping. The world championship steer roping competition has always been held separately from the regular NFR. The National Finals Rodeo showcases the talents of the nation's top fifteen money-winners in each event as they compete for the world title.
The first NFR was held in Dallas in 1959 and continued at that venue through 1961. In 1962-64 Los Angeles hosted the competition. In 1964, however, Oklahoma City successfully bid to be the host city. In 1965 the first NFR in State Fair Arena drew 47,027 fans. The world event remained there through 1978 and thereafter was held in the Myriad Convention Center. Rodeo's premier attraction remained in Oklahoma City through 1984, bringing Oklahoma merchants an estimated annual revenue of $8 million dollars. In 1984, however, the city of Las Vegas, Nevada, bid for the event. Although the Oklahoma City Council considered building a new $30 million arena at the State Fairgrounds, the Las Vegas bid won.
During the rodeo's twenty years in Oklahoma City, some memorable performances were turned in by athletes both human and animal. In December 1967 Freckles Brown, who established an Oklahoma ranch after World War II, became the first man in history to stay eight seconds on the bull Tornado. That famous bull, which had thrown the previous 220 contestants, was owned by Jim Shoulders, another world-champion cowboy from Oklahoma.
Other national rodeo championship competitions have also been held in Oklahoma. The PRCA National Finals Steer Roping moved from Laramie, Wyoming, to the Lazy E Arena, in Guthrie, Oklahoma, for the 1984 event and has continued there. The Women's National Finals Rodeo was also held at the Lazy E from 1985 through 1993.
Oklahoma is also home to the International Finals Rodeo (IFR), held annually since 1969 by the International Professional Rodeo Association (IPRA), which is based in Oklahoma City.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: "City Has Its Fair Share of National Finals Memories," Daily Oklahoman, 6 December 1998. "The Finals: Anniversary Stories," ProRodeo Sports News, 16 November 2000. Kristine Frederickson, American Rodeo: From Buffalo Bill to Big Business (College Station: Texas A & M Press, 1985). "Rodeo's Biggest Show Turns 40," Las Vegas Sun, 3 December 1998.
Dianna Everett

Friday, March 03, 2006

Legendary roper wasn't one to brag; he could have

Back in 1953, at a roping pen on a ranch in Snyder, in far West Texas, Lanham Riley met up with the legendary Toots Mansfield for a 10-head, tie-down match roping contest. Mansfield was a world champion; Riley was an up-and-comer. Bets were heavy that day as the two men started roping their calves.
One after another, they roped, flanked and tied in a flurry of dust. Neither roper missed a single calf, and at the end of the match, officials took more than an hour to tally the times. They checked and double- checked.
"They kept double-checking the times," Riley once told me, "because those guys were betting all of West Texas."
The official results: Riley tied his string of calves in 144.1 seconds; Mansfield took 144.2 seconds.
Ropers still talk about it today.
Lanham Riley of Aledo died Saturday, but memories of his match ropings, his climb up the professional ranks, the great horses he trained and his friendly, personable demeanor will never be forgotten. In his 86 years, he crafted a remarkable life as a horseman, a husband and a father.
His friends will gather this morning at Greenwood Chapel to remember -- and to celebrate -- Riley's life.
To visit with Riley was a treat. He had a remarkable memory and some truly colorful expressions. The only thing that slowed him down when recounting an experience was his reluctance to brag. You just couldn't get him to do it.
Riley was born July 5, 1919, in Snyder. Living about five miles out of town, he rode his horse to school and back each day. At home, he worked stock on his father's ranch. There were seven children: Lanham was the oldest boy; Harold, Doyle and James were younger. He also had three sisters: Geraldine, Carolyn and Dorothy.
Riley was breaking colts by the time he was 12. At 14, he landed his first ranch job. Three years later, he made his first rodeo at the Double Heart Ranch in Sweetwater.
He went to work for the Four Sixes Ranch in 1939. He left the ranch to work horses at the Army's Fort Royal in Virginia. The $200 a month he made there overshadowed the $45 a month he was getting at the Sixes. But by 1942 he was back in Texas in the Army Air Forces.
While in the service, Riley teamed up with football great Sammy Baugh in 1945 to rope in a match roping at Kelly Field in San Antonio. Riley and Baugh, who was a cowboy long before he was a football player, lost.
Riley was discharged at Kelly Field the next year.
Before nightfall, he had hitchhiked to San Angelo to pick up his few belongings. The next morning, he caught a ride to Fort Worth and by the end of the day, he was standing on the city's north side with a barracks bag and a saddle to his name.
He got on with Everett Colborn and his Madison Square Garden Rodeo. After Madison Square Garden came the rodeo at Boston Garden, then finally, he was able to return home.
Along the way, Riley met and fell in love with Mitzi Lucas, the daughter of world champion trick rider Tad Lucas. "She was the prettiest girl in rodeo," Riley told me of his wife. "You can quote me and no one will argue, I'll promise you that."
That was no brag, by the way, just fact.
Riley rodeoed throughout the '50s, and in 1965, he put away his ropes.
"When I quit, that was it," Riley said in one interview. "I sold my horse and walked away." He had already accumulated a lifetime of memories.
"I know I'm a very lucky man," he said in 1993, after being inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. "There are a lot of guys out there who are better cowboys and have won more. I was never a world champion. I'm just lucky."
We know better. He was a world champion, in a lot of ways.
His friend Red Steagall, who will handle today's eulogy, knew Riley well. "Whoever invented the word cowboy had Lanham Riley in mind," Steagall said Tuesday by phone from his ranch in Azle. "The world has never had a better horseman, nor a finer gentleman."

Fallon teen has sights on National Finals Rodeo qualification

A few months ago, Fallon's Jade Corkill thought he'd be easing into life on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association circuit.
That all changed in late November when the 18-year-old Corkill, a team roping heeler, received an offer he couldn't refuse.
The offer came from Matt Tyler, an 18-time qualifier for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo and one of the top team roping headers in the world. Tyler was looking for a partner for the 2006 season and asked Corkill if he'd like to team up.
So much for taking it easy.
"My original plan was just to get out here and try to get my feet wet," Corkill said. "But knowing I'll have a guy like Matt turning steers for me, it's an amazing feeling. It was just like having the weight of the world lifted off my shoulders.
"We'll be shooting for the NFR and trying to win everything we possibly can."
Corkill might be a PRCA rookie, but he's a team roping veteran.
He roped his first steer -- a wooden one in the living room of the family home -- when he was 1 and won his first paycheck at a rodeo (good for $25) when he was 6. He practiced by roping goats at the ranch owned by his parents, Bruce and Mitzi, and when he wasn't tossing a rope, he was watching tapes of roping, By the time he was 12, he was competing against -- and beating -- adults in national team roping competitions.
This past November, he teamed with Joel Bach of Weatherford, Texas to win the 2005 World Junior Team Roping Championships in Enid, Okla., winning the title over 367 other teams. Bach's father happens to be Allen Bach, a three-time PRCA world champion team roper and 24-time qualifier for the NFR.
The elder Bach set up the meeting between Corkill and Tyler and they hit it off immediately. In fact, Corkill is living in Lipan, Texas with Tyler and his family.
"He's a good guy," Corkill said. "We get along real well. We practice every day that we're not going somewhere."
Though the season is young, Tyler and Corkill have already cracked into the top 45 in the world standings, winning money at three of the five rodeos they've entered thus far.
The 41-year-old Tyler is no stranger to teaming with younger ropers. In 2003, he teamed rookie Patrick Smith and won the average at the NFR. Smith won the world championship last year with Clay Tryan.
That's where Corkill hopes to end up some day.
"I've dreamed about making the NFR forever, and this (teaming with Tyler) is the best opportunity you could ever have to make it. To have a partner like him, all I will have to do is hold up my end and do my job and things should work out."
They're already signed up for the Reno Rodeo and the Bob Feist Invitational Team Roping Classic in Reno in June.
"I'm really looking forward to that," Corkill said.
HOWARD QUALIFIES FOR POCATELLO: Fallon's David Howard will once again be heading for the Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo after he won all three rounds and the average title in saddle bronc at the recent California Circuit Finals.
WNCC RODEO FUNDRAISER: Western Nevada Community College will be holding its fifth annual rodeo team fundraiser on March 25.
The silent auction, live auction, dinner and dance will be held at the Fallon Convention Center, 100 Campus Way in Fallon, starting at 6 p.m.
The event's honorary chairman is Carlin saddle bronc rider Ira Slagowski, a two-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier.

The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association plans to move its headquarters and the ProRodeo Hall of Fame facility to Albuquerque, N.M., a move that was announced by New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.
"For generations, rodeo has been an important part of our culture," Richardson at a Sunday press conference. "This announcement will ensure that rodeo remains a vital and exciting part of New Mexico's future as well."
The exact details of the agreement to move the PRCA to New Mexico are still being finalized. This includes the exact location of the headquarters and ProRodeo Hall of Fame in Albuquerque. However, the package will include state funding assistance to help finance the construction of a new facility within the next 18 months, and $5 million to promote the sport of ProRodeo. The package will include a public/private partnership.
PBR HEADING FOR RENO MARCH 3-5: The Professional Bull Riders will make their annual Built Ford Tough Series stop in Reno March 3-5.
The Reno-Tahoe Invitational wil be held at the downtown Reno Events Center.
Defending Reno and world champion Justin McBride will lead the all-star field of riders into town for the three-day event.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


The busiest people at Strip hotels and casinos in early December 20 years ago weren't dealers, bartenders or valet parking attendants.
Among the few who put in long hours were maintenance workers.
It was the time of year when traffic into those venues was so slow the pre-holiday lull afforded opportunities to paint and change carpeting without disrupting business.
"You'd roll up the streets around here," said Michael Gaughan, chief executive of Coast Resorts. "You'd furlough your employees. You'd half close down the joints. You'd change the carpets, paint the walls and do your annual maintenance for those three weeks."
That all changed in 1985, when Las Vegas began hosting the 10-day National Finals Rodeo, which opened Friday. The event is in its 20th year at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Today, it's a bevy of cowboys and cowgirls in their boots, hats and jeans, along with thousands of others with a passion for one of America's oldest sports, who put considerable jingle in the britches of workers on casino row.
Through 19 National Finals in Las Vegas, 3.1 million people have paid to attend, including around 687,000 visitors who have made an estimated $507 million in economic impact on the area, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
Only a few casinos were prepared for the crowd that visited town for the first NFR.
Rick Rosen, 51, was a dealer at the Silver Slipper in 1985, but grew up near Pueblo, Colo., where he was a rodeo fan. He knew what was riding in on the horizon.
"December was always a very slow month for gambling, so slow that the Slipper and most of the casinos had a policy that you could get off from the day after Thanksgiving until the day after Christmas," said Rosen, who had a sports talk radio show at the time.
"Sure enough, when the Finals came to town, we were doing double shifts and we had pit bosses dealing blackjack. We didn't have enough people," he said.
"Everybody got taken by surprise. The next year, they were prepared."
That first year, 140,000 attended 10 NFR performances over nine days. It became a sellout after the first four years and has sold out every year since.
Economic impact has nearly tripled from the first year, when the LVCVA reported $14 million in added nongaming revenue from the nine-day event, which expanded to 10 days in 1990.
Last year's rodeo set records for single-day (18,104) and 10-day (175,903) attendance. This year's event has been sold out for nearly a year.
And those figures don't account for what many in the resort industry estimate are another 50,000 people who converge on the area to be part of the event but don't attend the rodeo.
The current contract between Las Vegas Events and the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association runs through 2009, and talks are under way to extend the agreement through 2014.
The LVE was created in 1983 as a private, nonprofit entity funded by annual grants from the LVCVA to bring in events to aid tourism.
Lured away
The PRCA is the largest rodeo organization in the world with some 7,500 members who participate in nearly 700 rodeos from the NFR to small-town events across the United States.
The NFR also was highly successful in Oklahoma City, where it was held for 20 years before big money lured it to Las Vegas.
The NFR is enjoying its 20th year in the city because the late Benny Binion convinced LVE officials that it was worth committing $1.79 million for prize money. Binion believed that would be enough to convince the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, which owns the event, to head west to the Thomas & Mack Center, which opened the previous year.
"Benny decided he wanted the rodeo here," said Gaughan, a longtime LVE board member and former chairman. "He had a great deal of foresight, and he was a cowboy. Getting the (NFR) here was the biggest thing he ever did that everyone profited from. It's the best thing he ever did for this town."
Binion, who died of heart failure on Christmas Day 1989, had an infamous background from his days as a bootlegger and illegal casino operator around Dallas, where he was convicted in 1931 of murdering a fellow bootlegger but received a two-year suspended sentence because of the deceased's bad reputation.
After moving to Las Vegas, he opened Binion's Horseshoe on Fremont Street in 1951. The Horseshoe became one of the biggest supporters of the Finals until this year when the name "Binion" will exist only in memories.
After racking up considerable debt, the Horseshoe was sold earlier this year to MTR Gaming Group and is being managed by Harrah's. The sale ended the Horseshoe's 19-year run of paying each contestant's entry fee, estimated to total about $24,000 for the 120 NFR qualifiers.
Though it was Binion's business acumen that helped transform the Strip and downtown from an early winter ghost town to a 10-day moneymaking festival, his checkered past and somewhat questionable reputation among some in the casino industry led many in Oklahoma City to suspect corruption when Las Vegas representatives began work on taking away their biggest event.
According to some in the rodeo industry, the PRCA was nearly broke when Las Vegas made an offer it couldn't refuse.
High stakes
Getting the PRCA to move the NFR to Las Vegas turned into a bidding war, and Oklahoma City couldn't match Herb McDonald, the first president of LVE, and his Las Vegas bankroll.
"I suckered" them, McDonald said of the other delegation during a 2001 interview. He died in 2002 at 83.
McDonald, former president of the Sahara and other Del Webb-owned hotels, was the first to make a presentation to the PRCA board at a meeting held during a snowstorm on Dec. 12, 1984, in Colorado Springs, Colo., where the PRCA is based.
The Oklahoma committee paid $901,550 to contestants in the 1984 Finals. McDonald offered the $1.79 million.
Stock contractors earned about $200,000 in Oklahoma City. Las Vegas offered nearly four times that amount.
Las Vegas offered free rooms for NFR contestants, officials and workers, totaling about 2,000 room nights. That contrasted with what NFR participants were accustomed to in Oklahoma City, where hotels were known to jack up room rates and increase restaurant prices.
The final bid from the Oklahoma group was only $50,000 less than Las Vegas' bid.
McDonald, however, revealed his ace in the hole.
"I told them I had to change our proposal," he said. "They thought we were going to lower our offer, but instead I said I'd increase our purse each year. They couldn't believe it."
Sales pitch
McDonald recalled that then-Gov. Richard Bryan was in Denver on other business but rented a car and made the 90-mile trip to Colorado Springs in the snow because he heard the Oklahoma governor was going to attend the PRCA meeting.
A straw vote early in the presentations had the members of the PRCA board overwhelmingly opposing the move. When the sales pitches were completed and the final vote was taken, the board voted 6-6.
Shawn Davis, a four-time saddle bronc world champion and then-PRCA president, cast the tie-breaking vote to relocate the NFR in Las Vegas.
"Oklahoma City had done a lot to make the Finals happen, but I had to look at it from a business standpoint," said Davis, who won his four championships in Oklahoma City. "Las Vegas was more capable of doing that than any other city we'd been approached by."
Although influence of organized crime in the casino industry was virtually nonexistent by 1984, it didn't stop some opposing the move from alleging that mob money influenced the vote.
Davis was the main target of the accusations because his vote ended the rodeo's run in Oklahoma and he had known Binion for several years.
Davis, who is in his 20th year as the NFR's general manager, recalls FBI agents searching his and other NFR officials' rooms during the last Oklahoma NFR.
"They said we were cohorting with Benny Binion," Davis said. "I caught all kinds of grief.
"There are still accusations that I was influenced financially, and that was absolutely untrue," said Davis, who has attended every NFR since the inaugural event in 1959, either as a contestant, official or administrator.
Clem McSpadden, a longtime Oklahoma legislator and rodeo announcer who was instrumental in getting the PRCA to move the Finals to Oklahoma City from Los Angeles in 1965, said he heard the rumors, too.
"There was some talk, but nothing I could ever prove or tried to pursue," he said.
While the move from Oklahoma City saddened those in the city who had developed it into a sellout for 15 years, the shift to Las Vegas was soon accepted by most, even McSpadden.
In the past
"We raised the child and got it healthy," said McSpadden, 79, who continues to announce rodeos part time and has held box seats every year the rodeo has been at the Thomas & Mack.
The first NFR was held in 1959 at the Dallas State Fairgrounds, where McSpadden said it enjoyed a successful three-year run. The rodeo moved to the Los Angeles Coliseum from 1962 through 1964, where it didn't fare as well, especially in 1963, when it was held on the weekend after President Kennedy's assassination.
"You could have shot guns off in the Coliseum and not hit anyone," he said.
The NFR was created in 1959 with a plan of holding it in one city for three years before moving to another.
"They wanted to use the Finals to spread rodeo around," McSpadden said.
After returning to Los Angeles in 1964, the NFR moved to Oklahoma City, where it remained for 20 years.
Darrell Barron, 52, has been a marketing director for one of rodeo's major sponsors, U.S. Smokeless Tobacco, for nearly 28 years and the "chute boss" at the NFR since 1982. Even though the rangy Texan felt a kinship to his neighboring state, Barron felt the decision to move to Las Vegas was a wise one.
"Oklahoma City was the first place (the PRCA) found a home where they had success," Barron said. "They worked very hard in Oklahoma City in putting the National Finals Rodeo on somewhat of a worldwide map where people realized what a spectacular event it was and that it was a culmination of a year's competition."
However, if McSpadden, NFR general manager from 1967-84, and other Oklahoma City power brokers had had their way, the rodeo wouldn't have left.
"It was disappointing to see it go, but you live in a practical world and many of the cowboys, especially the young ones, were ready for a move. The older ones might have thought a little different. They'd seen how it grew here."
Though no one could have foreseen the population boom Las Vegas would experience in the 1990s, even Las Vegas of the mid-1980s was perceived as fertile ground for rodeo.
"We were going from a pretty much rural city to Las Vegas, where we could really make the sport known worldwide," Barron said. "Some people resist change, but this was the right thing to do for the rodeo industry."


The NFR has been drawing 'sell out' crowds since the late '70s, when I used to see it at the dome of the old Las Vegas Convention Center. For the past twenty years the Rodeo has been filling the seats of the Thomas and Mack arena.
For fourteen days of fun events, from December 1-14, we'll see, and some of us will become, cowboys and cowgirls. Stetsons and boots will be seen everywhere. Showroom and lounge headliners will be country and western stars.
The NFR is the World Series of rodeo. Events such as saddle bronc and bareback riding, calf and team roping, barrel racing, steer wrestling and bull riding are featured, and if you can't get into the Thomas and Mack for an event, don't pout. You can see it live on TV or watch re-runs in just about every sports book in town.
More than fifty thousand folks are expected to visit town for the Rodeo, as usual, but locals have always been attracted to the event, and they have made it a family affair when they go to watch the events.