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A Fan's Notes: The Bucking Stops Here

Sébastien Barré

We are on the verge of what every sports fan dreads worse than the agony of defeat: the occasional lull. The Winter Olympics, timed so perfectly to counter the post-Super Bowl hangover, are winding down, while March Madness and Royals Opening Day remain just out of reach.

Fortunately, I’ve found an antidote, not to mention the perfect answer to two weeks of ice dancing: The bulls are coming to town!

No, no…not the Chicago Bulls. I’m talking about real bulls—and the professionals who ride them. Yes, the Professional Bull Riders—the PBR—will stampede into the Sprint Center this weekend.

This might be the sports fan’s ultimate quick fix. It’s called “the toughest eight seconds in sports,” and there’s a reason that nine seconds would be considered just too much. The format is simple: the rider gets on the bull. The bull bucks in a frenzy to dislodge him. If the rider can stay on for eight seconds, he is awarded points. The bull also gets points. No bonus points just for surviving.

These are the best bucking bulls money can buy—specifically bred for the sport and seasoned in bull riding’s minor-league circuits. You’ll find them ranked on the PBR’s web site, complete with headshots, bios, and highlight videos. These bulls even have their own Facebook profiles and Twitter handles.

The riders—with names like Pistol, Shane, and Stormy—are the sport’s rock stars, but the bulls are the real athletes. Each weighs about as much as an NFL offensive line—not lineman, line—but twists and twirls like a three-quarter-ton gymnast. And like a gymnast or figure skater, the bull is judged for the height of his leaps, the torque of his turns, and the angle of his kicks.

But it’s a brutal kind of grace. The average bull-rider only weighs 150 pounds. So you might see why it’s a dangerous sport. A typical PBR cowboy has more busted knees and broken body parts—ribs, legs, vertebrae—than a downhill skier, and fewer original teeth than most hockey players. Forget concussions; riders are just happy to avoid crushed skulls. All don protective vests, but only some wear crash helmets in lieu of cowboy hats.

If you’re still worried this is just another obstacle in KC’s quest to shed its cow-town rep, let’s not flatter ourselves. Apparently, New Yorkers don’t have a problem filling Madison Square Garden for three full days when PBR passes through each year—and, really, Kansas City is just one more stop on the way to the World Finals in Las Vegas.

Launched two decades ago by twenty cowboys with a fistful of dollars—there are now more than 1,200 riders from the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Brazil, and Australia. Some two million rabid fans attended PBR events last year, but what makes this a major-league spectator sport is the more than one hundred million who watched on TV—no competition may be more suited for slow-mo instant replay. The reigning world champion, J.B. Mauney, walked away—gingerly—with $1.3 million in prize money last season. He’s almost as much of a draw as his nemesis, the current Bull of the Year, Bushwacker—who, by the way, earned a quarter million for his own along with the title at last year’s finals.

So if watching massive bovines toss and stomp bantam-weight buckaroos ain’t your cup o’ sarsaparilla, there’s still a couple days of bobsled left. But I promise, it will grow on you. Just give it a second or two. Or, if you’re really serious, all eight.

Victor Wishna is a contributing author and commentator for Up to Date.
Stephen Steigman is director of Classical KC. You can email him at Stephen.Steigman@classicalkc.org.