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PBR rodeo hits Times Square

10/15/2010

NEW YORK -- Setting up a bull-riding arena in the middle of Times Square wasn't that difficult.

Finding parking nearby was.

Professional Bull Riders held a competition on the streets of the Big Apple Friday, hauling in about 50,000 pounds of steel and just as much dirt to bring the cowboys to the city. One crew member had to drive around New York for five hours Thursday until it was time to unload an equipment truck because the PBR couldn't find anywhere to stash a 40-foot trailer in midtown Manhattan.

Spectators crowded around the temporary arena to watch 10 of the world's top riders take on the bucking bulls. Others craned their necks to follow the action as it was beamed onto one of the giant screens above Times Square.

This tourist attraction is accustomed to oddities -- it is, after all, home to the "Naked Cowboy," who plays the guitar wearing only underwear, boots and a hat. But as one local office worker said of Friday's festivities, "This is pretty far out there on the weirdness rankings."

The sights, sounds and smells of New York mingled with those of the rodeo under the shadows of skyscrapers on Broadway between 42nd and 43rd streets. Just before the national anthem, a passer-by argued loudly with a police officer trying to keep him from blocking the sidewalk.

A group of animal rights activists protested while event workers held up a PBR banner between them and the CBS broadcast stage. Sirens blared nearby as the first rider, Silvano Alves, got ready to challenge Bandalero.

He and four other riders were bucked off as they competed for bonus points heading into next week's World Finals in Las Vegas.

Setup began at midnight and it took 30 workers about 12 hours to be ready just in time for the 1 p.m. start. The competition will be aired Sunday on CBS after NFL games.

"We all grew up going to bull riding and stuff that were outdoors," said J.B. Mauney of Mooresville, N.C., who ranks second in the PBR standings. "It's a little different right here on the street, with all these people and buildings everywhere. It's fun, though; I like it."

The Times Square competition was the brainchild of PBR chief operating officer Sean Gleason -- eight years ago. When he initially contacted city officials about it back then, they said no way. So PBR considered other locales in New York, but nothing materialized. PBR did hold an exhibition outside Madison Square Garden when it began holding an annual event in the home of the Knicks and Rangers.

When city leaders decided to turn parts of Times Square into a pedestrian mall, PBR had its big break. Now no streets would have to be shut down. There were still long discussions to be had with the Department of Health about the animals and with police about security.

PBR needed custom-made 8-foot barriers -- taller than the standard in the livestock industry -- to satisfy the city's safety concerns. They were designed in Texas and shipped to New York.

The TV equipment and trucks came in from Indianapolis.

"And the dirt was brought in from New Jersey," Gleason said.

It was actually crushed granite -- the forecast called for thunderstorms, so he was worried dirt would turn into a big mud puddle.

The dire predictions for heavy rain and wind proved inaccurate, though Gleason insisted they would've ridden in anything short of lightning.

"We must be living right," he said.

He was thrilled with the size of the crowds and the number of people who bought tickets to the January competition at the Garden. Gleason said PBR would be about 20 percent ahead of past years in ticket sales at this point because of Friday's event.

Many people were lured by the sound of blaring music and sight of a giant steel structure to check out the spectacle. Seven-year-old Hannah Furseth, visiting from Wisconsin, had one of the best views in the house watching from atop her father's shoulders.

As he was asked for his thoughts on the event, she chimed in, "It's pretty cool!"

"It seems out of place, but it's neat at the same time," Jeff Furseth agreed.

Lindsey Vezina, a PBR fan for five years, was excited for the rodeo to come to New York, but was not so sure how she felt about all these people newly discovering bull riding.

"Now everybody knows," she said with a laugh. "It was like our family secret."

Mauney and Ryan McConnel got into the New York spirit by wearing Rangers jerseys while riding. Mauney, who acknowledged he didn't follow hockey, had incorporated the gear into his wardrobe after the competition, with the jersey tucked into his jeans and under a denim jacket.

"We took pictures in 'em and we were supposed to give them back, but I said, 'I'll ride in that," he explained. "They said, 'Well, if you ride in it, we'll just give it to you.' Deal."