Throw In The Towel?


Seven-time and defending world champion team ropers Speed Williams and Rich Skelton, who sit an uncustomary 11th in the Jack Daniel's World Standings, showed they're still a team to be reckoned with by easily winning the Wrangler ProRodeo Tour's aggregate title at the Days of '47 Rodeo in Salt Lake City (July 19-24).

But despite winning the rodeo by nearly three seconds, Williams says the duo is "just getting by right now."

The champs are more than $30,000 behind leaders David Key and Clay O'Brien Cooper.

Injured horses, fatherhood and a hot team in Key and Cooper have Williams and Skelton on the ropes so to speak as the season moves past the midway point.

"It'll be interesting," said Williams in handicapping the world title race from his home in Amarillo, Texas. "I'd have to go with David Key and Clay [a seven-time world champion] right now because of their lead and me not having either one of my two good horses. I think the advantage is way on their side. Rich and I have babies on the ground this year and that's thrown a few kinks into both of our plans. I think next year has a good outlook on it. I'm not saying we've given up by any means on this year, but I think the advantage is with David and Clay."

Williams' two great heading horses, Viper and Bob, are on the injured-reserve list and it's uncertain when they'll be back. The heading great is using a horse named Vegas that he had sold to a friend. When Williams sold the horse, though, there was a stipulation he could use him if it became necessary.

It has.

Also on the front burner in both cowboys' lives are two babies.

Williams and his wife, Jennifer, are first-time parents of daughter, Halli Wren, who was born on Dec. 14, 2003, the day Williams and Skelton won their seventh world titles. Skelton and wife, Rhonda, are the proud first-time parents of a baby girl named Raine.

"It's been a learning experience," Williams said. "I'm having fun and enjoying it. It makes you not want to be away from home."

Having a new baby also means Jennifer can't help her husband on the road. She has been instrumental over the years warming up horses and filming runs, and Rhonda has been a contributor to Skelton's success as well.

The super season to date turned in by Key and Cooper also has made it difficult on the champions in their pursuit to win No. 8.

Key and Cooper, he said, will be tough to overtake because they are a great "building team." In years past, teams ahead of Williams and Skelton heading into the Wrangler NFR struggled to a degree inside the tiny confines of the Thomas and Mack Center. Key and Cooper aren't likely to do that, Williams said.

"They are a full-fledged challenge when you get to the [Wrangler] National Finals," Williams said.

Still, Williams and Skelton aren't ready to throw in the towel as evidenced by their performance at the $216,151 Salt Lake City rodeo at the Delta Center. The pair caught three steers in 15.3 seconds to win going away.

The victory bumps them to No. 3 in the Wrangler Tour standings. They finished ahead of 119 other teams for the aggregate title. If they hold their top 12 spot in the Wrangler Tour standings, they'll have a chance for a piece of the $500,000 pie at the Pace Picante ProRodeo Challenge in Omaha, Neb. (Sept. 23-25).

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