- Chris Greer
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When the National Finals Rodeo left Los Angeles for the confines of the Jim Norick Arena in Oklahoma City in 1965, Clem McSpadden, who had been a Rodeo Cowboys Association (RCA) member since 1947, called the action with Cy Taillon. McSpadden announced his first NFR in 1960 (he handled the timed events) when it was held in Dallas. After another year behind the microphone (1966), McSpadden moved into the general manager role at the NFR and didn't relinquish his title until 1984.
"That's where it all happened (Oklahoma City) and I feel like I'm the luckiest person in the world to have been affiliated with that era," McSpadden recalled in The Finals: A Complete History of the National Finals Rodeo.
And while it was hard for the 1990 ProRodeo Hall of Fame inductee to watch his sport's prestigious event leave for Sin City, he never lost his zeal even during an 18-year stint serving in the Oklahoma State Senate (1954-1972) while "moonlighting" as an announcer for plenty of rodeos including the National Finals Steer Roping. The Oklahoma A&M graduate called the action at 27 of those events.
Today, McSpadden, who was also elected to the United States Congress in 1972 and became the first freshman appointed to the Rules Committee, splits his time between his full-service legislative consulting and lobbying firm (McSpadden & Associates) and his ranch near Chelsea, Okla. And while he won't make it to the Jim Shoulders Great Western Weekend in Tulsa, Okla., over the May 12-14 weekend (naturally he's calling action elsewhere), we figured why not hit him up for his thoughts on his good friend and the event's living legend as well as where the former RCA president and board member sees rodeo in the years to come.
What do you think about Jim Shoulders getting a weekend named after him?
What's he costing you? Jim doesn't have any free gigs any more. I'm just kidding. He's damn good and is the greatest storyteller in the world. I think Jim Shoulders has done as much for the rodeo business as any man. Period. Rodeo stars kind of come and go and Jim Shoulders is forever. Casey Tibbs. A little bit. Larry Mahan. A little bit. Some of the bull riders for a year or two were very popular. But not like Jim Shoulders.
As far as Oklahoma rodeo legends go, it's not much of a stretch to say you and Jim are right at the top.
Yeah, I guess. Our wives (Donna McSpadden and Sharron Shoulders) are like sisters. We try to eat about every 90 days at the Green Onion (in Tulsa, Okla.). I would hope to be a pallbearer at his funeral and vice versa. We're that close. I've announced Jim's rodeos for years. He's put bread on my table many times.
Outside of his accomplishments in rodeo, what's something people don't know about Jim Shoulders?
You've got to be drunk or completely fearless to drive with Jim Shoulders when he's in a hurry. I remember once we had to make it to Crockett, Ark., and the Oklahoma City airport was fogged in. So Jim decides we're going to drive. Well we were going to have to average 70 mph to be there by 9 a.m. and there were few four-lane roads. We got stopped a couple of times. Shoulders convinced the law that I was the manager of the NFR and if we could get off, we'd sure like to get them some tickets. And then we get outside of Henryetta, Okla., and get stopped again. And Jim says, "Congressman, it's time for you to make your speech."
You were the general manager for the National Finals Rodeo from 1967 until it left for Las Vegas in 1984. Where would you rank an event like the Pace Chute-out in terms of Oklahoma significance?
It'd be right up there. I'd put it with the Wrangler Timed Event Championship that's held at the Lazy E Arena (Guthrie, Okla.). It would be in that category. It's just like when you get the U.S. Open at Southern Hills (Tulsa, Okla.) about every four years. People come to you instead of you having to go to them. I'm glad to see our part of the state getting a big rodeo event like this.
With the Chute-out, fans will have the opportunity to see some of the best outside of the Wrangler NFR in one building.
It's very similar to the rodeos that still have finals. When you see the finals like Dodge City, Kan., or Cheyenne, Wyo., that's when you see your tough guys. I've announced Dodge City for the last 27 or 28 years and they have a final. That performance is dotted with NFR contestants and in each event you are going to have three or four of these kids who are coming on like gangbusters. So sure, it's exciting. It should be a heck of rodeo.
Even though more than 24 million attend PRCA-sanctioned rodeos each year and the sport continues to grow, do you envision it ever becoming a mainstream professional sport like football, baseball or even NASCAR?
Not until you can televise it live. It's one of the sport's biggest drawbacks. We are such a television-oriented society that I wouldn't want to see the World Series televised a week later. I missed the Phoenix/Lakers game (Game 4 of the NBA Western Conference playoffs), and I don't care for Kobe Bryant, but I would have liked to have seen that happen live instead of seeing it later. (Los Angeles' Bryant hit a floater to force overtime and the last-second game winner.) It's the only thing keeping rodeo back.
You pick fans up slower than a sport that airs events live. Just like politics, if you don't look good on television you ain't going to win.
I have grown to be a television fan because I can see replays. I worked with ABC television in the early-60s. They had a contract with the old RCA before it became the PRCA. I think we did one of the first replays ever. I believe it was Mel Hyland (only person to ever win the world championship and Canadian championship in the same year, 1972) at Cheyenne. And we were all aghast at how good it looked. It might have been the best-looking bucking horse eight seconds I've seen to this day. It was up there with the last two saddle bronc rides in the 10th round that Billy Etbauer has made in two of the last three years at the Wrangler NFR.
Speaking of the Wrangler NFR, you saw where the PRCA renewed its agreement to keep the sport's marquee event in Las Vegas and move the headquarters to Albuquerque, N.M. Any thoughts?
If the headquarters had to move I would have shopped it in a New York minute to Oklahoma or Texas. Do you realize what this state would have done to have gotten it? Or Nevada, perish the thought. I think he (Commissioner Troy Ellerman) played it well, I'm just a little critical of our own board. If you are raising bucking horses and you've got the best horse in the world you're not going to make a silent deal to sell him. You're going to shop that sucker. And that's what they did not do. I could see the movers and shakers in Oklahoma bringing the PRCA here.
When the Finals moved to Las Vegas, the bids were only about $30,000 apart. In the Oklahoma City pitch they agreed to pass a bond issue to build an arena that could seat 20,000 people. And they would have passed it going away. Las Vegas hasn't built anything close. Yes, they jumped the prize money, but had the NFR stayed, Oklahoma City would have done the same. But Vegas has a way of doing things that a lot of communities don't. I don't hate Las Vegas, it's just a competitive world.
You've got to run the organization like you do the government.
And you would know a little about government, right?
I've spent half of every year for the last 20 in politics and half in rodeo.
Were there any similarities between the two?
There is bull in each of them. But the bull in the rodeo arena is more genuine.