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WNFR Journal: Round 1

12/6/2003

Jitters. It doesn't matter if you've made twenty Wrangler National Finals Rodeo appearances, like team roper Mike Beers, or you're diving into uncharted waters, like Cody De Mers — the first round of the NFR is always a gut check. It's one of those times in your life when you find out what you're made of.

Speed and Rich know the drill. They're cut from championship leather. It's almost like they're toying with the competition. How many duos have tipped their hats and thought to themselves, "try and beat that," only to have Williams and Skelton back in the box and spoil the fun by winning or — as was the case in Round 1 — grabbing a split for first in the go-round?

Blair Burk can win a world title with or without his appendix. The appendectomy last month did little to take the luster off his WNFR start. I talked with Barry Burk a couple weeks ago and asked him pointblank if this was Blair's year to win a world title. His instant response was, "I wouldn't bet against him." Blair still has nine rounds to go, but he's already scored a first-round knockdown of Fred Whitfield and Cody Ohl. Like all great champions, though, these guys will get up and make this a 10-round decision.

I dig Jesse Bail. You could drop him into a 1950s round of the WNFR and the competing cowboys wouldn't even notice. His mark-out on No Dice in the first round was a thing of beauty. Butch Knowles and Donny Gay, my ESPN co-hosts, were chattering away about his bronc riding prowess after we signed off... and this was after he won the bull riding! I had to remind them who picked Bail on this Web site to win the world title. The 2002 WNFR was something Jesse would like to forget. His performance at the 2003 WNFR may be one fans remember for a long, long time.

History does repeat itself. I thought it was ironic that the first action from the 45th WNFR involved Royce Ford. While Royce was enjoying his first eight seconds of work in Las Vegas, I couldn't help but remember his father's final appearance here. Bruce Ford is one of the greatest bareback riders of all-time. His hall-of-fame career includes five bareback riding world titles. Royce has some big boots to fill.

And sometimes it's not how you win, it's how you lose. Shawn Greenfield, the worlds top-ranked steer wrestler, teetered on a huge first-round mistake — His steer was long gone! Somehow he held on by the skin of his teeth and escaped with a decent time. If he wins the steer wrestling world title a week from Sunday, one of the biggest contributing factors will be his 10.8-second run last night, even though he didn't win a dime.