Every year at the conclusion of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo I feel like Rip Van Winkle.
For 10 days the action at the Thomas and Mack Center holds my total attention. I did remember my daughter's third birthday during Round 8. I also noticed the University of Oklahoma went from looking like the best college football team in that school's history to one that did not deserve being in the BCS game against LSU.
And I was probably the last to know that Saddam Hussein had been rooted out of hiding.
The new world champions will get a lot of pub over the next year, so I would like to talk about a few who did not win a gold buckle but did win my respect.
Cody Jessee and Royce Ford were spectacular. They battled all the way through Round 10 for the aggregate title. Neither one of them ever blinked or hinted they might make a mistake. It was Jessee's second Wrangler NFR and Ford's first. The next generation of bareback riders looks to be a tough bunch of buckaroos.
Rod Lyman was ranked No. 1 on the morning of the last day of the rodeo season. When the sun finally set he was fourth in the final standings, but he did leave Las Vegas nearly $70,000 richer. I tell my kids all the time that life isn't fair. If Lyman ever wins a world championship I might have to reconsider that advice.
Cody Wright was phenomenal. He made the rank broncs look easy and the legends he was competing against look human. Wright won over $100,000. He finished third in the world standings and sent a message to the rest of the bronc riders and the world 2004 could be his year.
I have always been a Mike Johnson fan. Amidst the Fred Whitfield/Cody Ohl shoot-out it was easy to forget about the other 13 cowboys. Johnson stuck to his game plan and nearly doubled his season earnings in 10 days. There are a lot of great cowboys with ties to Henryetta, Okla. including Jim Shoulders, Troy Aikman and Terry Don West. Johnson can hold his head up with that group.
Sherry Cervi is a portrait of courage. She cruised through the 1990s enjoying two world championships and a marriage to team roper Mike Cervi. After Mike was killed in a plane crash, the usually reserved Cervi withdrew even more. She decided to rodeo again in 2003 and it was exciting to see her jump into the world championship race by winning back-to-back rounds. Sherry may be a role model to young girls who admire barrel racers. She is a role model for me on how to not give up on life.
And Mike Moore's injuries were well chronicled on our ESPN telecasts Bailing wire and duct tape by the time we got to Round 10 held him together. A torn bicep, a broken ankle, and he was stepped on in the middle of his back. Those are just the aches and pains we know about. I think you learn more from losing than you do winning and Moore gave us all some insight into what he is made of it's all heart!
And I have to tip my hat to the Justin Boots SportsMedicine Team. These guys are amazing. They treat these cowboys almost around the clock for 10 days and take pretty darn good care of them the rest of the year too. You can bet if I ever tear a bicep, break a bone, collapse a lung, suffer a concussion, or have my pelvis crushed on the golf course I will be calling Dr.Tandy Freeman.