Team ropers Clay Tryan and Patrick Smith certainly had their struggles in their first Wrangler NFR together. But after five blazing runs of 4.7 seconds or less, the team found itself in the winner's circle at the end of a mind-numbing week of frustration, dejection and later record-breaking performances en route to their first gold buckles.
It wasn't the script either one would have written. In the wake of their accomplishments, however, both agree that the circuitous route was worth taking.
"Looking back, there couldn't have been a cooler way to win a world title," said Smith, a heeler from Midland, Texas. "During the rodeo, I surely thought of cooler ways to do it. After I missed the first steer and we got another no time on the second, we got together and decided to go for it every night. We won the next two rounds and that got our confidence back up to where it needed to be."
Tryan and Smith led their respective disciplines heading into Las Vegas in 2005, but their $7,000 lead wasn't much of a pad considering each round's winner claimed more than $15,000, and some $39,000 went to the 10-round average champion.
And right off the bat, Smith missed his heel catch in the first round. To compound that, Tryan didn't connect with his throw to start the second round. Suddenly, hopes for a big payoff at the end of the rodeo were gone. All the pair could do was try to earn as much money per round as they could and hope for a little luck along the way.
The pair turned in a 4.0-second run in Round 3, good for a victory lap. And the next night, each pocketed second-place prize money after stopping the clock in 4.4 seconds.
Despite another no-time in the fifth round, the tandem rebounded for a second-place showing in Round 6, but the next two nights produced to more no-times.
However, Tryan and Smith were still in the game, but they'd have to get something big out of Round 9 to stay alive.
The roping sizzled during an electric Saturday night in front of a packed house. By the end of the round, four teams had recorded times under 4 seconds and a 3.9-second run was sitting an amazing fourth.
They needed more than fourth. They got it, with an amazing 3.5-second run that tied the world record and broke the arena mark. Little did they know, but they had clinched the championship that night. Their second-place finish the following afternoon simply served as frosting to the end of 10 roller-coaster days.
"There's a saying to do the best you can and rope to what your steer lets you do," Tryan said, alluding to their record ninth-round performance. "That saying is wrong. We knew we had to win something in the final rounds and tried to make the best and fastest run we could. It worked out that night."
Both Tryan and Smith are back this year to defend their titles. While they hope for a smoother path, winning another gold buckle, despite the obstacles, will be worth it.
They already know.