Most professional sports have a playoff system to decide who will play for the world championship.
Rodeo has Texas in September.
Those are the final few weeks of the rodeo season, the time for cowboys and cowgirls to secure their place at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the sport’s 10-round grand finale. Only the best 15 in each event advance to Las Vegas for the December competition.
It’s win or go home.
There were more than 85 Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association events last September, and they all matter. For Texans, though, are more important than the dozen or so that take place in the Lone Star State.
“September is actually a very special month,” said Tyson Durfey, the 2016 world champion tie-down roper from Weatherford. “They can make or break the NFR dreams that a person has; that is an important group of rodeos.
“I’ve been in a position where I had to win all those in order to make the NFR. It’s a very stressful time of year for a lot of guys. They’re going to as many rodeos as they can. There are a lot of broken hearts that time of year, too. It’s a time of mixed emotions—you’re happy if you made the finals or disappointed you didn’t.”
He has qualified for the NFR 10 out of the last 11 years. The one year he missed was 2014, when he finished 18th. So he knows what it means to be on ProRodeo’s bubble as the regular season comes to a close.
Steer wrestler Bray Armes of Gruver has also seen the highs and lows that come with that September run. In 2012, the first of his three straight NFR qualifications, Armes capitalized on those last-minute stops to advance to Las Vegas. He also fell to 16th on the final day of the 2015 season, failing to advance.
“There are only a select amount of rodeos in September,” he said. “Guys that are on the bubble and needing to win, there are only a handful of people that are going to win. When you need it to happen, you need to be one of those guys.
“I like pressure, and September is a very high-pressure and intense time of the year. I always seemed to do better when I had pressure on me.”
But for Texans on the rodeo road, September is also a time to return home from the Northwest and compete around Texas and the Midwest for the most part.
“Most of us have been on the road for four months straight,” Durfey said. “It’s a great feeling to come back home and spend time with your family that’s not in a horse trailer.”
That same feeling has guided Armes back home to the northern Texas Panhandle. Retired from rodeo, he farms on family ground and enjoys being the rodeo dad to his children.
“Rodeo is not for everybody,” he said. “It’s got its ups and downs. At the end of the day when you have a dream and feel like you can achieve your dreams and goals, there’s nothing more fun.” —Ted Harbin
Ted Harbin is a longtime journalist who spent 22 years in the newspaper industry before focusing on rodeo. He owns Rodeo Media Relations and TwisTed Rodeo and is one of just eight individuals to be honored with media awards by both the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association. He lives in Maryville, Mo., with is wife, Lynette, and their two daughters, Laney and Channing.