help sponsor Elaine's Scrabble team in the upcoming 826NYC benefit.)
For eight seconds, Renato Nunes was the center of attention in the center of the universe, as the Professional Bull Riders tour opened the '08 season at Madison Square Garden. Then a 1500-pound bull stomped on his head.
Last year marked the first time PBR’s Built Ford Tough Series invaded Gotham, and the Versus Invitational drew so many Upper East Side cowboy boots that the tour opted for an encore. (Perhaps this shouldn’t be a surprise: PBR events drew 1.6 million fans last season.) So I grabbed a few friends and a couple of cheap seats to see the Garden get its Jersey on, to watch bulls like Peacemaker and Whiskey Nights chuck riders with names like Wiley Petersen and Travis Briscoe.
Heading into the competition, I knew nothing but the basics: Riders try to hang on for eight seconds, then earn style points based on their control and the bull's giddy-up. It makes for clunky Luke Perry movies — but in person, there was nearly constant action: Six chutes were loaded with man and beef [RAWR! -Ed.], and every few seconds, another one flew open. Last year, Rudy Giuliani showed up; this time it was simply Jack Daniels — to go with the prayer before the Star Spangled Banner, and enough western hats and skimpy lace for years of cowgirl fantasies.
And then there were the bulls. Fine Wine, which might actually be a triceratops, shook off Nunes, then tap-danced on the back of his skull. (Nunes stumbled off and appeared to be fine. Relatively.) Colby Yates (who was destined to become a bull rider, or a quarterback at Texas), drew behemoth newcomer Slammer — a beast straight from Middle-earth — and promptly hit the ground like a skinny bag of soup. Maybe there’s something to the recent report about steroids infecting the sport — and being used by the bulls.
There was even NFL-style drama when one rider thought about calling for an instant replay because judges ruled he’d been bucked off just shy of eight seconds. Riders can request a replay, but if they’re proven wrong there are no timeouts to charge. Instead, they’re charged $500. (The rider decided to save the challenge — and his money.)
Chris Shivers brought home the night’s top score, taming Cat Man Do for a 90.75 and the lead after two days of the three-day event. Twenty-six of the forty riders went all eight seconds Saturday, apparently an astounding clip. Still, the fan favorite was one who didn’t: Adriano Moraes, the only three-time PBR World Champion, and the man who’s second all-time in money earned. (That’s a grand career total of $3.4 million, by the way — about what A-Rod makes for picking up his batting helmet.)
Moraes, three months shy of 38, announced Friday he would retire at the end of this season. Hell, ’06 Rookie of the Year J.B. Mauney turns 21 Wednesday — and these athletes age worse than Earl Campbell. (Mauney described his worst wreck, from 2005, by saying: “I got checked out and found out I had broken all the ribs on my right side, lacerated my liver, and bruised my kidney and spleen” — which is exactly the way my day at the office doesn’t go.) Moraes has broken 25 bones and had nine major surgeries.
Saturday he climbed aboard Buffalo Bob, a bull that weighs slightly less than a RAV4. Whip crack went the whippy tail, and four seconds later, Moraes was done. But when the buzzer sounded, there was a standing ovation and the crowd made a sound unlike anything Isaiah Thomas has heard in that building.
And then it just sort of ended. Lights came up and people left. The whole thing was a little surreal — but I'd damn sure have gone back Sunday if I’d had the time. If only for the cowgirls.