Michael's Monthly Column "Throwing My Loop"


     Sittin’ on my barn porch this cool summer morning drinking coffee at dawn. I’m watching little Pancho gimp around on a bad left back leg.  Miss Kitty had two new babies about six months ago, and since the tom ran off, Rebecca and I – like so many couples these days - are left to raise the grandkids.  Apparently one of the steers or horses must have stepped on the baby, and while the leg isn’t broken, he’s obviously having a tough time.  Pancho’s brother, Lefty, comes over and sits down beside him, and both look at Pancho’s bad wheel, then at each other.  Lefty trots off, stops and stares back at his sibling.  The little kitten drags himself up, and painfully stretches his sore leg.  “Come on, partner,” I think to encourage him.  He takes a few hoppy steps forcing his injured limb to stretch just a bit, and with a halting bouncy little trot, trails after Lefty - both hoping for a dove or a quail along the fence row to be just one step too slow.  “There it is again,” I think to myself.  I read about it often now, and see it more often too. “That moment when we don’t want go on…but we do.”  That’s the moment that changes lives.  That is the moment of greatness. 

     Sitting on the bed in the seedy motel room in 1938, the young man reached over into the box and retrieved the evening meal for himself and his young bride.  They would be dining this evening on…oranges.  They had been on the road for months, and because he had failed to win, they were now reduced to eating only oranges and nothing else.  There was nothing else.  As he handed her half, he said, “I can’t do this anymore.”
     “You can’t quit, Ben,” she said.
     “I can stand it,” he said.  “But I can’t stand doing this to you.”
     “Try one more time, Ben,” she said.  “Try one more time.”
     And Valerie Hogan convinced Ben to try one more time. 

     Another young fellow had the same problem.  When Dean married his wife, they spent most of their honeymoon night carefully counting their savings several times, and when they tallied their financial holdings, the total purse amounted to the princely sum of…twelve dollars.  And all that belonged to her. (My old friend, former rodeo great Bobby Whitten, said, “Well, it’s obvious…he married her for her money.”)
     On that night, Dean told his wife, “Somehow I’ll find the money to enter ten rodeos.  If I don’t win at those ten, we will go home.”  And Dean didn’t win a penny at the first nine.   

     Another young fellow had the same problem.  In 2001, Blaine called his mother and father from the motel room, and with his head in his hands, confessed to them he simply couldn’t make it at this rodeo game.  He had won the first event he ever entered in the pro ranks, but since that time, things had turned dark indeed.
     “I just can’t seem to get it done,” he said.  “Everything has turned against us, and I think it’s best if I just come home and work in the construction business with you.”
     “Certainly you can do that,” his mom and dad said.  “But you’re in San Angelo, and you’re entered.  Go out there tomorrow, and give it all you have.  Try one more time.”  And Blaine Linaweaver tried one more time.
     And there was that little girl… the one who, just as she entered the arena, the one whose pony’s bridle flew off and hit her in the face.  “Poor thing,” we all thought.  We just hoped she would get that horse stopped without injury to either her or him.  We said a quick prayer for both, and hoped she could just stop.  After all, that was all she could do.  Wasn’t it? 

     So here is a question for you…when was their greatest moment?  When did Ben, Dean and Blaine, and that fifteen year-old girl really shine…really let their light shine?  Most of us would say that moment for Ben was when he would later win the Masters, or perhaps when the Brits dubbed him “The Wee Icemon,” and cheered him on to victory in the British Open, and maybe we might say his moment of greatness was the perfectly struck two-iron at Merion to win the U.S. Open.  And most would say for Dean that moment was his eighth world championship tie-down roping crown. 
     And surely people would say for Blaine that moment of greatness came in San Angelo the night after that memorable phone conversation with his mom and dad.  Blaine backed his pony in the box on that night, and called for what might well have been his last steer ever.  But when he and partner, Jory Levy, turned to look at the arena clock after the run, a miracle shined back.  A stunned crowd stared at two little numbers that would change the roping world.  One number was a 3 and the other was a 5, with a small dot between them.  Put all that together, and you have the fastest steer run in the history of the rodeo world…3.5. 

     And that fifteen-year old girl?  On Friday the 13th, December 1985 she tore into the arena on that lightning quick pony.  And just as she entered the barrel pattern at top speed…the horse’s bridle flew off and hit her square in the face.  And Charmayne James said, “Come on, Scamper…RUN!”  And Scamper kept right on running.  And as he rounded the third barrel, he spit the bit out, and raced across the finish line naked as a newborn in 14.40 to win the round at the NFR.  

     Most would say those were their moments of greatness, 63 victories for Ben Hogan, eight world championships for Dean Oliver, a world record for Blaine Linaweaver, and the legendary career of Charmayne James.  Most would say those were their moments of greatness…but I would not.  My choices would be for different moments. 

     For Ben, I would choose that night he sat at the bottom of the universe eating oranges with his young wife, and even though he knew he couldn’t beat them, he decided to play one more time.  The next day he won $380.00, and would later say, “I never played under more pressure before or since.”
     For Dean Oliver, I would choose that drive to the 10th rodeo early in his career. Even though he had failed nine times, he tried one more time and won $80.00.
     For Blaine, my moment of choice would be the night he told his parents, “All right, I’ll try one more time,” and one more run changed his life forever.
     For Charmayne, while I do so admire her many victories, for me her moment of greatness was that bridle hitting her in the face.  At that moment, she could have said, “Whoa! Whoa!” - and found a way to get off and quit – instead she waded into that icy fear, and said, “Come on, Scamper…RUN!” 

     “Oh sure, but that’s them,” some might say.  No…it’s taken me so long to learn this, but that’s us.  I saw it in us just the other day.  Up at the Michael Bryan Roping a few weeks ago, I was paired with a number of good heelers, and perhaps my favorite partner, Megan Graham.  I’ve known Megan since she was in the fifth grade, and she’s just one of those special kids.  She’s a freshman now from Smithville, Oklahoma, and about the same age as Charmayne on that night long ago.   This was a tough roping filled with Oklahoma cowboys, and one female high school freshman.  But Megan is no slouch as an athlete.  She can fill it up from three- point range, plays softball with the best of them, and ropes in the mountains with the McReynolds boys.  You have to be tough to do all that.  She’s pretty as a picture, makes good grades, and ropes like Rosie Austin.  I was proud to be paired with her. 

    Megan and her partner were the third team out, and she and I were scheduled for a run some twelve teams later.  As the header turned her steer, Megan flew in on her three-year old paint colt, and just as she was about to drop her loop, that colt did the best impersonation of Five Minutes To Midnight you ever saw.  Harry Vold and his saddle broncs of old would have been proud of this paint.  Like Marty Robbins said in that old Continental Cowboy tune, ‘The brute’s hind end was in the air, his front end on the ground, kicking and squealing trying to shake the stranger down.’  Megan stayed with him for four or five jumps, but finally he ‘Hawkeye Hensoned’ her with a flying dismount.  The crowd stared in hushed silence as Megan soared high in the air and using all her athletic ability, she tried desperately to get her body in position for impact, and…she almost made it - but not quite. She landed with a sickening thud flat on her back.  Nobody made a sound. 

     Suddenly everyone was running toward her, and I heard someone yell, “Stay down, Megan – don’t move!”  But Megan had other plans
     Before any of us could get to her, Megan - looking like one of those terminator robots in the movies that can’t be killed - rolled up on one knee.  Holding her bruised ribs, she rose to her feet, and after a few stumbling steps began to run…directly toward that paint colt!  He wasn’t in the best of shape either, him with his front legs splayed wide, and breathing heavy, but when he saw her coming the look on his face said, “Uh oh!”  He turned to bolt, but he was too late.  Megan at a dead run now, left the ground and planted her foot in the left stirrup.  In one smooth swinging motion, she mounted Paint, and began to furiously job him in the right side, and turning him in tight little loping circles, and I heard her say, “Buck me off!  Buck me off, will you?  Come on, let’s see what you got!”  And little Paint knowing he was outclassed, gave up the ghost shortly thereafter.    

     I backed in the box just minutes later, and turned to look in her direction.  She was there with coils in her left hand, and heel loop poised.  “You okay, Megan?” I asked.  “Are you ready?”
     She wiped what might have been a dusty caked stream of an old tear off her right cheek, and through gritted teeth, she said, “I might be turned around backwards, Mr. Mike, but I’m ready!”
Do I even have to tell you she caught both feet? 

 “Let us not become weary in doing good,
for at the proper time we will  reap a harvest…
if we do not give up.” 
                                          Galatians 6:9

       Michael's latest release, Reflections Of A Cowboy, is currently available in audio book form. The two volume set consists of articles, essays and excerpts from radio performances about good people and good horses in the life of an Oklahoma cowboy. Approximately 8 hours in length. Reflections Of A Cowboy in printed form is scheduled for release in the summer of 2005.

Michael heading for the great Sonny Gould

Michael & Blue

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