Michael's Monthly Column "Throwing My Loop"
MOMENTS OF GREATNESS
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.”
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.”)
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.
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
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.”
“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…
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?”
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.