The PBR bills itself as the "toughest sport on Earth" and after witnessing it firsthand, that may be an understatement.
Leading up to the 2012 PBR Madison Square Garden Invitational I wasn't really sure what to expect. I'd been to a rodeo once as a kid, but it was nothing like what I was about to witness. Arriving at the Garden about an hour before showtime, I got the chance to check out the arena floor that is normally home to the Knicks, Rangers and Springsteen, but was now covered in several tons of dirt with two nasty looking steel bull heads looming over the gates.
This was not going to be the average night at the Garden.
As the audience filed in and grabbed their seats, I found myself on the ground level, just behind the steel barrier separating me from 2,000 pounds of muscle-bound mayhem. An awesome place to watch the action for sure. The safest? Debatable.
The show kicked off with a pyrotechnic display in the fashion of the grandest pro wrestling event as the 40 riders from the U.S.A. and South America entered the arena to rousing applause. I'm not sure how familiar the arena of city slickers were with the cowboys, but when you're about to see somebody put their life on the line, it stirs up serious excitement.
These weren't any standard moo cows that you see peacefully grazing out in a pasture. No, these bulls are bred for one thing and one thing only - to throw a cowboy on his ass. Contrary to popular belief, it's not a rope around the bull's junk that makes it buck, it's all in the genes. And with names like "Mean Machine", "Evil Doer", "Frost Bite" and "Loaded Gun" it was a safe bet that these animals came from a long line of badass bulls.
Eight Seconds is an Eternity
As the first bull stormed out of the gate with rider on its back, the crowd cheered at the display of unleashed power before them. I watched in awe as the cowboy rode the bucking beast as it kicked up dirt and tossed its massive head back and forth in an attempt to dismount the rider.
It was amazing that a man was able to withstand the barrage of kicks, twists and jumps the bull let loose with all the force of well, a raging bull! The riders do their best to challenge four hooves of death for a full eight seconds (each ride is worth up to 100 points, 50 for the rider and 50 for the bull) before being thrown to the dirt and diving for cover. Eight seconds may not sound like a long time, but I'm betting that when you're up there simply trying to stay alive, it feels like an eternity.
Immediately after being thrown to the dirt, the riders scramble for safety and the bull fighters distract the bull until it gallops back into the pen. Commonly known as "rodeo clowns", there's no funny business taking place and clowning around on this job doesn't get you laughs - it gets you killed. These guys are the secret service agents of the PBR and the idea that they spend upwards of two hours a night putting themselves within inches of an angry bull's horns and hooves is mind boggling, and frankly a little disturbing. Still, myself and the crowd couldn't get enough.
It's those risks that make this sport possibly the most dangerous in the world. There's no time-outs, no flags and if an 1,800lb bull doesn't follow the rules, that's just too bad. The night had all the excitement of a no holds barred UFC event and while the average attendee may not be close enough to have a bull kick dirt in their face (on more than one occasion), it's sure to be one hell of a night that you won't soon forget. And that's no bull.
The Built Ford Tough Series will make 29 stops in 23 states this year before concluding in Las Vegas, for more info visit the PBR Website.