Yee, haw! Bull-riding for bucks (and bucks) is harder than it looks

Posted on 17 Feb 2011 at 12:41pm
Me before the fall (more pics after the jump)

Being atop of a mechanical bull in the middle of Cowboys Stadium is no place for a fat, middle-aged gay man to be on a Wednesday afternoon. But there I was yesterday, risking life and ego for eight seconds of possible glory.

The idea was a valid one: Raise money ($2,500 for first place; $1,000 for second) for my charity of choice. I chose two beneficiaries: Legal Hospice of Texas, for which I am committed to raising $500 by the middle of next month; and Mercy for Animals, because I thought it would be cool to give an animal rights group money for basically abusing a cow. (Since it was mechanical, it didn’t really count as animal exploitation, although Eddie Garza, MFA’s Texas coordinator, said he’d take the donation even if it were on a real bull — and he seemed unconcerned that my body would be the one taking the real beating.)

Cowboys Stadium is a charmless cavern when there are no events taking place other than something as small as this one, though admittedly, the lack of crowds was nice. On the huge screens play a continuous loop of Dallas Cowboys highlights, all of them winning plays — in other words, none from last season. Ten days earlier, the eyes of the world were focused on this billion-dollar temple to excess; today, the field looks like the parking lot of an abandoned strip mall. Gone is the Astroturf, revealing ugly concrete underneath where dirt is being shipped in. The rodeo will be there this weekend, and they need to dust it up.

That’s kinda what we’re all here for. Dickies is sponsoring, again, a media mechanical bull-riding challenge, where members of the press are invited to a bracketed elimination competition to see which pencil pusher can claim, briefly, some degree of athletic prowess. And they asked me to participate.

It occurs to me that something nefarious may be afoot: Maybe they have targeted journalist they don’t like to take them out, And-Then-There-Were-None style. Naively, I had hoped that my competition would be a clutch of blue-haired society bloggers for Park Cities People, ladies who might conceivably break a hip and withdraw once they saw me stride confidently up to the bull. But no: These are all fit men, most my age or younger, and in decent shape. They probably cover sports, while I have the fattening beat of writing about food, travel, movies and theater — activities that not only permit, but encourage sedentary participation.

Only 10 of us are competing, and in the initial bracket, I have a bye, which means I’ve already got a 1-in-8 shot at winning — and a 1-in-4 shot at taking home some money. If only it worked that way. This isn’t random lot, this is skill, albeit one that doesn’t translate outside the rodeo ring and perhaps some especially aggressive sex clubs. It takes a lot of work to stay on a bucking bronc. (I know it’s a bull, not a bronc, but work with me.) Last year’s winner of this event is back, so I have that to contend with. And the man I go head-to-head with in the quarterfinals has 20 years and as many pounds on me. I consider bribing him to throw it, but he has an actual riding glove for holding onto the bull — he means business.

I took my bye round for practice and did OK, though didn’t get scored; when I faced off against my rival, I had a qualifying round, which means I stayed on the bull for at least eight seconds, warranting a score from the judges (professional live bull riders, one of whom was about as pretty as anything I’ve even seen in denim — those eyes!) My score was not great, but it was a score; I actually ended up doing better than at least three other journos, two of whom didn’t even make it to qualifying rounds. Not bad. But no dinero for me (though I did get a sexy deer coat that makes me look like I should be hauling hay onto a pickup before smoking a Marlboro cigarette and shaving with a Gillette multi-blade razor).

The M.C. had a delightful Southern drawl and interviewed us like we actually knew what we were doing. “What is your strategy?” he asked me before my first ride. “To not break my neck,” I responded. When I finished my last ride, he asked what I took away from the experience. “That next time, I should wear a cup,” I said. Not joking; my nuts hurt.

I stuck around for the end to see a guy who had not ever ridden a mechanical bull before take home the top prize. He was good, he deserved it, though the Univision runner-up was more swoon-worthy. So, I didn’t win any money. I didn’t exactly humiliate myself, either, and I had fun. But I still need to raise that money for charity. So send your tax-deductible checks my way, folks! And remember: Save a bull — ride a cowboy.

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