While attending the Salinas, California Rodeo this year (2013), I got to thinking about the way it was back in the day. First of all, Salinas has always been one of two significant rodeos that mark the half-way point in the season; Cheyenne (WY) is the other. Secondly, back in the day, only 10 percent of pro rodeos had team roping, (Salinas being one) while all had calf roping. If you were leading the pack for a team roping World’s Championship, and you won the team roping at Salinas, more than likely everybody chasing you gave up because Salinas gave you a straight, downhill pull at the title. A good example is my brother Jerold who won his first title in 1969 partly due to his win at Salinas. Tee Woolman and I had the same result in 1980, winning Salinas and subsequently, Tee’s first World Title. The same held true for Cheyenne in calf roping. If one of the calf roping leaders won Cheyenne, it gave him a downhill go at the calf roping World Title. Examples of calf roping titlist, just off the top of my head, were Oliver and Johnson. One of the 7 or 8 times Dean Oliver won The World, he was initially in a heated battle for the crown going into Cheyenne. His Cheyenne victory catapulted him through the rest of the year to become champ. Mike Johnson is another who in the prime of his calf roping career benefited from his Cheyenne win to get to the National Finals. Both rodeos had, and still have, a significant effect on World Titles because they pay so much money. To this day, weather trying to clinch a championship or just make it to the Finals, Salinas and Cheyenne are the two major tickets every competitive cowboy wants to claim.
However, as I look at it today, trying to keep up with who’s who and who’s doing what I’m floored by the amount of money, effort and talent it takes to cut the mustard. In ’75 or ’76 I set a winnings record when I won the World in Team Roping with 30-thousand dollars, a figure I vividly remember they all said would be a record for all time. Back in the day it seemed an amazing feat as I had actually lapped the field with that figure. The nearest guy to me was 15-thousand. Now, just qualifying for the National Finals in most all events, a guy needs to win 30- or 35-thousand, even 36-thousand just to make it into 15th position. At this point (July 2013), only half the year is gone and 30-plus thousand is in 15th position for both the team and calf roping events. That is phenomenal.
Thirdly, yesterday’s team-roping competitors were limited to just a few significant rodeos. They weren’t inundated with rodeo-availability, so it imposed a little recovery period. A guy could go to Salinas, and if things didn’t go well, he could go home, regroup, and get a part-time job while waiting for another significant rodeo to come along. By the same token, it was unfortunate if you didn’t have all your rodeoing in by Cheyenne and Salinas, because the summer was slim pick’ns. There really wasn’t much to look forward to, even in the fall. Albuquerque, NM used to be big for team roping in the winding down of the summer, as was Bishop, CA and Lancaster, CA over Labor Day, but they weren’t fun for multi-event team ropers because you had to sacrifice the BIG 4 (Ellensburg, WA; Walla Wall, WA; Lewiston, ID; Pendleton, OR). The Big 4 didn’t have team roping. Labor-day majors offered small runs for calf ropers, but other than that, calf ropers and team ropers had to hold out for an old faithful known as “The Cow Palace“ AKA “The Grand National“ held the end of October in San Francisco, CA. It was the last hurrah, the last major hit of the year (which no longer exists), that could give a pretty big shot in the arm.
To sum it up, every rodeo now has team roping, and they all have calf roping. Today‘s ropers can strive and thrive 24/7, and they do (or die). All have this enduring energy to go day in and out fighting to the finish. I’m amazed at how it now works. I see teams like Ceasar de la Cruz and Derek Begay win the Salinas Rodeo, and I expect it to boost them up in the standings and put them in contention for a championship yet, not even close. They didn’t even get in to the top 15. (Ceasar is sitting 17th; Derek sitting 18th) For some winners it might just push them far enough in to the top 15th spot with no promise of anything. The same with Cheyenne. A significant win there no longer means that it’s the end of the day or end of the year for anybody. You’ve got to run it out, go all summer long, nickel and dime’n, to here and yonder to make them rodeos all work. I understand there’s a limited qualification of rodeos that a guy can even go to. Still, a savvy competitor must keep his ducks in a row, and never weaken. Just winning the big ladies (Cheyny and Sali), guarantees nada no more, senior. The championship-driven cowboy is no longer awarded the luxury of downtime. Going home and getting a part-time job or pulling up in Vegas with the intention of waiting on December is a convenience of the past. Today’s heavy hitter has to get it on and win or go home.
That’s all I know…