While it may be true that in this day and age the team roping talent extends much deeper than the 15 fortunate enough to make the NFR each year, before winning The Strait, the lifelong friends and teammates’ ProRodeo wins together are highlighted by Tonganoxie, Kan., and Nacogdoches, Texas. Long, however, did win the Dodge National Circuit Finals with Colt Braden in 2007.
Proctor and Long entered the final round of the GSTRC at the Rose Palace in San Antonio sandwiched between two formidable teams: Luke Brown and Cesar de la Cruz were high team back by almost a second and Riley and Brady Minor trailed the Oklahomans by a mere 0.04 of a second.
“I told Jake at the beginning of the day, I was playing to win first and was going to be real aggressive,” Proctor said of his plan. “Our first one really squirted and I had to reach at him quite a ways. I didn’t handle him very good so we were 5.4 and I really didn’t think that was enough. We set ourselves up good on the second one and we ended up being 4.8.”
In preparation for the short round, Proctor consulted Eight-Time World Champion Speed Williams, who reminded him that since they were trailing by a full second, there wasn’t a lot they could do to put the pressure on Brown and de la Cruz. All they could do was rope well enough to ride out of the arena in first place. Williams, by the way, is a three-time GSTRC champ.
“You have plenty of time to get nervous and whatnot,” Proctor said. “So I went back to the stalls and didn’t get my horse out until they were about on team 30. I was just trying to stay calm and collected and keep my head in the game.”
Long, also trying to stay low key, slipped off with his rival for the day, de la Cruz, to escape the hoopla.
“I just stayed off by myself and me and Cesar were kind of hanging out there trying to stay away from everybody and keep our thoughts together,” he said. “Me and him both said good luck to each other and that’s really all I talked to anybody.”
The Strait has a funny way of building a gradual tension as people begin the day trying to get a good glimpse of the event’s namesake to becoming completely engulfed in the action as it nears the top ropers. All teams get a shot at all three steers on the second day and the fans recognize when it’s crunch time and who’s hot and who’s not.
“Every round except for the first round, there was a 3,” Proctor said. “Toward the end of that roping, there would be some great runs, 4.2s and 4.3s and they wouldn’t even get a clap. It was like the audience was saying, ‘Hey get out of the way, somebody else is going to be 3 here, we just know it.’ It was incredible.”
Colby Siddoway and Brandon Bates won the first round with a 4.73, Ty Blasingame and Matt Zancanella won the second with a 3.71 and Speed Williams and Clay O’Brien Cooper won the third with a 3.73. On the first day, JoJo LeMond and Michael Jones were 3.96 in the first round.
The last five ropers in the short round, however, is when the standing-room only crowd is really buzzing. Not drowned out by blaring music or over-hyped announcers, every great run is wildly cheered and every miss or slipped leg is audibly bemoaned.
Brady Tryan and Cody Doescher—both up-and-coming stars, roped their steer in 4.53 to move into first. Then came Riley and Brady Minor, who had a 4.79-second run and moved in to first by 0.32 seconds.
“When I rode in the box, Brady Tryan had a great run and then all the sudden the Minors had a great run, but they were only 0.04 behind us,” Proctor said. “I knew when I walked in I had to be 4.8. To me, that was more comforting than anything. If I would have had to be 8.4, I’d have been a lot more nervous about it.
“That’s such a great roping, but there’s such a drop between first and second in terms of payout that I know that I can’t win the roping unless I catch this steer in less than 4.8 and I’m more comfortable going fast anyway. So it worked out really perfect. I knew I had a good steer—medium sized. So I knew it was playing into our favor as much as it could.”
Everything was going great: a great start and a quick throw, but then Proctor missed his slack and his heart sank.
“I saw him get it on him and definitely noticed something was off,” Long said. “I could tell he had a little more slack there than I’m used to seeing from him. We’ve roped together since we were little bitty, so I knew no matter what he’d keep him moving for me. He did a good job for the situation he was in. I’m sure he had a panicked feeling.”
The steer jerked, but Long managed to scoop up two feet and stop the clock in 4.68.
“That run meant we just won $40,000—guaranteed second—which is more money than I’ve ever seen,” Proctor said.
Luke Brown and Cesar de la Cruz still had to run, however, but somehow de la Cruz slipped a leg. Sadly, after Brown had an illegal head catch in the 10th round of the Wrangler NFR to win the world title, his big-time situation bad luck continued in San Antonio.
“Unfortunately Cesar roped a leg and we all felt bad for him, but on our end of it, it was pretty remarkable,” Long said. “I’ve never really been in a position to win anything of this magnitude. It was pretty surreal and emotional.”
In fact, the two nearly leapt on each other’s horses in celebration.
For Long, the win signified something he’d been in search of since his cousin—the life of the family—Mike White was killed a year-and-a-half ago in a four-wheeler accident. Just before his death, Long bought a horse. The horse was unnamed and then after White died, Long named the horse Mikie in honor of his cousin.
“I’ve been waiting to get a win on him and there isn’t a bigger win than the won we just had,” Long said. “I think that was the most emotional thing for me, feeling like I got that win in his honor. I’d been close a few times, but I just wanted to have a big win so I could tell his story.”
Shortly after the family got the news, Mike’s father, David, called Jake to express his gratitude.
Proctor’s horse, Booger, has an equally cool—but not as moving—story. Proctor and Long grew up roping together, but neither wanted to head. In fact, they only had one head rope between them at the practice pen and took turns forcing the other to turn steers. Neither of them had a head horse, so they would use Booger, Proctor’s red roan heel horse.
“I got Booger when I was 12 and he was three,” Proctor said. “Now I’m 24 and he’s 16. We just kind of grew up together. At The Strait, I told Jake, ‘Man, I’m just going to ride old Booger. I know what I can do on him.’”
With that last piece of the puzzle in place, their formative roping years came full circle for a championship at one of the most prestigious open ropings in existence.
In addition to dedicating the win to his cousin, Long plans to take the $79,815 jackpot and pay down some debt and move to Mineral Wells, Texas, with his wife, Tasha, and daughter, Haven.
Then, he’ll be roping with Brady Tryan, who wound up finished third at the GSTRC with Cody Doescher, for the rest of the ProRodeo season in pursuit of their first Wrangler NFR berth.
“For the three days leading up to the Strait, Brady Tryan, Travis Tryan and Chase Tryan and I all practiced together,” Long said. “It was a tremendous help. My roping felt better than it ever felt going into that roping. To have two good headers and another great heeler in the practice pen, it was kind of like having a sparring match almost. We were all roping pretty sharp going in to that. I’m really looking forward to roping with Brady. If I can do my job, we’ll get along great.”
Proctor, on the other hand, is planning to scale back from ProRodeo and find a new focus for his life. In a way, winning The Strait is his way of riding off into the sunset.
“I’m trying to build a place in Pryor, Okla. I promised my girlfriend, Stephanie Arnold, last year would be my last time to go hard and try to make the Finals,” Proctor said. “She was real supportive the last couple of years. I’ve gotten to that point where I’ve been down the road and I think I’ve seen enough of it so I’m ready to go home and settle down for a while and refresh a little bit.
“I’m 24, that doesn’t seem very old, but it wasn’t too long ago I was 18, just graduating high school, and I’m no further along in my life now than I was then. I don’t have a direction outside the arena, really. I think I’ll finish my schooling up [he’s 20 hours away from a bachelor’s degree in agricultural business] and I really want to go to law school. With this win, I can get out of debt a little bit, pay off everybody I owe, we can start our house and then go to school. It’s just been a blessing.”
Whether it’s in dedication of a lost family member, a reunion of old friends or a career-defining win, George Strait’s Team Roping Classic continues to produce electrifying moments and singular memories—even if the winners aren’t household names.