The 2011 ProRodeo regular season ended with a dramatic and abrupt flourish at the Justin Boots Championships of the Wrangler Million Dollar Tour in Omaha, Neb. The hottest teams going: Derrick Begay and Cesar de la Cruz, Clay Tryan and Travis Graves, Erich Rogers and Kory Koontz all made the final round of the elimination-style playoff.
In the end, Begay and de la Cruz, survived the fray to take over the top spot in the world standings on the regular season's final night. The roped their final steer in 4.4 seconds—the only clean run of the final round—and amassed $28,123, bringing their total for the season to $118,754.
The weeks leading up to that culminating night, however, may tell us more about what to expect at the 2011 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
First, Clay Tryan and Travis Graves won the Ellensburg (Wash.) Rodeo, taking the top spot in the world from Chad Masters and Jade Corkill. Then, in Pendleton, Derrick Begay and Cesar de la Cruz overcame the field and over took the top spot in the world standings by a slim margin. Then, for the first three rounds in Omaha, the world standings lead seesawed back and forth between the two teams.
On the first ‘unofficial' updated world standings report the PRCA released in Omaha, Tryan and Graves held on to the lead. Later that evening, they produced a more accurate version that showed Begay and de la Cruz in the top spot. While Begay and de la Cruz did end up on top, Tryan and Graves didn't let them get too far out of reach. They still won $25,897 in Omaha.
"Anytime you finish strong, it feels good," Begay said. "Tonight was the last big night of the season, it officially ends tomorrow, but tonight was when it really ends. It was big to get out of here with the win. I don't know if we're on top or if Clay's on top, I don't know the math. I've just been roping, but it's close.
"One of the biggest feats is to end up on top at the end of the year. You roped all year on all the conditions against all the guys, so to end up on top at the end means a lot. For anybody to win the year end means a lot."
It surely does. Momentum breeds confidence and confidence helps cowboys survive the inevitable NFR ups and downs. Over the past two years, the ups and downs have resulted in unlikely champions. In 2009 it was Nick Sartain and Kollin VonAhn and last year it was Trevor Brazile and Patrick Smith who came from the eighth position entering the Finals to win the gold buckle.
"This feels really good," de la Cruz said. "I feel like I'm going to get 10 in a row at the Finals, I just feel like my header is never going to miss. So I'm going to keep my head down and try to catch two feet."
That said, de la Cruz didn't rope especially well in Omaha. To be sure, he roped well enough, but by his own admission, he wasn't up to his own standards.
"I feel really fortunate right now," de la Cruz said in the pressroom after his win. "I didn't throw the prettiest heel loops the last couple of nights. I figured-eighted in the semifinal round, then in the final four, I threw something in there that just worked. It was good enough. Derrick drug him right in my loop, just like I needed him to."
While intense, the final night in Omaha was anything but pretty in the team roping.