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Trevor Brazile rides deeper into rodeo record books

If you’re a rodeo fan you have great timing. There are so many reasons I say that, starting with Trevor Brazile, who has now done everything but leap tall buildings in a single bound. And by now I’m not so sure that our sport’s answer to Superman can’t do that, too.

His latest round of history happened at the 2013 Clem McSpadden National Finals Steer Roping, which played out Nov. 8-9 at the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Okla. Trevor trailed defending champ of the world Rocky Patterson by more than $13,000 riding into his 17th straight NFSR. 

When Trevor uncharacteristically caught his cape in a crack and figure-eighted a front leg on his first steer, and Rocky placed third in the round, it looked likely that they’d leave in the same order they arrived—the same order as last year, when Rocky edged Trevor by $419 for the world title. But Brazile came back swinging, won the second round, placed third in round three and won round four. By the time the curtain closed on opening night Trevor had surpassed living saddle bronc riding legend Billy Etbauer’s 51-strong record for most National Finals round wins ever with 52. And after winning the seventh round, finishing third in round nine and winning round 10 in 9 flat—the fastest run of the Finals—Trevor didn’t just have 54 National Finals round wins in the record books. He had his 18th gold buckle in hand, a feat equaled only by steer roping great Guy “The Legend” Allen. 

“Anybody who didn’t see this coming was asleep,” Guy said. “I saw it coming years ago, and the way he’s going Trevor might double that record. He can accomplish whatever he wants to. Trevor is phenomenal, and he works so hard. Nothing’s been given to him. I tip my hat to Trevor. He deserves everything he’s won.”

To hit a few of the high notes on an unparalleled career, the winningest cowboy of our time or any other has $4,858,436 in career earnings (Cody Ohl is second in that line with $3,204,110) as he rides into Vegas for the $6.25 million 2013 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. By qualifying to both team rope and tie-down rope there, Trevor now has 42 National Finals qualifications to his credit and two Triple Crowns in the books (2007 and 2010). His new record of 11 world all-around championships is all but mathematically locked up, and rodeo’s first-ever Quadruple Crown is still on the table. 

“I have a chance to win a world championship in all three of my events, so that’s a victory in itself,” said Trevor, who turned 37 on Nov. 16 and in honor of No-Shave November, which raises cancer awareness, put a cowboy twist on the saying “Fear the Beard” at the NFSR. “This is always a really big step in that quest.”

If the relentless one makes it look easy, take a good, hard look behind the curtain. He’s human, and his back bothered him so badly last year that he’d have gone home if he hadn’t had team roping partner Patrick Smith’s livelihood to consider. He also had chronic issues keeping his horse herd together in 2012. 

“This has been a relatively smooth year for a multi-event cowboy,” Trevor said. “They all have their ups and downs, but after the year I came off of last year it put ups and downs into a whole new perspective. The biggest difference this year to last is my health is so much better. (Note to Trevor from the Justin Sportsmedicine Team: You heal faster when you take time to stop and rest.) I was at 50 percent, max, last year. It was disgusting to me watching videos of my calf roping. I just couldn’t physically do it.”

He rides into this year’s NFR healthy, fit and ready to do gold-buckle battle. It was all about doing whatever it took to maximize the money at the NFSR, and nothing changes on that mindset in Vegas. “You always step back and regroup before the 10th round to see what you have to do to have a chance (at a world championship),” he said. “That’s a game plan all its own. Other than that, I just keep my head down and make the most out of whatever I draw.”

Trevor needed to place two spots ahead of Rocky in that last round at the NFSR, and he did not back down. He stole a start, then stuck it on that paint steer with the run of the event in a blazing 9 flat. 

“This is a historic night for me,” said Trevor, who all told won $26,462 at the 2013 NFSR and leads the world all-around race by $122,163 over brother-in-law and Decatur, Texas, neighbor Tuf Cooper riding into Vegas. “I’m such a fan of steer roping in general, and when I was growing up the Lazy E was the Taj Mahal of all arenas. There’s just so much history here. Rocky ropes so great. I hate it for him all the things that happened. He’s one of the greatest there’s ever been, and that kind of competition brings my level up. Guys like him make gold buckles special. 

“I haven’t had very many gold buckles that came down to the last one, like this. You kind of get cheated if you don’t have one of those moments, because there’s never been anybody who ever picked up a rope that didn’t pretend it all came down to the last run of the year for a world championship. You can’t duplicate that feeling.” 

Trevor really can relate to how Rocky felt unsaddling a borrowed horse that night. He had to thumb a ride right before last year’s NFSR when his main mount got hurt. Rocky’s horse Charlie, which he recently bought to replace his great Ricky Bobby (who’s been out since Cheyenne (Wyo.) in July) fractured his hip the day before the NFSR started. There was no incident. Rocky breakaway roped a steer and coasted to a stop, and that was it. In the bigger picture, Charlie may or may not be back. 

Then there was the detached retina in Rocky’s right eye. He had cataract surgery in that eye a year and a half ago, and it hasn’t focused quite right inside buildings since then. This year up in Lewiston (Idaho), he couldn’t see out of that eye when he woke up for morning slack. Rocky had surgery to repair his retina on Sept. 5 in Spokane, Wash.

“My whole fall’s been like this,” Rocky said. “Every time I’d think it couldn’t get any worse, it did. But I take my hat off to Trevor. He had to win right down to the wire, and he got it done.”

If you think it’s all smooth sailing for Trevor, you haven’t counted his collection of reserve world titles or considered his steer roping rodeo count. He’s won the world in the steer roping four times, but has finished second nine times. He was the reserve world champ in the team roping behind Matt Sherwood in 2008, and was second to Ryan Jarrett in the 2005 world all-around race in the only year since 2002 that Trevor hasn’t come out king in the cowboy versatility category. That’s 11 reserve world titles that could just as easily have gone his way and given the 1996 PRCA Resistol Steer Roping Rookie of the Year 29 gold buckles riding into NFR ’13 instead of 18.

“I’ve been the bridesmaid plenty of times, but that just keeps your edge and keeps lighting that fire,” said Trevor, who has not finished lower than fourth in the final world steer roping standings since his sophomore PRCA season in 1997—he’s been first four times, second nine times, and third and fourth in the world twice each. “The other option is to give up, but that’s not really in my playbook.”

While much of the 2013 NFSR field roped at 50-some rodeos this year, JoJo LeMond at 23 and Trevor at 25 went to the fewest. Trevor never has time for more than 30 steer ropings in his hectic three-event schedule. “Team roping always takes precedence, because another guy’s livelihood is on the line,” he said. “If it’s the Fourth of July and I have to make a choice I’ll turn out in anything but the team roping (even it means turning out in a short round in another event, and sometimes it does).”

Trevor and Patrick will send out their seven-year partnership, which resulted in seven NFRs, the 2008 NFR team roping average title and the 2010 world team roping crown, in style at NFR ’13. Trevor will ring in the new year heading for Travis Graves, and Patrick will heel for Kaleb Driggers in 2014. But Trevor and Patrick leave their partnership the best of friends with a million great memories.

Trevor holds the ProRodeo records for career earnings, highest single-year earnings, most money won at a single rodeo, most world all-around championships, most money won in a single year of team roping (heading), he’s only the second cowboy ever to qualify for the National Finals in four events (Dale Smith also did it in steer roping, tie-down roping, heading and heeling—remember when Trevor heeled for J.P. Wickett at his first NFR in 1998?), and he’s about to become the only 19-time world champion cowboy in rodeo history. All he’s really doing now is raising the bar on his own records. 

I have been truly blessed in my career and my life,” said Trevor, who used the rifle he won for the all-around title at the 2013 Pendleton (Ore.) Round-Up in September during this fall’s successful hunting season. “I can walk away tomorrow and feel like I don’t have anything left to prove, but I’m still here because I love it.” 

It shows. And roping’s not the only thing he’s great at. Trevor’s also a standout son, husband to 2013 NFR barrel racer Shada, and dad to Treston, who’ll be 6 on Dec. 1, and Style, 3. Trevor and Treston “bached it” on opening night at the NFSR, so when Trevor and Hulk rode through the gate on that first victory lap in round two, Treston and his trusty steed El Rey were right behind them. Treston knows his dad’s a little too famous for forgetting to enter big rodeos (he missed the books on the steer roping at San Antonio this year, as just one example), so after that first victory lap he asked Trevor, “Did you enter the next round, Daddy?”

There was a whole lot of fist-pumping going on with those two all weekend long. But in the heat of heart-stopping world-championship battle—right before Trevor rode in to rope his ninth steer—he made his priorities clear when Treston tore open a scab on his finger, saw red and started to cry. Trevor put down his rope and string, took Treston’s hand, and kissed it to make it all better. Style also tested Trevor’s nerves of steel with a round of rock-paper-scissors on Saturday night.

It was a magical and memorable NFSR. After Friday’s NFSR Contestant Welcome Reception, the huge-hearted Delmar Smith took me on a tour of the Lazy E Ranch, where I got to meet the leading running Quarter Horse sire in the world (he’s produced horses with $45 million worth of wins at the track), Corona Cartel, up close and personal. Delmar’s 87 now, has opened that Lazy E chutegate countless times in the decades since the Lazy E was built and has a permanent seat that was built specially for him atop the roping chute there. Guy Allen gave Delmar his 17th gold buckle in sincere thanks for his encouragement during the tough times that come with every long and legendary career, so Delmar’s been the only person on the planet besides Trevor to own a gold buckle No. 17. 

Delmar was a dear friend of Clem McSpadden’s, and reaches down from his perch to take Donna McSpadden’s hand as she leaves the arena after each Clem McSpadden NFSR opening. Delmar smiles, and tells her, “I love you, too.” What an honor for me to be taken on a personal tour by Queen of Class Donna of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum that Saturday, on the day that would have been her beloved Clem’s 87th birthday. How fitting that Clem’s voice recounts rodeo highlights all day every day in that historic hall. 

After the crowd had cleared that massive arena and headed upstairs to celebrate another great event in the books up in the Cantina, here came Billy Etbauer walking in the back door to personally shake Trevor’s hand for beating his National Finals round record. They had a friendly feud over which was the greater feat, Trevor making the point that Billy doing it in one event was tops and Billy pointing out that no one else on earth has ever been that handy in so many events. Then, as if on cue, while Trevor was talking about just how incredible Guy Allen’s 18 gold buckles were in a single event, his phone went off in his hand. He looked down, read the screen and held it up for me to see—The Legend was calling.

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