Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Greatest Texas Rodeo Cowboy

I squeezed in between two indifferent cowboys. The one to the right was older and shot me a glance of slight annoyance for taking up space he wanted to occupy. Yet to my everlasting appreciation, he begrudgingly yielded some the precious space as I sidled up, grabbed a fence crossbar and climbed up. We must have looked like a line of hens perched atop that fence. Wrangler jeans, hats and roping boots hooked by the heel on the fence rung below the top of the fence surrounding the roping box.

It was fall 1987 and I was in San Angelo, Texas. I was a newly minted lawyer, but not about to let anyone there know. I was with my oldest friend, Billy Wayne, working that October weekend for a guy who sold roping equipment out of a trailer at the San Angelo Roping Fiesta. My boss that weekend had been nice enough to let me work a variety of events for him while I was in law school, and the chance to go to San Angelo and watch the match steer roping at the Fiesta pitting Joe Beaver and Phil Lyne against one another was something I was not missing.

I had admired Phil Lyne since watching a documentary called "The Great American Cowboy." It was sometime in the mid 1970's when, as a somewhat rudderless teenager, I watched that movie on a muggy Houston evening at drive in theater called the Thunderbird whilst sitting in a folding chair on the back of a pick up truck. Beer had also been involved. It really changed my life.

I will not bore with what happened over the course of the next decade after watching that movie, but it included work, some luck and good horses. By the time I graduated from law school, I was roping calves regularly in competition. I had, however, never seen Phil Lyne compete as he was then long retired from competing regularly in Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA) events.

That changed in San Angelo.

The San Angelo Roping Fiesta is legendary amongst roping enthusiasts. Literally thousands showed up not only for the invitational calf roping, but to watch the match roping between Lyne and Beaver. I had worked selling ropes during the invitational calf roping but made it clear I wanted to watch the match, not that anyone would be browsing for ropes while Beaver and Lyne faced off. It was the first time I had watched a steer roping, also known by the more accurate moniker "steer tripping."

Steer roping derives its name from the necessities of ranch work. When alone with larger cattle roaming free range it was, and is still, necessary to put hands on likely uncooperative cattle. To bring them down, it is necessary to rope horns similar in a way done in team roping, then pitch the rope slack behind the cattle's backside riding off at a 45 degree angle, tripping the cattle to bringing them down. The cowboy then dismounts quickly to get to the grounded cattle to tie their legs with a large piggin' string. The lone cowboy can then tend to the immobilized cattle.

As this description suggests, it is potentially hard on the livestock and as the PRCA has been a large target of animal rights activists, steer roping has been in steady decline. This was subordinated for me. I just wanted to see Phil Lyne in the flesh and watch him rope.

Lyne, as I remember it, had agreed to be a replacement in the match for another cowboy, but I could be mistaken. Beaver was the reigning PRCA calf roping champion, having won the PRCA title as a rookie in 1985. I had seen, even roped against Beaver in open calf roping events. Big as a linebacker and gifted with a rope, Beaver is as good a roper as has ever lived.

Beaver beat Lyne on I what I remember to be ten head, but it did not matter to me. I watched Phil Lyne. After the match I went round back and stood 6 feet away from the man and his horse. About my size, hard as nails - both he and his mount. I remember it like it was yesterday.

I have always tried to bring what roping taught me to my law practice. You have to work. You have to practice in the courtroom the same way you practice in the your office. You must adjust your aim in the on the fly, because sometimes the law, like the cattle, doesn't cooperate.

Thanks, Phil.

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