“The great thing about our sport, in my opinion… it’s a brotherhood,” said Mr. Bernard. “These guys, they see danger in their faces every day. I think that’s why a lot of them are so religious.” (The announcer even offered a prayer each evening at the Garden.) “To be a bullrider, you’ve got to be so optimisitc. And when someone gets hurt, everyone else is there to help them,” he continued.
Mr. Mauney, meanwhile, chose a bull called Just a Dream with the eighth pick. “He bucks,” he said later. “I been on him once before and he bucked me off!”
Saturday Night, PBR After-Party, Madison Square Garden
On Saturday night, the PBR held its official after-party in a space at the Garden and, as is customary, invited all the fans. Colby Yates, a shy, baby-faced blond bull rider from East Texas, sang and played the acoustic guitar before a largely young, female crowd decked out in colorful cowboy hats. He was recovering from a groin injury suffered at last year’s PBR Finals in Las Vegas, and had so far failed to ride a bull for eight seconds that weekend, but he seemed in high spirits. At one point, he was joined by 2007 PBR World Champion Justin McBride, who is currently recovering from shoulder surgery and wasn’t riding.
“Ain’t goin’ down on Brokeback Mountain …” they sang together. “That shit ain’t right, that shit ain’t right, that shit ain’t right ….” They alternated singing the chorus, wide grins on their faces. Mr. McBride is also blond and handsome, and wore a black cowboy hat pulled low over his face and a black leather jacket.
Abby Pierotti, 24, a consultant who lives in Manhattan, looked on enthusiastically. “Of all the things to be protesting, this is the wrong one,” she said. Ms. Pierotti’s friends didn’t want to come to the after-party, so she came alone, in pink shirt and matching cowboy hat, and set about getting her picture taken with her favorite cowboys.
She was from Smethport, Pa., she said, but had only gotten more into bull riding since she’d moved to Manhattan, mostly because this was her second year attending the PBR event at MSG. “There’s not a lot of country, rodeo stuff that comes here,” she said ruefully.
Sunday Afternoon, Madison Square Garden
On Sunday, at the VERSUS Invitational’s championship event, after the smoke-and-laser-light opener, Guns N’ Roses’ “Paradise City” blared, spotlights lit up the dark arena and the cowboys swung their bodies over the rails and into the bucking chutes, where they hunkered down to help one another prep for their rides. (A cowboy needs at least two friends beside him in the chute
s, said Mr. Yates later. One to steady him on the bull, and one to tighten the flank strap before the doors open.)
“Some of our cowboys didn’t know there were two one o’clocks in a day!” announced Flint the clown gleefully, referring to the event’s early start hour and explaining that in the PBR, they like to have fun.
The bucking began. A cowboy named Cord McCoy hit his forehead on a bull named Dirty Harry, and exited the arena with blood dripping down his face. “He sprung a leak!” declared Flint.
The crowd was loving it.
“I just wanted to see bull riding,” said Brent Denoon, a hefty photographer from Queens in a newsboy cap who’d been singled out by Flint early in the show to warm up the crowd with his dance moves (he’d done so to wild applause). “It’s something that you don’t see in New York City at all. I’d rather see it live [than on TV]. I’m here with my father. He’s into it big-time. He loves cowboy stuff.”
Lisa Smith and Alan Donin of Secaucus, N.J., sat in the front row. Ms. Smith’s aunt had bought them PBR tickets for the second year. “It’s a lot of fun; we’re learning a lot about the sport and getting more into it,” said Mr. Donin, who wore a black cowboy hat and black Western shirt. “Her aunt is really into it,” he added.
“Who’s her favorite one?” inquired Ms. Smith.
“Adriano,” he said.
“She’s in love with him,” said Ms. Smith. “This morning she broke out into a cold sweat, she was so excited. She’s in her 60’s!”
After 15 finalists had been chosen for a fourth and final ride, Mr. Mauney rode Cat Man Do to a crowd-pleasing 90.25 points, which put him in the lead. He was momentarily caught by the spur in his bucking strap trying to dismount, leading one of the bullfighters to hurl himself on the bull to try to disentangle the rope. The crowd held its collective breath as the rider’s 5-foot-10 frame thrashed about. (No wonder his mother gets worried.) Mr. Mauney stood and pounded his chest after it was all over, but he was eventually bumped to second place by the low-profile Brazilian Valdiron de Oliveira, who accepted a check for $24,500 in the ring, with Mr. Moraes as his translator, after the event.
“It was really cool, and I liked how the guy got caught in the bull, and that’s it!” said David Petretta, 10, of Wayne, N.J., who was with his father, Scott. “He likes it because he likes the bulls,” said the elder Mr. Petretta as they both waited for autographs by the ring.
“These people were outrageous, they loved it,” said Mr. Yates in the locker room afterward, before heading off to get a beer. “It’s nowhere near a cowboy atmosphere, and you just don’t expect it, so that makes it even that much more exciting when they get into it.” On the streets, he said, “there are just so many people. People took pictures, everybody’s hollerin’ at us. … It’s pretty cool.”
“It’s like Nascar or something like that,” he added. “It just keeps getting’ bigger and bigger.”