LAS VEGAS – The average championship at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo is the second most coveted award in the sport, trailing only the world title.
Bray Armes now owns the trophy buckle rewarding the 2013 steer wrestling average winner after grappling 10 steers to the ground in a cumulative time of 44.8 seconds. He also owns the $47,776 paycheck that comes with it, which helped propel the Ponder cowboy to $100,358 in NFR earnings and a third-place finish in the final world standings.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “When I look at the goals I had written down on paper from years ago, in the order of how important they were to me, the average was next to the top. It’s pretty amazing, and I’m pretty blessed.”
He also is pretty talented. Armes placed in five go-rounds in the Nevada desert, including three runner-up finishes. When he made his final run on Saturday night, he finished the championship by nearly tripling his regular-season earnings, finishing the year with $157,254. Only reserve champion Matt Reeves ($158,575) and world champ Hunter Cure ($173,355) earned more in 2013.
“Before I backed into the (timed-event) box I was a little nervous, full of emotion,” said Armes, who grew up in Gruver, Texas, and attended Howard College in Big Spring, Texas, and Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas. “I just tried to relax and said to myself, ‘With God, all things are possible,’ the same thing I say every time in the box.”
Everything was possible. Armes, Reeves and Cure joined two-time world champion Dean Gorsuch as the four bulldoggers who had a chance to claim the gold buckle on the final night of the season. Gorsuch, though, suffered a no-time when the steer freed itself from the big Nebraskan’s hands.
“Being in that position before the 10th round was pretty awesome,” Armes said. “When I saw the steer I had drawn, I knew that I didn’t have one I felt real good about placing in the round. I just knew I needed to make a solid run and let the chips fall where they may.
“I felt horrible for a great friend like Dean, that something that crazy could happen and take him out. On the other friend, another great friend in Hunter won the world. Still, it’s pretty awesome to come in the 14th position and be in the running for the gold buckle. Now I’m one more goal closer to the big one.”
The big one is rodeo’s gold, and Armes has moved up the ranks each of the past two seasons. He qualified for the NFR for the first time in 2012, finishing sixth in the world standings. He’s already planning to make another run at the world title in 2014. After riding Reeves’ great palomino gelding, Ote, through the final stages of this season and at the NFR, Armes purchased the horse. It was a solid move for the Texas bulldogger, who lost another great horse this past summer to a freak accident.
“I always wondered when I lost Ricky Bobby why I would lose a great horse for that, but God’s got a bigger plan,” he said. “When I got on Ote, I knew he fit me the very first steer I ran on him. I begged Matt, and he finally priced him. I was fortunate enough to buy him. I’m just very happy.”
Ote carried both Reeves and Armes all 10 nights of the NFR, then helped Casey Martin to a third-place finish on the final night. Riley Duvall, a young NFR hazer who comes from a storied bulldogging family, helped cowboys to more than $285,000 in Las Vegas.
“I couldn’t have done it without Riley Duvall,” Armes said of the Oklahoma cowboy, whose great uncle Roy (a three-time world champion), father Sam, uncle Spud and cousin Tom have all competed at the NFR. “For a rookie hazer at the finals, he did an amazing job. When I backed into the box on that first night, it was his first NFR haze. I’m honored to have a Duvall haze for me. He comes from a family of champions.”
Now Armes can add his name to a list of great average winners. It’s the perfect culmination to a strong year and a fantastic finale. It’s a wonderful payoff for all those years traveling the rodeo trail while his wife and children stay home in north Texas.
“I have to thank the Lord most of all and my wonderful wife for always being the backbone of all this,” he said. “My mom and dad, all the friends and family have stood behind me and have always told me I could do this.”