By Ed Graney
Las Vegas Review-Journal
LAS VEGAS — Yes, even the cowboys.
“You bet,” Tyler Pearson said. “Roll Tide.”
My God. It never ends.
The love for Southeastern Conference football apparently stretches across prairies and along miles of river banks and over mountains, down lonely highways and into the belly of large municipalities, up and down county lines of all southern states raised on the life-and-death viewpoints that come with Saturday afternoons inside college stadiums.
Such devotion, it seems, isn’t lost on those wearing Wranglers and boots.
Pearson is Mississippi born and raised but a fan of Alabama football, which is understandable given the Crimson Tide have owned their series against the Rebels like Nick Saban does all hearts in Tuscaloosa.
That, and I have to hope Pearson finds America’s lovefest with the Manning family as annoying as busting up his knee two days before the National Finals Rodeo.
Which is exactly what happened.
Lifelong dreams die hard. Pearson wouldn’t allow his to, saying someone would have to amputate his leg before he let any injury keep him from wrestling steers for the first time on his sport’s biggest and brightest stage.
No worries. This isn’t a “Sons of Anarchy” episode.
No one reached for a saw.
It was last week when Pearson went through a practice round at the Thomas &Mack Center, chasing steers and hoisting them to the ground by twisting their horns and doing what any professional bulldogger does on a daily basis.
Which would have been fine, if not for the pop in his right knee.
He tore the meniscus and sprained the medial collateral ligament, a fate that would have most of us in a bed for weeks with our leg elevated and a remote control in our hand. Pearson had other ideas. He put a brace on the knee and climbed back onto his horse.
“I was a little nervous about it because it was so sore,” said Pearson, who lives with his wife and infant son in Louisiana. “I still can’t straighten my leg, but it really hasn’t bothered me out there each night. Nothing was going to keep me from competing here. This is the ultimate.
“This is really the only place we can make good money each year, and we all have bills to pay. This is the rodeo dream, and for years, people asked when I was going to finally get here. Well, it happened. It’s still very surreal to think about. It’s an emotional thing every night. Such a cool thing. The grand entrance, after all the hard work it took. Now, it’s time to make some money.”
These are the rodeo stories that should resonate, even more than the immense success of 11-time all-around champion Trevor Brazile (yes, he clinched another one Tuesday evening), or those cowboys who make qualifying for the NFR each year seem easier than throwing a rope.
Pearson is 28 and the lone NFR qualifier from Mississippi, having arrived in Las Vegas ranked ninth in the world among steer wrestlers and looking for the sort of paydays that can turn a good year into a memorable one.
His results midway through the 10-round event mirrored what you might have imagined for a cowboy who has more than your average hitch in his giddy-up. Pearson didn’t cash in any of the first five rounds, his results ranging from as high as eighth to last at 15th.
But it was Tuesday morning, when he and his family were among those watching dolphins do flips at The Mirage, when Pearson predicted his fortune would turn that evening.
That he had spent the first five go-rounds getting used to the magnitude of an NFR and all the pressure that came with it.
“We’re going to get started now and do something,” he said. “With all that has gone on with (the knee), I’m not sure I have been as focused as you need to be each night.”
He was Tuesday night, finishing second in 3.6 seconds to Dean Gorsuch’s 3.2 seconds and making $14,724. Pearson now sits 13th in the world with earnings of almost $78,000 this year.
Busted knee and all.
Maybe things are turning for the better, given he has four more go-rounds to pad that cash total and having put off surgery until Monday.
Now, if we only can convince him how wrong he is about a certain football conference.
“Defense in (the SEC) wins championships,” Pearson said.
He obviously missed that Auburn-Missouri game on Saturday and most others not involving Alabama the past several years.
Here’s hoping his son won’t grow up to believe all that nonsense about great SEC defenses.
“He damn sure won’t grow up an LSU fan, I know that,” Pearson said.
Even the cowboys.