Wrangler National Finals Rodeo fans enjoy ‘Super Bowl of Rodeo’ in Texas for first time since 1961

Saddle bronc rider Allen Boore holds onto Delta Dawn during the fourth round at the National Finals Rodeo on Dec. 6 at Globe Life Field in Arlington. Boore secured a qualified ride and scored 83 points in the round for fifth place.

For Louisiana resident Justin Davidson, rodeo is more than a $1.2 billion stadium full of dirt, bulls and sweaty cowboys. For him, it’s a way of life.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges this year has seen in adapting to life with the virus, the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo found a way to continue for its 61st year.

Davidson has been attending rodeos since he was 5 years old. He competed in rodeo events including steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding, tie-down roping and team roping.

“My dad did it, my grandpa did it. It’s a family thing,” he said.

Many fans enjoy rodeo events together as a family, and the National Finals Rodeo is commonly hailed as the "Super Bowl of Rodeo." This year, the event relocated from Las Vegas, Nevada, to Globe Life Field from Dec. 3 through Saturday because of COVID-19 restrictions, marking the first time since 1961 that it was held in Texas.

Bull rider Dustin Boquet said he missed Las Vegas during the first few performances. At the Thomas & Mack Center where it’s normally held, people pack in practically on top of each other, and you can’t hear yourself speak, he said.

Boquet said he wants to see a future rodeo event at Globe Life Field without the crowd restrictions brought by the pandemic.

“I'd like to see if we could pack this sucker out and see what the energy would be like in this building,” he said.

Even with regulations, excitement ran high this year. The stadium filled with excitement each time competitors neared the eight-second mark required to earn a qualified ride before exploding in applause and cheers as they hit that time.

Hailey Kinsel from Cotulla, Texas, earned $270,615 from barrel racing during the 10-day event, setting a National Finals Rodeo record. She also won the RAM Top Gun Award, which is given to the contestant who earns the most money in a single event at the National Finals Rodeo. The Texan won five rounds this week and finished the season with $349,076 to be crowned world champion and receive a gold buckle.

Despite the relocation and COVID-19 regulations, about 15,000 fans still packed the stadium, many of them traveling from across the country.

Tawnya Roenbaugh traveled with several college friends from Wichita, Kansas, to Arlington for her second National Finals Rodeo.

“I enjoy the rodeo, and I enjoy this aspect of agriculture,” she said.

Despite not being in its usual home of Las Vegas, many fans like her were happy to have the event in Texas.

“I really like it here in Texas, it’s a little more homey,” Roenbaugh said.



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