HARRIS COUNTY - HSA INSIDER

A weekly look at all things Houston sports from the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority: Halfway home at the rodeo

The Marlie McDonald interview was an early highlight. abc13.com

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We’re at the midway point for Rodeo Houston: 10 days down, 10 to go.

And, yes, there are times when it feels like all the days run together. The events that get the crowds going are the same events you see every performance. But even though those of us who do all 20 shows chuckle and say we feel like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, there are moments every night that get you going.

For me, it’s just before they come to me for the intro for first event of the night: tie-down roping. As Boyd Polhamus, Bob Tallman and Andy Seiler welcome the crowd, I wait on the incredible new star stage, which is pushed back toward the ropers.  

The Grand Entry wagons and riders circle the arena. The Star Spangled Banner echoes through NRG and the virtual flyover fighter jets race across the big screens. Then the lights go down and they crank up the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s theme song – Party With Your Boots On.

That’s when routine goes out the window. I get chills and goosebumps and I’m ready to go. It’s the adrenaline shot. It’s like chugging a Red Bull before the rodeo starts.

That’s always the moment for me. Every night.

What follows next is my introduction of one of the tie-down ropers. Each night I pick one and try to give the crowd a little insight into not only his accomplishments, but into his story. Maybe it’s something about his strategy, or his hometown – Fred Whitfield from Hockley, TX, or Richie Champion from The Woodlands. Or Tyson Durfey who wears pink because he’s trying to raise breast cancer awareness. It’s about telling the story, and helping the crowd trying to identify with these cowboys.

With that, the night is off and running.

Groundhog moments notwithstanding, there have been a lot of great moments in the first half of Rodeo so here are a few of my favorite moments thus far:

* Most people love the Mutton Bustin’ and always ask or comment about interviewing those five and six year old winners.  Well, I love it. One of my favorite moments so far was interviewing the opening night winner – six-year-old Marlie McDonald, who stole the show with her curly red hair and dreams of saving the world as a spy.

* A few nights later, a little boy with little red glasses and little red tennis shoes was pretty precious, too. He said he practiced on his mom and used a blanket, but that kept slipping off. They tired a towel and that worked. When I asked him where he got his glasses, he looked at me and said, “at the prescription store of course!”

* The night Astros president Reid Ryan and Hall of Famer Craig Biggio rode into the arena and Reid had the World Series Trophy cradled in his right arm.  Some folks were concerned about Reid carrying the trophy on horseback, but as the saying goes, “This wasn’t his first rodeo...” and he knew EXACTLY what he was doing!  When Bob and Boyd announced that the World Series Trophy was in the house, the entire crowd erupted and went crazy.

* Later that same night, Craig came over and helped present the Mutton Bustin’ award. The little boy who won wants to be an Aggie baseball player when he grew up. I asked if he knew who that was kneeling next to him. He said no. The one kid who actually wanted to be a baseball player had no idea who Craig Biggio was. So I told him he was getting his buckle from perhaps one of the greatest baseball players of all time.  His mom and dad appreciated the moment a lot more than he did!

* Now I’m not a huge country music fan, but opening night with Garth Brooks had more energy than any night I’d ever seen. One, it was opening night. Two, Garth Brooks hadn’t played at the Rodeo in years  so the place was packed. They closed down gates and even people with (go everywhere) gold badges couldn’t get in. The usually late arriving crowd was in early, they were amped up, it was crazy and it was a great way to kick things off.

* The new stage has just been phenomenal and one of the highlights was on Black Heritage night with Leon Bridges. All five points on the star actually rise up, so it goes pretty high. The points have a tip on them and a guardrail. He was the first entertainer to take it up and actually utilize it. As cool as the stage has been and just watching it for the first time – the whole on countdown, the intro, the lights – everything is impressive. But to see Leon Bridges up there was really cool.

* On First Responders’ Night, Rascal Flatts did an incredibly  emotional tribute recognizing hurricane Harvey and the efforts of the first responders. The first responders surrounded the stage and arena on the dirt and Rascal Flatts sang, showed videos, expressed their gratitude, and had tears in everyone’s eyes.

* And there’s one other favorite that really epitomizes what it’s like to work the Rodeo.  It’s the Mares and Foals. It’s the second year for the generational presentation and it falls between the bull riding and calf scramble. They dim the lights and spotlight a 24 year-old mare, then introduce her daughter and the daughter’s daughter and, finally, a leggy foal who is the youngest in the line. They all run the arena floor together, and the crowd just eats it up. It’s all about family, just like the Rodeo itself. And it never gets old.