Brazile and Smith

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The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association embroiders a star on the sleeve of contest-ant jackets for every year they've qualified for a National Finals. Trevor Brazile's 2008 jacket sported 28 stars-10 straight in the tie-down roping, six in the team roping and another dozen for 12 consecutive National Finals Steer Ropings.

You trivia buffs will be the coolest cats at the water cooler at work if you know that Brazile's the only cowboy ever to qualify for the National Finals in four events. In addition to the tie-down and steer roping, he qualified for the 1998 NFR as a heeler (J.P. Wickett headed for him). He's since returned to Rodeo's Super Bowl five times as a header.

Brazile is the winningest rodeo cowboy of all time. He broke the $3 million barrier at the 2008 NFR, which was a first. His career earnings now stand at $3,027,539. Trevor-who in 2007 won the first Triple Crown since his friend and neighbor Roy Cooper in 1983-won $419,868 in 2008, which is second in record annual earnings only to his own standard of $425,115 in 2007. He managed two more milestones in 2008, with a new record for money won in two events at the Wrangler NFR ($149,099) and most money won in three National Finals events-$189,291, including the NFR and NFSR.

Those first three paragraphs were a setup for the point of this story. In 2008, Trevor Brazile won his first-ever National Finals average crown. To be honest, when my brother elbowed me with that stat during the 10th round, I laughed and said, "Yeah, right." For the 28-star general with the flawless fundamentals it feels like a feat to me that that's a fact.

But-believe it or not-it's true. When Trevor Brazile and Patrick Smith won the 2008 NFR team roping average, it was a first for Brazile.

"I never came here with that goal, but I always thought it would happen," said Brazile, 32. "The goal is to win money every night. Then at the end of it you have a shot at the average. The extra practice paid off, just like it always does. We came to the Finals far from the favorites, and gave them a run for the money to the very end. The team roping just felt natural here."

Brazile and Smith jumped out and placed second on opening night, and rolled on from there. They also placed in rounds four, five, six and 10. They were 3.9 for the victory lap in the seventh round. "The best way to stay in the lead in the average is to make good runs," Brazile said. "They pay the average out at the end, but if you win a lot of day monies you get a bigger lead in the average. I wasn't trying to protect our lead; I was thinking about getting further in the lead. We can make that run on a very consistent basis. The more swings you take in this little (Thomas & Mack Center) arena, the harder it gets."

Smith had been there and done that before. The 2003 PRCA Rookie of the Year Heeler won the NFR team roping average with Matt Tyler as a Finals freshman. He and Tyler were 62.3 seconds on 10 steers (Smith roped one leg), which was impressively close to Jake Barnes and Clay O'Brien Cooper's 1994 record of 59.1 on 10.

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In 2008, Brazile and Smith were 60.1 on 10 steers, and daylighted the field. Turtle Powell and Travis Graves were second in the average race with 76.7 on 10. As impressive as a six-second average is on 10 steers, factor in 15 seconds in penalties for a leg in round three and a barrier in round nine. Wow.

"I've won second in the average a lot, but this is my first average win," Trevor said. "I've also been leading going into the 10th round a lot. It's a little ironic that this is my first average, I guess, since people do tend to think of me as the consistency guy. It's good to finally get it done. We accomplished our goal, which was to go out there and make smart but aggressive runs, and not let the average change the way we roped."

They set up an NFR-sized arena at Brazile's house, and dusted up Decatur, Texas, on a daily basis for a month before opening night. "Trevor even bought a head horse he could reach and duck on every run, to give me the real deal when we were practicing," said Smith, who lives in Midland, Texas. "Our plan was to make the best run we could on every steer, and to not back off when we got to the Finals, even if we got in the lead in the average. We put ourselves in a position the last two years for a world championship. That's our goal. If we keep ourselves in that position and rope sharp, we'll achieve our goal. I roped one leg and he broke one barrier. When you're trying 10 steers on, that's pretty good."

Smith experienced a little déjà vu from a couple of his most memorable Finals, including 2003 when he won the average with Tyler and 2005 when he tied the 3.5-second NFR and world record and also won the world with Clay Tryan.

"Winning the Finals again felt the same in a lot of ways," said Smith, 28. "When you're in the average it's so much different than when you're not. When you're in the lead of the average it feels like the rodeo will never end. You want it to just be over, so you don't have to keep pressing without making a mistake."

They went to Vegas with a game plan, and never weakened. "We came out here with a plan and thought our run was high enough percentage to win in the rounds and the average," Brazile said. "Patrick and I agreed that no matter what happened we weren't going to lose that focus. We were never out of control."

Brazile banked on his brown horse Sic 'em in the first four rounds. Then he switched gears and got on the sorrel steed he calls Howdy (his wife, Shada, prefers Ace). "I've never worked at the team roping like I have with Patrick," Brazile said. "Everybody talks about my tie-down horses, but I'm a lot deeper in head horses right now than I am in tie-down horses, no doubt. Sic 'em's good anywhere, Howdy's good in short scores and I just bought a new bay horse for long scores. I take all my events seriously, and I appreciate that Patrick goes at it the same way. He works hard, and tends to business. He spends the time it takes to be successful. When young guys come up and do that, they win. It's all about how bad you want it. Roping and winning is my idea of fun."

Smith rode his sorrel horse Amigo, who shared PRCA/American Quarter Horse Association Heel Horse of the Year honors with Randon Adams' Diesel in 2007. Smith has deeply missed his main mount Jaws in recent times, but cannot complain about Amigo.

"When I was riding Jaws, everybody always said he was a once-in-a-lifetime horse," Smith remembers. "In a lot of ways he was. He was an outstanding horse. He's turned out now, and I guess all things are possible, because Amigo seems just as good. Their styles are a little different, but they both have the same personalities and drive. They rarely make mistakes or keep you from winning, and that's what it takes. He doesn't take anything away from me. This time, he had one NFR under his belt. I could trust him. I'm beyond blessed to have two as good as I've had already in my career."

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Trevor won his sixth world all-around championship in 2008. It's likely he'll tie Ty Murray with a record seventh badge of cowboy versatility in 2009. So I had to ask Patrick: "Do you ever feel like you're playing second fiddle to his other events and all-around pursuits?" His answer was "no," and without hesitation. "Trevor prioritizes team roping over everything," Smith said. "He turned out a tripping steer at Cheyenne in 2007 to run a team roping steer in Spanish Fork. Team roping is just part of what Trevor does, but my life is team roping. He realizes this is all I have, and he's very respectful of that."

Brazile's a good guy. And he doesn't feel it's fair to jeopardize another family's livelihood. "I've never put as much emphasis on one event as I have team roping this year (2008)," he said. "I spent the majority of my time and resources on my heading. It makes me so happy to team rope with someone with the same work ethic as I have. To win the world, you have to be a student of the game, and world titles are always my focus. I'm just thankful none of my other events have suffered much."

There's a baby boom on the Brazile-Smith bandwagon. Trevor and Shada celebrated their son Treston's first birthday in Vegas on December 1. Patrick and Christi welcomed daughter Kylee to the world last March 10. "I really enjoy roping with Trevor," Patrick said. "We've become good friends. Christi and Shada have fun together, and with the babies it's a traveling daycare with us. We have a good time with it. I've learned a lot about the business side of rodeo since I started roping with Trevor. He's such a professional. We've had a lot of fun together, and enjoying what we do just makes our job easier."

They're staying the course when it comes to the ultimate goal of a gold buckle. "The way I see it, if you keep staying close and trying to improve every year your time will come," Patrick said. "I just want to be heeling for Trevor when he gets his heading title. I'm grateful for another great year. I give the glory to God for getting to do what I get to do. I have a beautiful wife and a beautiful little girl. I'm looking forward to 2009."

The entire team roping pack praised Matt Sherwood and Randon Adams for their roping prowess start to finish in 2008. "Matt and Randon won at the right times at the Finals," Smith said. "That's the thing about having a year like they had. They had such a huge lead that everybody else was trying to play catch-up. Hats off to Matt and Randon. They roped great all year long. The people who rope the best all year usually win the world championship."

There was one magical night in Vegas that I must mention. Travis Tryan and Cory Petska tied Clay Tryan and Smith (and Blaine Linaweaver and Jory Levy, and Colter Todd and Cesar de la Cruz) in the world team roping record with a 3.5-second run in round eight. The Minor brothers were second in 3.6, Jake Stanley and Walt Woodard placed third in 4.1 and the last holes were split four ways in 4.2 seconds between Luke Brown and Jade Corkill, Colter Todd and Cesar de la Cruz, Powell and Graves, and Garrett Tonozzi and Kinney Harrell, who won the first, second and fifth rounds outright. Three teams were 4.4 and didn't get a sniff. Brazile and Smith were 4.5 and hardly got a mention. Holy Smokes. What a night.

"That was amazing," said Smith, who also noted that the steers were the best he's seen in his five trips to the Finals. "It seems like every once in awhile there's a night like that at the Finals. If a team jumps out and is quick, everybody's gunning for them. The tempo gets set. If it starts off fast, it seems to end up fast."

The team of Trevor Brazile and Patrick Smith has proven to have all the right stuff-gamers in the go-rounds and consistency kings. Their elite status among the top teams in the world hasn't come without sweat equity and a work ethic that will not say die.

"Every year Trevor heads he gets even better than he already is," Patrick's observed. "My goal is to keep improving, too. We have no regrets from 2008. Our plan was to make our run and see where we ended up. That's exactly what we did. It's hard to complain when you win the most money of any team at the Finals ($90,144 a man). In the end, it's about winning money and supporting our families. And if you have a great Finals, you always have a chance at the championship. They'll give out another gold buckle next year (2009), and we're going at 'em again."

"Patrick and I are a team," Trevor said. "I could not better my situation. There's nobody with a heel rope that I think would better my chances of winning a world title in the team roping. To succeed you have to have fun, and we're having a blast. We've learned a lot about our team this year."