Tuckeness

Meeteetse bullfighter Dusty Tuckness dashes between a bull and rider Josh Frost during Round 4 of the National Finals Rodeo on Sunday in Las Vegas. (Photo by Clay Guardipee, PRCA)

Some day the reign of Dusty Tuckness will be measured in the same way as nations refer to their royal leaders, like the Qing Dynasty.

No one can pry his fingers loose from his stranglehold on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Bullfighter of the Year Award.

Ten years and counting. Ten straight years of being acclaimed the best. How often in any sport is someone, or some team, champion for a decade straight? There is no team in North American professional sport, not basketball, football, baseball, not hockey, which has ever won 10 consecutive championships. Nor has any team done so in college football or basketball.

We have had dynasties and mini-dynasties, but no Dusty-length dynasties in any of those sports. Joe Louis was heavyweight boxing champion for 12 straight years. Back to Tuckness’ sport of rodeo there have been individuals similarly dominant in selected events such as barrel racer Charmayne James and all-around champ Trevor Brazile. Roads for all will lead to the Hall of Fame.

At this stage of his career, following last week’s announcement at a dinner in Las Vegas reanointing Tuckness as the best bullfighter, is the only one who blushes at the exclamation “Greatest Of All Time.” Never someone to boast, this time even Tuckness seemed a bit taken aback by the latest triumph.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “I look back on it, sure. I am thankful and humbled.”

After growing up in Meeteetse, Tuckness first made his mark at Cody Nite Rodeo and developed a close relationship with Mo Betta Rodeo operator Maury Tate. Tate reflected on Tuckness’ unprecedented run as the sport’s finest bullfighter.

“It’s very impressive,” Tate said.

Tuckness is appearing nightly this week on the arena dirt at the Thomas & Mack Center at the 61st annual National Finals Rodeo. He and other bullfighters are the Secret Service protection for the top 15 bull riders in the world. Sometimes, Tuckness and the others are all that stand – or dive – between the riders and a stomping by a 2,000-pound bull.

Sunday night, in his sacrificial role, Tuckness was almost steamrolled himself, but ducking disaster, he was back on his feet again in seconds.

Bull riders understand they signed up for a risky profession, one of the most dangerous events in sport. They welcome the bodyguards assigned to rescue them from predicaments that would ordinarily threaten their health. They also have faith if things go awry, there is a good chance Tuckness will save them.

“If ‘Tuck’ is in the arena, he’s going to be there to help you,” said bull rider Josh Frost. “All bullfighters have a sixth sense, but his sixth sense is better than anyone else’s.”

It may be more than that. Tuckness has never allowed praise to leave him complacent. He has enjoyed being recognized as the best at what he does, but he is hyper-aware rodeo is a young man’s game and it is easy to become satisfied when a goal is achieved. One thing that sets Tuckness apart is his devotion and willingness to keep putting in the time and sweat it takes to stay on top.

“Every year it’s a surprise in a sense,” Tuckness said of his annual victory. “To still be considered in that group, it is amazing. It’s a great feeling. I love my job and I want to get better.”

Touring the circuit requires traveling mile after exhausting mile, whether by vehicle or airplane. That provides the easiest excuse to let down by not eating well, or skipping workouts. This is where Tuckness’ discipline sets him apart. He is fanatical about following his dietary rules and workout plans even when it is inconvenient.

Don’t think Tuckness missed a day of muscle-building after being honored at the PRCA banquet.

“Here,” he said of being in Las Vegas, “as busy as I am, I still work out every day. I get up in the morning and go to the gym.”

Does he sleep?

“A little bit,” he said.

That dedication is why, after these 10 years, all of the other bullfighters are still chasing Dusty Tuckness.

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