It’s fitting Trevor Brazile is a roper. Roping is the low-key counterpoint to rough stock events like bull – and bronco-riding. Bull riding has a televised pro league. Bronc rider Ty Murray was onDancing with the Stars. Ropers occupy a quieter niche, where precision, calm and consistency rule.
Brazile’s had plenty of all three, to much success. Competing across steer roping, team roping and tie-down roping, he’s the winningest cowboy ever, with 19 world all-around titles and huge earnings.
World champion roper Roy Cooper says Brazile, who’ll return to Salinas after his team roping buckle in 2012, is the Michael Jordan of cowboys. Bob Welch, editor of American Cowboy magazine, takes it further.
“For true fans of rodeo, I don’t see how you can deny that Trevor Brazile is the greatest rodeo cowboy of all time,” he says. “I see no argument that can propel anybody past Trevor.”
Watch him ride. He’s Lionel Messi in blue jeans: speed, precision, killer instinct. Rocketing from the gate on horseback, roping the calf around the neck, sliding off the saddle for the tie-down – every step is rehearsed and methodical, but there’s no scripting the way a calf moves. Blink and you’ll miss it.
Like his roping, some components of his success are predictable: He’s gifted, works hard and stays out of trouble.
“His dedication is probably the number-one thing that’s made him a success,” Welch says. “He is a great athlete… but he’s combined that with an uncommon dedication to being the best.”
Obsession propels his commitment. Brazile’s father, Jimmy, had to bribe the youngster out of the stable for school. Brazile relented, but only if he could practice roping on a dummy at recess.
To this day, he competes at non-pro events for $20 prizes, just to rope.
Beyond his passion though, other tendencies about him are more pioneering – or at least more surprising. Here’s a snapshot:
It’s common for top pros to watch video of their runs, but Brazile’s been a fanatical user since he was a teenager – and that was with old-school gear, not GoPros and flash drives.
“There’s not a run he makes where he doesn’t dissect it and see how to get better,” says Pam Minick, a longtime rodeo reporter and former vice president of the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association.
Runs are usually under 10 seconds, so milliseconds matter.
“Little things compound into big things,” Brazile says. “If you don’t step back and look, you never see it.”
The details are so minute, he couldn’t explain them to outsiders anyway.
“I would confuse the shit out of your readers,” he says with a chuckle.
With personal matters, he’s just as no-nonsense as on horseback. Unlike Jess Franks (see “Adventures From Inside the Barrel” previous page), who described his days on the road as full of “drinking, dancing, fighting, [and] carousing,” things are placid among the Braziles. To maintain family harmony during roping season, he brings them along.
At times, family trumps competition.
WHILE BRAZILE’S COLLEAGUES ARE HAMMING IT UP ON REALITY TV OR HANGING AT THE MALL, HE COMPETES AT NON-PRO EVENTS FOR $20 PRIZES, JUST TO ROPE.
When Tuf Cooper, Brazile’s brother-in-law, had his horse go lame before the National Finals Rodeo (NFR), he asked to borrow Brazile’s. Brazile immediately lent him one of his two. In other words, the reigning champ gave a close competitor a leg up.
Cooper won the world championship.
While other cowboys sponsor energy drinks and beer, Brazile keeps it cookie-cutter cowboy: jeans, boots, hats and tack.
“Whatever the situation, he hits it and he deals with it and continues to move forward,” Welch says. “Constant motion. Maybe that’s the essence of Trevor.”
It’s the essence of his brand, B Relentless, too. His image is safe to sponsor, he quickly found, racking up endorsements with Wrangler, Justin Boots, Resistol Hats and Pro-Equine.
Then there’s the boring fact that he’s constantly winning. Except for 2005, he’s won some world title every year since 2002.
“He’s got no serious competition in the all-around,” Welch says. “There are lots of guys who put themselves in the position to win the all-around if Trevor’s hurt.”
Brazile still harkens back to his starstruck 8-year-old days at the Sheridan Rodeo to stay grounded.
“I never would’ve dared to think I would’ve had this success,” Brazile says. “I remember getting bucked off my dad’s horse and seeing the guys who came [to Sheridan] and thinking it was cool if they said hi.”
Now, even if Brazile’s PR strategy isn’t about the spotlight, reaching his young fans is still important.
“Being that guy now is a humbling thought,” Brazile says. “It makes you think, every kid that walks by. I want to make sure they have that same feeling I had when [the rodeo guys] said hi to me.”
Everywhere you look – in the ring, with family, with fans – Brazile is steady, level-headed, even slightly dull. His temperament allows him to thrive.
“By not letting the highs be too high and lows too low, great athletes can look at the next game and put the past behind them,” Minick says. “That’s a gift he has.”
In the opening ceremony of the 2012 NFR, Brazile’s team roping partner, Patrick Smith, was bucked from a flag girl’s loaner horse.
B Relentless was posting a series of vlogs from the event called “Trevor Brazile’s Relentless #NFR12 Strategy” that were probably meant to be serious. Instead, Brazile and Smith spend most of the time joking about it.
“I’ve literally watched [the video] 80 times,” Brazile says in the video, shooting Smith a grin.
The NFR is a pressure cooker where Brazile has a fat target on his back. But being stressed relinquishes too much control for him. He’d rather laugh, keep things even keeled.
“He definitely enjoys playing pranks on people a lot,” says Tuf Cooper, a tie-down roper. “A lot.”
“I don’t know what it is, but I just like scaring people,” Brazile says. “I remember waiting under the [horse] trailer for 30 minutes for my team roping partner to get out so I could grab his legs and bark like a dog. It’s worth it, and it’s even better if you can get it on video.”
There, perhaps, is the essence of Brazile. In a world of out-of-touch, dysfunctional, eccentric athletes, he gets the job done with an occasional laugh and no extra baggage. In that way, he’s a revelation.