Steer wrestler surprises star-studded field to win finals at Colorado’s Greeley Stampede pro rodeo
July 6, 2017
Dru Melvin wasn't necessarily a favorite when he rode into Colorado's Greeley Stampede Arena on July 3.
In fact, he was a bit of a long shot.
Sure, it might be a bit of a stretch to compare his performance to that of the U.S. hockey team's "Miracle on Ice" over the Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Olympics, or Buster Douglas over Mike Tyson in 1990.
This isn't likely to become an all-time great upset in sports history. But, as far as the finals of the Greeley Stampede pro rodeo go, Melvin was the underdog who was dead set on clawing and scratching his way to the top.
He walked away with the trophy buckle and a first-place finish in steer wrestling, recording a final time of 3.6 seconds, which had even the most astute rodeo aficionados Googling Melvin's name on their phones.
"I kind of panicked a little bit; that steer stumbled out of (the chute)," said the 34-year-old Melvin. "I had the option to either pull up or just go ahead and go. I heard them holler he was out, so I just kept on going. I knew I had a good chance."
And, he just kept on going all the way to the pay window, earning his first big payoff in months. He should make about $4,000 for his performance in the two-round rodeo.
Melvin shined the brightest under the lights of the stampede's first nighttime finals in more than two decades, despite being far less heralded than some of his contemporaries.
Ty Erickson of Helena, Mont., came into Monday's finals the event's clear favorite.
He's first in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association's World Standings by a large margin — with $110,804 in winnings so far this season. And, he was the clear man to beat at the stampede, recording a first-round time of 3.8 seconds the previous week — 0.2 seconds better than anyone else.
Until Melvin shot out of the chute, it appeared as if anyone was going to challenge Erickson for that buckle, Dakota W. Eldridge of Elko, Nev., would.
Eldridge — ranked fifth in the world standings ($50,149) — coupled his first-round time of 4.7 with a highly impressive finals time of 3.8.
Melvin eclipsed Eldridge's total of 8.5 moments later with his jaw-dropping finals time, giving him a total of 7.9 after walking in with a strong first-round time of 4.3.
Erickson needed at least a 4.1 to burst Melvin's proverbial bubble and tack on to his long list of first-place finishes this year.
Erickson struggled just a bit with his steer after vaulting off his horse, settling for a 4.6, a two-round total of 8.4 and a runner-up finish to Melvin.
No sour grapes. The hulking 6-foot-5, 240-pound Erickson was among the first to congratulate Melvin after he received his buckle, before no doubt he shifted focus to the next town.
"The steer wrestlers were all cheering for each other," Melvin said. "We're all here together. Steer wrestlers are a tight-knit group. … We're just a big group of family."
While Erickson burns more gas than a traveling insurance salesman this time of year, Melvin has admittedly scaled back his time on the road in recent years after making appearances in the National Finals Rodeo in 2006 and '14.
That comes with the territory for a busy parent like Melvin, who has three children under 4 years old — including twins — and one on the way.
With a growing family to support, Melvin's big money performance at the stampede couldn't have come at a better time.
Last week's first round was the first check he's earned in a month and a half and it was the first time he's made money at the stampede.
"That just took a load off me, when you win a little bit of money after going through that long of a dry spell," he said.
While so many rodeo cowboys don't take a break until the autumn leaves start to turn, Melvin will embrace his mini-Fourth of July reprieve.
He won't be back home in the Cornhusker State quite on time to fully celebrate the holiday. But, he planed to shoot off fireworks with his family on July 5.
Who knows? He might even splurge a little bit on some of the really good pyro now that his wallet is a tad fatter.
"Winning a big rodeo like this makes a big difference," Melvin said. "It'll help pay some bills. And, I'll go on to the next (rodeo)." ❖
— Fernandez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.