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In addition to their first gold buckles, Erich Rogers and Cory Petska set a new annual team roping earnings record of $265,417 a man. They won or placed in seven of 10 rounds, and finished second in the average. – PRCA ProRodeo Photo by Dan Hubbell

By Lane Karney
Special To Ropers Sports News

A yearlong world team roping title race that came down to the last run of the rodeo. What many consider to be long-overdue gold buckles for Erich Rogers and Cory Petska, in addition to a new annual team roping earnings record. A 3.3-second, world-record-tying run for regular-season champs Kaleb Driggers and Junior Nogueira. A third Wrangler National Finals Rodeo average buckle for Chad Masters and a first for Travis Graves. If you’re a team roper or a team roping fan, the 2017 NFR definitely did not disappoint.

 Rogers and Petska rode into Cowboy Town second only to Driggers and Nogueira. They left Las Vegas second to none. Rogers and Petska were 3.9 in Round 5 to share the victory lap with Clay Tryan and Jade Corkill, and placed in six other rounds. 

The pair of Arizona partners finished second in the average only to 10-steer average champs Masters and Graves. Rogers, who calls Round Rock, Arizona, home, and Petska, who lives in Marana, Arizona, were 53.9 on nine. Masters and Graves were 61.2 on 10. Jake Barnes and Clay O’Brien Cooper’s 59.1-second NFR average record set in 1994 still stands.

Petska roped legs in Rounds 3 and 7, but pulled off a wild, branding-corral shot in Round 10 for a clutch close. His heel horse, Chumlee, tripped in the corner, and by the time they caught back up the steer had darted behind Rogers’ head horse. The crowd was cringing. Not Cory. He’s too cool a cat for that. He grabbed him, and the way things went their 8.3 even got a check in the round.

Rogers’s only mistake of the 10-day NFR marathon was a miss in Round 9. 

“As I was committed to take my shot, the steer lowered his head just enough,” he said. “I missed the right horn just barely, the curl came around and figure-eighted the horns. I figured I could fish it off, and I did, then as soon as the steer stepped back to the right it came off the left horn.”

Rogers rode out dejected, and understandably so, even though the miss only dropped them to second in the average behind Masters and Graves. Rogers and Petska were winning the average on eight at the time.

 “I was pretty disappointed in myself,” he said. “I could have taken an extra swing, but in this little building if you take an extra swing you can be at the back end. Missing that steer put a damper on things. I was pretty upset. I pouted just a minute.”

True to Petska form, Cory did not.

“I told him I was sorry I cost us the championship,” Rogers said. “He told me not to worry about it, and got me looking forward to the last round instead of looking back.”

“Erich came to my trailer last night after we roped, and he was kind of down,” Petska said right after they roped their 10th steer. “I just gave him a pep talk and told him, ‘We’ve got this. Stay strong.’”

He listened. They did. And Rogers and Petska were the winningest team on the week and the year. They earned $131,705 a man in Vegas, for a record-breaking annual team roping earnings record of $265,417 apiece. That record was previously owned by 2016 World Champion Team Ropers Levi Simpson and Jeremy Buhler, with their $249,133 and $258,311 in 2016.

Second in the world were Driggers, who finished $10,946 behind Rogers in the heading race, and Nogueira, who was $10,216 short of Petska on the heeling side. Driggers and Nogueira, who were the reserve world champs for the second straight season, had a heck of a week and year also. They won $120,494 a man, which was second on the NFR team roping earnings list to Rogers and Petska, and finished seventh in the average on top of winning or placing in six rounds. 

Driggers and Nogueira started strong with the win on opening night, and finished strong with a 3.3-second, world-record-tying run in Round 9 and second in Round 10. Their 3.3 matched Chad Masters and Jade Corkill at the 2009 NFR, and Brock Hansen and Ryan Motes at the rodeo in Nacogdoches, Texas, in 2012.

“Tying the NFR and world record definitely ranks right up there among my best career moments,” said Driggers, who was riding his sorrel horse Dre. “But one steer will never set me apart from the rest. I have one goal in mind, and everyone knows what that is.”

“Seeing that 3.3 on the scoreboard was the best moment of my life,” Junior said. “A couple seconds later was the most embarrassing moment of my life. I fell off at the Finals. I saw the time, and everyone was screaming. I started to celebrate, my horse (Green Card) jumped forward and off I went. For a second or two, I thought I was going to hit on my back. At least I landed on my feet.”

No worries. We were all laughing with him, not at him. And seeing that raw, uncensored celebration when so many professional athletes are trained to keep their emotions in check was refreshing and a reminder that rodeo has the most accessible athletes on the planet. 

Rogers, 31, and Petska, 38, share a brotherly bond. In fact, Rogers lived with Cory and his wife, Sherry Cervi, for a couple years in Marana, Arizona, in the early going of their five-year partnership.

“I finally put my big boy pants on and bought my own place,” Rogers laughed.

Cervi is a four-time world champion barrel racer and with $3,331,945 is the winningest Women’s Professional Rodeo Association barrel racer of all time. After 19 NFR qualifications, Sherry finished 16th in the world in 2017. But her home team stayed hooked, and rodeoed with her right to the regular-season finish line, refusing to abandon ship. This crew really is all-for-one and one-for-all. As it should be. And in turn, Cervi was right there to cheer them on every step of the world-championship way.

Rogers’s NFR horse herd included Boogie Man, a 10-year-old dun he bought last February from Shane Paschal in Texas, and Dustin Bird’s legendary bay mare, Dolly, who’s 18 now. Rogers rode Boogie Man in the first two and last two rounds, and Dolly the six rounds in the middle. 

“She finishes so strong,” Rogers said. “She runs backwards with the rope tight.”

Petska stayed on his sorrel horse Chumlee, who’s 13 now and came from Jake Minor by way of Brady Minor, who trained him. Chumlee got promoted from practice horse to first-stringer basically by accident, after Cory discovered he much prefers less headgear. Since taking the tie-down off of Chumlee, Cory considers him his ace.

“Now he’s the best horse I’ve ever ridden,” he said.

Rogers and Petska had an awesome Finals on top of an amazing regular season that included wins from Fort Worth, Texas, to Tucson, Arizona, Las Cruces and Santa Fe, New Mexico, Hamel and Isanti, Minnesota, Great Falls, Montana, Lehi, Utah, and the Daddy of ’em All in Cheyenne, Wyoming, which was on both their bucket lists.

“We were just catching and placing,” Rogers said. “We started the year strong and finished strong, too.”

Rogers and Petska’s friendship is the foundation for their team.

“Cory’s one of the baddest heelers going down the road,” Rogers said. “I’m glad to be a part of this with him. Now we get to go down in history as champions. That’s a pretty amazing feeling.

“The way Cory works at roping has picked me up to the next level. He’s been around it a long time, and I just have to trust him to know what’s going on. I’m just really, really glad I got to be a part of his career and this championship.”

Cory’s a Petska, solid and steady, and he’s learned not to let rodeo’s highs or lows get to him. He appreciates Rogers’s humor and positive attitude.

“Erich’s light-hearted and funny, and he doesn’t ever get mad when either one of us messes up,” Petska said. “There’s never any strife between us. We have a lot of fun. He’s like my little brother.”

Rodeo is a strong family tradition for the Petska’s, as is humility. 

Cory’s four-time NFR header dad, Paul, and two-time World Champion Barrel Racer mom, Gail, who won gold buckles in 1972 and ’73, were out at the barns with the horses throughout the run of the rodeo. They were still out there when Cory was dealing with all the reporters and photographers in the NFR Press Room right after getting his gold buckle. Cory’s sister, Tye, ran barrels at the 1994 NFR.

Cory’s Uncle Monty Joe is a 14-time NFR heeler who actually roped with Rogers the year before he made his first of seven straight Finals back in 2010.

“Cory’s the one who pointed Erich out to me,” Monty Joe remembers. “He was like, ‘Watch this kid.’ We were at a roping on the reservation the first time I saw him, and he roped really good. 

“I’m sure happy for both of them to be the champs. They both deserve it, and I’m extremely proud of them both. They went for something they wanted, and they got it.”

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye was in Las Vegas for much of NFR week, and is always especially proud of the Native American cowboys. 

“The cowboy lifestyle is a highly valued part of our culture and who we are as a nation,” said Begaye, who is a distant relative of Derrick Begay, despite the slight variation in the spelling of their last names. “Native Americans are a big part of the cowboy culture. Our Native American team ropers (who also include 2015 World Champion Header Aaron Tsinigine) are household names, and they’re highly respected. Our people are huge rodeo fans.”

“There are a ton of Native American rodeo fans, and the Navajo Nation is one of professional rodeo’s biggest fan bases,” Rogers added. “Native American team ropers have a huge following through Indian country. We’re role models to a lot of kids, and it’s a great privilege when people look up to you.”

Petska, who roped at his 14th NFR in 2017 and won the 2005 NFR average heeling for Hall of Famer Tee Woolman, has been known as a consistent catcher throughout his career. Though things got a little out of control in that last round when Chumlee stumbled in the corner and he had to pull off a pretty crazy shot to close the deal, his NFR strategy has never strayed.

“The goal for the Finals has been the same every year me and Rogers have roped,” Petska said. “We make good runs, and try to stay in the average. All we were doing is just catching steers. 

“Dang near every year the guys who win the average win the world. We try to stay as consistent and strong in the average as we can, and still place in a lot of day moneys.”

“The strategy on our last steer was just to go catch,” Rogers said. “I knew Cory was going to heel him by two feet, no matter what. That’s what he does for a living. The way his horse stumbled and things took a turn right there, it was scary. But Cory got him. He always finds a way to catch.”

Sometimes, it’s just meant to be. Their 8.3 got a fifth-place check in Round 10, and second in the average alone was worth $54,577.

“It feels amazing to be a world champion,” Rogers said right after the wild, weeklong world championship race was finally over. “We’ve dreamed about this. It’s surreal. It’s a life changer. It’s wow. There are no words to explain how amazing this feels. To be a part of this with Cory is a great feeling.”

“To finally get to accomplish a dream I had when I was a little kid roping the dummy feels amazing,” Cory added. “I’ve had a great career, and I’ve made a great living. This gold buckle means a lot to my family. My family has had a huge influence on my life, and my wife has been amazing, too. There have been a lot of people along the way who helped me get here. We’ve all rodeoed all our lives. Rodeo is our life.”

Chad Masters and Travis Graves were the only team at the 2017 NFR to rope all 10 steers, and with 61.2 on 10 captured the 2017 NFR average crown. – PRCA ProRodeo Photo by Dan Hubbell

Kaleb Driggers and Junior Nogueira had a stellar 2017. They were the regular-season champs, and tied the 3.3-second world record during Round 9 at the NFR. – PRCA ProRodeo Photo by Dan Hubbell

Cory Petska and Erich Rogers have 21 NFR qualifications between them, and won their first gold buckles in 2017. They won $131,705 a man at the Finals. – PRCA ProRodeo Photo by Dan Hubbell

Boyd Gaming’s Jackie Ferrando and Montana Silversmiths’ Steve Miller presented Travis Graves and Chad Masters their NFR average awards. – PRCA ProRodeo Photo by Dan Hubbell