There was more bull than usual on 33rd Street near Madison Square Garden Saturday night. No, I’m not talking about ticket scalpers doing their thing or another line about a New York Knicks championship run from James Dolan’s delusional coach Isaiah Thomas.
Rather, there was excrement on the block from bulls, corralled underneath MSG for the Versus Invitational. The Jan. 4-6 event marked the second time the Professional Bull Riders circuit and their four-legged foils descended on “the world’s most famous arena.”
Saturday, the place was packed with a combination of fans, urban and real cowboys, curiosity-seekers and families. Indeed, USA Today reported that 11,913 made the scene, a sell-out for the PBR configuration. Over the three days — attendance at Sunday’s 1 p.m. matinee final was no doubt intercepted by the New York Giants’ playoff win over the Tampa Bay Bucs — the PBR drew over 29,000 to the Versus-titled tournament, captured by Valdiron de Oliveira, a first-time winner on the Built Tough Ford Series.
For its part, Versus, Comcast’s competition sports service, hosted guests and members of the media in a luxury box Saturday night that provided a high, sharp-angled vista of the bucking action below. Still, it was good to be able to take a look at the TV screen in the box to catch a replay and low-level camera views.
That was until my friend and I were escorted to the chutes below. There perched on a riser, we got a glimpse of the beasts in their stalls underneath the stage, and up-close look at a quartet of riders: Beau Hill; Mike Lee, the man who leads the circuit after two 2008 events and the only competitor to hold the PBR world title and win the circuit’s season-ender from Las Vegas in the same year, 2004; and Adriano Moraes, the only three-time PBR champion rider, who announced at MSG that 2008 will be his last year on the trail.
But it was Moraes’ Brazilian countryman Renato Nunes who left the lasting impression on Saturday and one that made for must-see TV the following day.
Not only did Nunes’ mount, Fine Wine, kick up the dirt and send snot flying, but the beast’s right hoof cupped the prone rider’s right ear after his dismount. Was he bleeding? Was his ear detached? Either way, Nunes got up quickly and headed backstage.
From the safety of my couch on Sunday, I tuned to NBC’s replay of the previous night’s proceedings (Versus aired the Friday night competition on Saturday and offered same-day coverage from Sunday). The camera depicted Nunes swabbing his ear with a cloth. The PBR Web site described the injury clinically: “Renato Nunes sustained a laceration behind his right ear and abrasions on his scalp and face when he was kicked as he was dismounting his bull. The laceration was sutured in the training room. He is competing.”
No bull, these PBR guys are tough hombres.