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Recently we were at a sports bar having lunch. It was one of those places that has a bazillion televisions, all tuned to a different sporting event. I happened to be facing one that was showing a bull riding competition. I couldn't look away! It was fascinating. And I was fascinated by my level of fascination. Mainly for the bulls. They were real, and they were spectacular.

While absorbing this new experience, I noticed the poor souls responsible for making sure the bull rider doesn't get the phooey stomped out of him if he is thrown or when he exits the bull after his 8 seconds (which btw is about 7 seconds too long). They weren't dressed up as one might expect from the term 'rodeo clowns', so I did some digging.

Turns out they are called 'bullfighters' which of course brings a very different

Wait - aren't they supposed to be INSIDE the barrel? Click here for a great article on the perils of rodeo clowning

mental image to me. But they are indeed offshoots of the original rodeo clown, which debuted in the early 1900s. When they began, rodeo clowns were designed to entertain the crowd during delays in the rodeo action. Some wore silly costumes and incorporated physical humor into their comedy routines.

The role of distraction and protection emerged after about 1920 when bulls were introduced into rodeo sports. Unlike horses, who usually quit jumping and kicking once the rider makes his exit, the bulls were still a little salty, as they say here in the South, and kept twisting and snorting with blood in their eye like a bovine Tasmanian Devil. They're especially happy to keep stomping the stuffing out of the guy they just hurled to the ground. Enter the rodeo clown. Their job is to distract, and sometimes offer assistance to the rider to help him out of harm's way.

Turns out comedians/actors Chill Wills and Slim Pickens (shown here) spent some time as rodeo clowns early in their careers. Apparently he was one who preferred the term 'bullfighter'.

I wonder how that first conversation went, convincing the local comic to not only run through his rodeo patter, but also get in the ring with a literal raging bull. I assume there was a financial incentive. Turns out many rodeo clowns transitioned from rodeo competition to rodeo clown, because with the latter, they are at least guaranteed a paycheck. In rodeo, if you don't finish in the money, you go home empty handed.

There are usually two or three clowns on the job simultaneously. One is there to distract; the others are to help the rider. Over the years, they have come up with innovations to protect themselves. Legendary rodeo clown Jasbo Fulkerson (a fellow Native Texan, thank you very much) invented the iconic barrel used as a sort of rodeo clown foxhole. Many wear protective clothing under their clown costumes, padded like an NFL linebacker. And I don't blame them one bit.

It is tradition for the rodeo clowns to wear a specific style of clown makeup. White around the eyes and mouth; red on the nose. That's it, plain and simple. No feather boas or glitter for this crowd. The profession itself is returning to its entertainment roots. Those who clown are often separate from those who protect (the aforementioned bullfighters).

The Professional Rodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs honors rodeo clowns

Click here to watch a short video of professional rodeo clowns in action

along with other rodeo stars, as well they should. If you're ever clicking around the telly and see some bull riding going on, check it out. Those clowns (and riders!) are all crazy, but I'm just crazy enough to want to watch.

This post originally appeared during my participation in the 2016 A to Z Blog Challenge. 

As a lifelong Dallas Cowboys fan, I was once watching them play the Detroit Lions. A win meant advancement to the playoffs. A loss meant the end of the season. It was a sloppy mess of a game for Da Boys. In the closing minutes, the Cowboys were ahead 24-20, but the Lions were driving. Defender DeMarcus Lawrence recovered a fumble.

If he had simply fallen on the ball, end of game - the Cowboys would have taken possession, taken a few knees to run out the clock, and headed to the post season. But Lawrence didn't fall on the ball. In his excitement, he tried to run the ball into the end zone a mere 20 yards away and seal the deal with six more points. Unfortunately, he was stripped of the ball and the Lions recovered.

Let's take a moment and consider this carefully. A rookie defender has the game literally in his hands, and fumbles it away with a rookie mistake. I suppose that's why they call it that.

No doubt Lions fans across the nation roared with glee at this moronic mistake. They had the ball back with plenty of time to score. They had a quarterback with a strong arm and perhaps a stronger will to win. By some miracle, they dodged the fumble bullet and had another chance.

But something crazy happened. DeMarcus Lawrence also got another chance. DeMarcus Lawrence also roared. Eight plays later, he stormed across the scrimmage line, sacked the quarterback, forced AND recovered a fumble. This time, he fell on it like all good little defenders should. Game. Over.

I couldn't believe it. True confession: I screamed like a girl. It was the talk of sports radio for days afterward, and good reason. It got me thinking: how often does a chance at redemption happen, with a positive outcome? I mean, every time any of us makes a mistake, our fondest wish is for a do-over. But do-overs are so rare. So I Googled. Nothing beats a great redemption story.

Browns def. Jets 23-20 1987 Division Semifinals

It took them two overtimes to do it, but the Browns cashed in all their redemption cards in this one. Quarterback Bernie Kosar had two interceptions to make up for. The offense wasted a chance at a game-winning touchdown due to excessive celebration after a pass reception that had put them within field goal range, and had to settle for said field goal. Kicker Mark Mosely won the game with a field goal in the second overtime, but he had missed three of five earlier attempts, including an easy 23-yarder in the first overtime period. The Browns had no redemption in the conference championship the following week, losing to the Denver Broncos in overtime 23-20.

Giants def. Cardinals 5-4 Game 3 of 2014 National League Championship Series

Outfielder Juan Perez tried twice and failed twice to sacrifice bunt off St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Randy Choate with one man on base in the 10th inning. Giants management basically said, 'forget the bunt - he's struggling' and dropped the bunt signal. Perez must have been very thankful. A few pitches later, Perez singled to advance the runner and of course get himself on base. The batter following Perez was able to bunt successfully, resulting in the game winning run. The Giants went on to win the NLCS 4-1 and the World Series 4-3 over the Kansas City Royals.

2012 Adventure Racing World Championships

That's Mr. Fa'avae on the far right

Okay, I admit I had to Google and Wiki on this one - never heard of 'adventure racing'. Teams of four compete in multiple stages of biking, climbing, kayaking and other somewhat extreme sports. New Zealand's Team Seagate won in 2012. The win was sweet redemption for team member Nathan Fa'avae. The previous year, the team earned a four hour time penalty when Fa'avae had failed to keep track of - oh, the irony! - a tracking device, leaving it behind at one of the locations early in the competition. That four hours made the difference between a world championship and a third place finish. Needless to say, the fellow made no such oversights the following year.

David Ragan, 2011 NASCAR Coke Zero 400 Winner

Ragan won this event at Daytona International Speedway just months after a rules penalty robbed him of a victory at the more well-known Daytona 500 race. He changed lanes improperly after a re-start. In NASCAR, that's all she wrote.

This post originally appeared during my participation in the 2016 A to Z Blog Challenge.

Cliff 'Red' Jones
My dad, Clifford 'Red' Jones, pitching for the Alpine Cowboys ca 1956

Soon we will be rescued from two months of ho-hum televised sports viewing with opening of the baseball season. Huzzah!

I know, I know, baseball has an image problem. The fan base is shrinking. Many consider it boring. You know what? I don't care. I feel the same way about certain sports, so, non-baseball fans, I share your pain. You watch your stupid boring sport, and I'll watch something worth watching. How anyone who watched the final game of the 2016 World Series thinks baseball is boring is beyond me. But I digress.

Okay, full disclosure: I have powerful, sentimental motivation to follow a sport that admittedly can be a bit of a slog if you're not familiar with the game. My dad was a multi-sport athlete in high school and earned a baseball scholarship to Sul Ross University in Alpine, Texas (my birthplace). Alpine is out in the far west mountainous triangle-shaped frontier of Texas. Back then it was just a wide spot on the road. but it was a real baseball hotspot due to the obsession of wealthy rancher Herbert Kokernot. Dad played for Mr. Kokernot's Alpine Cowboys until he was signed by the Milwaukee Braves in 1956. He pitched for the Braves in their farm system for a few years before realizing the baseball biz wasn't likely to support his growing family. Oh, how times have changed.

Opening Day always opens the memory floodgates of our family baseball lore. There's the tawdry yet amusing shenanigans of baseball wives (told by my mom - about other wives, natch - Dad claims no knowledge of any such goings on). Mom does wish we'd quit telling about the time she dashed out of her seat to dodge an incoming foul ball tip, leaving me behind, an innocent, gormless infant,  blissfully unaware of the 70 mph cowhide-wrapped bullet of death about to rain down on my head. Handy tip: foul tips are possibly the lone disadvantage of players' wives getting those great seats behind the home dugout.

I'm thrilled to be able to show you the hilarious grainy video of the players milking cows on the mound as a publicity stunt. Luckily for my dad, he was a country boy born and raised. He knew his way around a set of udders just as well as he did a baseball diamond.

I am able to share with you an example of the requisite yellowed newspaper clippings like the one here, bragging up my dad as 'the big righthander' and 'fireballer' and the pitcher of not one but TWO shutouts in post-season play as a highschooler. Ain't no thang. Just two shutouts. In two appearances. Probably in the same week. Yawn.

This is why, at the Jones household, we understand why the baseball pitcher's arm is considered the most valuable body part in professional sports. This is why the Rangers' devastating loss to the Cardinals in the sixth game of the 2011 World Series still gets me a little choked up (we will not speak of this *sniff*). And this is why I'm so freakin' pumped for baseball season to start. Got the hat. Got the shirt. Got the remote. Let the games begin.

Dad and I paying homage to another Brave Eau Claire WI 1999

A version of this article first appeared in the 2016 A to Z Blog Challenge.

As we browse the headlines this time of year, it is not unusual to find biblical phrases such as 'immaculate' and 'miraculous'. And indeed there are those occasional events that defy logic, defy science, defy everything we know about human possibility. Yes, I am talking about the 40th anniversary of Franco Harris' Immaculate Reception. The controversial play is considered one of the most famous in NFL history. Harris' delicate fingertip catch and subsequent bolt to the end zone gave his Pittsburgh Steelers the win over the hated Oakland Raiders. Although the Steelers lost the AFC championship game to the Dolphins the following week, The Steelers went on to dominate the game for years afterward.

Roger 'The Dodger' Staubach, hero of my youth

The Immaculate Reception is just one of many athletic events compared with the miraculous. The Hail Mary pass has long been a staple of football, only used in the most desperate situations, risking everything in hopes that the right receiver is fast enough and tall enough to make it down field in time to catch a ball that is floated up there, well, on a wing and a prayer (since we have come this far with the religious metaphors). Originated in the 1930s, the term 'Hail Mary' cemented its place in NFL history when Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach used it to describe his game winning pass to Drew Pearson in a 1975 playoff game against the Vikings. Apparently Aaron Rodgers is a fan of this strategy. His recent Hail Mary to close out the first half of their wildcard playoff against the Giants took my breath away.

There is another famous play involving the Cowboys, but since it doesn't have a snappy catch phrase and since it caused the Cowboys to lose and therefore is disqualified from miracle status, no sense mentioning it here, amirite?

Football also brings us

  • the Miracle Bowl (1980 Holiday Bowl Brigham Young vs SMU which also included a Hail Mary by BYU to win the game)
  • the Music City Miracle (2000 AFC playoff game Titans vs Bills), featuring the Titans winning in the remaining seconds using a trick lateral play on a kick-off return
  • additional Miracles at
    • Michigan (1994 - Colorado Buffaloes defeat Michigan Wolverines at home in the final seconds with - you guessed it - a 70 yard, intentionally deflected Hail Mary)
    • Mississippi (2007 game between two no-name D3 schools, ending the final two seconds with a 60-yard run made possible by the use of 15 different lateral passes)
    • The Meadowlands (Philadelphia Eagles defeat New York Giants at home in 1978 due to boneheaded play calling and a fumble recovery resulting in a touchdown)
Basketball God

Religious hyperbole is not limited to professional football. In a 1986 FIFA World Cup soccer match between Argentina and England, Argentina's Diego Maradona scored a goal known as the Hand of God goal. He named it thusly when explaining how it happened, saying it was due to a little of his work and a little help from above. Most observers agree it was more Maradona's hand, but he branded it well, and Hand of God it remains.

The NBA brings us not just one supernatural limb, but the whole enchilada. After a
1986 Celtics-Bulls playoff game, none other than Celtic Larry Bird said of his opponent's 63 point performance, "He is the most exciting, awesome player in the game today. I think it's just God disguised as Michael Jordan."

And what about the 2001 Miracle Flip by Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter? The Yankees needed a win against Oakland to keep their playoff hopes alive. They got it when Jeter dashed across the field to the first base line to retrieve a relayed ball from the outfield, then neatly flipped it to the catcher to prevent Jason Giambi from scoring.

Hockey provides us with the Miracle on Ice, underdog USA's now-famous defeat of hockey world powerhouse Russia during the 1980 Winter Olympics. The win sent the USA to the finals, where they defeated Finland for the gold medal.

All this talk of higher powers has me pumped up for some more supernatural displays. Too little, too late for my Cowboys against the miraculous Aaron Rodgers and his Packers (which he won in the final seconds with another near-miracle pass, bless his heart).  Here's to my Rangers making a miracle happen for me in October instead.