They cheered for the bull riders.
They cheered for the bullfighters.
They even cheered for the bulls.
They roared for Flint Rasmussen.
A crowd of more than 5,500 people rose and showed their appreciation when the Choteau funnyman jogged into Rimrock Auto Arena for the first round of the Professional Bull Riders NILE Invitational Friday night.
Rasmussen's appearance was his first at a PBR event since suffering a heart attack at his home on March 11.
"I didn't want to get introduced separately from the bullfighters. Let's act as if I've never been gone," said a sweaty Rasmussen following the two-hour performance. "When they hit me with the spotlight and I heard the crowd's response … that choked me up a little bit.
"I didn't have any idea how they would respond. It about floored me."
Kody Lostroh, of LaSalle, Colo., went 88.75 points aboard the bull Tire Rama to win the first round and $7,000. The Built Ford Tough Series standings leader also earned himself a $1,000 bounty bonus for going the full eight seconds.
Australian Brendon Clark was second with 87.75 points, while defending PBR world Guilherme Marchi was third with 87.5.
While the rides were stellar, the night belonged to Rasmusssen.
He had missed four PBR events before his return in Billings.
"Ho, ho, ho," Rasmussen chortled about being nervous prior to the event. "It was like a football game where you're nervous and excited about the same time. I was nervous. I needed to ease into things.
"My biggest concern was disappointing the people. Even when there were just a few bull riders left, I was looking around to make sure I was doing OK."
Known for his kinetic energy and quick wit, Rasmussen was relatively quiet through the first section of bull riders. "The first part, I was checking out the ground," he said of regaining his athletic and comedic footing. "I was testing it to see what I could and couldn't do."
The 41-year-old Rasmussen gradually warmed up, throwing some of his dance moves and having more interplay with the crowd, sprinkling it heavy with Montana references.
He had to make sure his heart rate stayed below 140. "It jumped too high once," Rasmussen said with a smile, even pausing to put his fingers to his neck and check his watch when the bull riding was over. "I did a lot of listening tonight. To the announcers, to the crowd. I listened for stuff I can use the rest of the weekend. Now I know where to fit in better."
"I just wanted to go, go, go. But even when I out there, I realized it was not worth it. I can't run to the top of the building any more. I would go pretty hard, then stand there and check my heart rate."
The heart attack has forced Rasmussen to cut back on his spiraling commitments.
"It was an answer to how bad I was feeling," he said. "I was always tired. This was finding a solution. It was a lot of stress. The heart attack has made me a little different. I haven't stressed out over anything in the last five weeks. In fact, I've gone completely the other way. Taxes due? No problem.
"Sure, I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings. But I am stepping back out of a lot of things.
"I can only do what I do."
And that's entertain. He was swamped for autographs and pictures after the event.
"The No. 1 thing that surprised me was the crowd reaction," Rasmussen said. "And I've missed these people. The crew, the bull riders, we travel together so much. We're with them as much as our families.
"I hope I did a good job for the first night back."
NOTES: Defending PBR NILE champion Zack Brown was bucked off by the bull Illegal Smile in 5.9 seconds. J.B. Mauney, chasing Lostroh in the standings, had a score of 77.5 points on his first bull but opted for a re-ride. He was tossed in seven seconds by Scaredy Cat. The PBR draft, where Lostroh has the No. 1 pick, is today at 11 a.m. at Bones Brewery. Lostroh told the crowd he is leaning toward selecting the bull Soulja Boy, owned locally by Priest Creek Ranch. Brown won the PBR NILE Invitational last year on the bull in the final round.