For almost a decade, Brady Tryan sat with thousands of other fans at the Thomas and Mack Center and watched his older brothers compete against the best team ropers in the world at the National Finals Rodeo.
He watched brother Clay Tryan win a world title in 2005 and brother Travis qualify for nine consecutive NFRs in Las Vegas. Clay and Travis Tryan, who have both earned more than $1 million in their careers, are the most successful team ropers from rodeo-rich Montana.
Sitting alongside father Dennis — himself a former NFR competitor — Brady cheered with the rest of the family and took mental notes on every loop his brothers threw.
Now it's his turn.
On the night of Dec. 2, Brady Tryan will follow his brothers into the arena to the roar of a sold-out Thomas and Mack Center for the opening performance of the NFR.
“I'm looking forward to following the Montana flag out into the arena,” said the young Huntley cowboy.
And this time he won't be watching.
Brady Tryan, too, will be roping against the best of the world.
“This is a dream come true,” he said of qualifying for his first NFR. “Since I was small, this is all I've wanted to do. I still can't believe it's worked out for me.”
The 21-year-old Tryan goes to Las Vegas ninth in the team roping header standings after earning $72,868 in 2010. Clay Tryan is first in the world standings, while Travis Tryan is fourth.
“I've been asking Clay and Travis a lot of questions and both have helped me a lot,” said the youngest brother.
It is the first time three brothers have qualified for the NFR in team roping in the same year. “I'm glad they're both with me,” said the youngest of the brothers. “It wouldn't be the same without them.”
The Tryan brothers will share some of the historical spotlight with the Cooper brothers of Decatur, Texas. Tuf, Clif and Clint Cooper — the three sons of former world champion Roy Cooper — have all qualified in tie-down roping.
Tryan will be roping with Jake Long of Alva, Okla. The two paired up at the end of March at the urging of Clay Tryan and his partner Travis Graves. Brady Tryan and Long immediately placed in all three rounds and the average at Huntsville, Texas, to start their partnership.
“When we did that at Huntsville, we knew right away that we had a shot at the NFR,” Brady Tryan said. “Jake is a guy who just doesn't miss. It gives me confidence with him back there. I know when I spin them, my partner is going to catch them.”
Not that the path to Las Vegas was easy.
Tryan and Long took the most difficult route to the NFR. They won the team roping at only two rodeos — St. Paul, Ore., and Silver City, N.M. — and did not qualify for any of the high-paying Wrangler Tour finales.
“We did it absolutely the hardest way possible,” Tryan said. “It's more stressful. It's definitely not a fun way to do it.”
The two stayed in NFR contention by quietly placing at rodeos around the country.
“We placed in the average at a lot of places,” Tryan said. “We caught a lot of steers.”
Tryan also found that slowing down meant more success.
“I think the thing that's the biggest difference is learning to win and catch more,” he said. Tryan was 23rd in the 2009 standings. “I've been kind of a risk taker ... throwing it out there fast. This year, I wasn't taking any stupid shots. Sometimes before, I was too aggressive. I've backed off and placed in both the rounds and the average.”
Tryan bounced around the top 15 all year. He was as high as seventh and spent a long nervous stretch at No. 15, the last NFR qualifying spot.
“I looked at the standings, I'll admit it. I looked probably more than I should have,” Tryan said. “I was 15th for quite a while. But there are worse spots to be in. I just wanted to be in the top 15 on Sept. 30” at the end of the 2010 regular season.
Tryan clinched his first NFR qualification with a second-place finish at the Pendleton Round-Up in mid-September. The money won vaulted him into the top 10.
“I looked at the clock and knew we had made it,” he said. “There were still some guys to rope and we were celebrating like we won it. It was an indescribable feeling. I didn't sleep for three days.”
Because Long was still in a precarious position, the two closed out the final two weeks by roping at five more rodeos.
Tryan has been in Santo, Texas, since late October, staying at his brother Travis' place. Travis Tryan and partner Rich Skelton and Brady Tryan and Long rope daily. They even set the practice pen to the dimensions of the cozy Thomas and Mack.
“It will be the smallest arena we rope in all year,” said Brady Tryan. “When you're up in the stands, it looks bigger.”
He added that nights are spent watching video of the day's practice runs and the team roping from last year's NFR.
Tryan will be roping aboard Dollar, a horse owned by Riley Minor of Ellensburg, Wash.
“I roped about 10 steers on him when I was home in October,” Tryan said. “He's real easy to ride.”
Tryan will pay Minor 15 percent of his earnings at the NFR for the horse. During the regular season Tryan rode Notch, owned by his sister Taylor. Tryan has no financial agreements with his sibling.
“She wishes,” he said with a laugh. “I don't know what to expect at the NFR. We just want to win as much money as we can. I still can't believe how it's worked out. I'm ready to go right now.”