When Bear Pascoe saddles up on Sunday afternoon to compete in steer wrestling event at RFD-TVs The American, the world’s richest single performance rodeo at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, it will be a familiar place.
Pascoe played pro football in the world famous stadium when he suited up for the New York Giants, which faced the Cowboys annually at the Arlington venue.
“It will be kind of neat stepping back into that stadium as a cowboy," Pascoe said. "Instead of wearing cleats, I’ll be wearing boots.”
Pascoe has worn cowboy boots pretty much all of his life. He grew up on a California ranch riding and roping. But within the past two years, he’s learned how to compete in steer wrestling, which also called bulldogging.
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During a rough and tumble steer wrestling run, a cowboy catches a running steer by its horns from atop of horse that’s running full speed, jumps off and throws the animal to the ground, pretty similar to the way a football defender makes a tackle.
Pascoe, who turned 32 on Friday, retired from pro football in 2016. A high point in the NFL for the 6-foot-5, 260 pound tight end, who turned pro in 2009, was making several receptions in the Super Bowl XLVI when the Giants upset the New England Patriots, 21-17, in Indianapolis.
Bulldogging boot camp
After being involved with the NFL for seven years, Pascoe returned more to his western roots. He began learning to become a steer wrestler two years ago with help of his father-in-law, John W. Jones, a three-time Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association world champion in the 1980s.
Jones said he waited until Pascoe retired from football before helping him. Under Jones supervision, Pascoe first learned to wrestle steers by chute dogging, which meant he would grasp the animal by the horns in the chute, then ask for it be turned out in the arena and would throw it down. Pascoe said he made his first steer wrestling run from atop of a horse in April 2017.
“I told him, ‘When you’re done with football, I’ll help you all you want,’” Jones said. “I told him, ‘It would be pretty stupid to go out there where you don’t have a guaranteed check and hurt your knee and be done playing football.’”
“He grew up on a ranch and so riding, and roping and horsemanship is not new to him. He picked it up pretty quick. His technique gets better all of the time. He just has to find the right horse that can fit his style. When that can all click, I think he’s got great potential. He just has to find his way in the sense of his horse, his style and experience. If he doesn’t get hurt, I wouldn’t be surprised if I see him at the NFR [National Finals Rodeo] because his work ethic is good.”
Pascoe said steer wrestling is similar to playing pro football in some ways.
“Both are very high tempo, very physical sports,” he said. “In steer wrestling you’re dealing with three animals and two humans and so a lot can happen. At least on a football field, most guys can kind of judge what a team’s going to do or what a defense is going to do. There’s a lot more variables when you’re steer wrestling.”
Despite rodeo’s many variables, Pascoe has been a fast learner. He clinched the steer wrestling title at PRCA approved rodeo in August in Santa Barbara, Calif., after turning in a time of 4.9 seconds. The rodeo featured both cowboys who had earned a PRCA membership card and those who were attempting to earn membership in the world’s most prominent pro rodeo league.
At the time, Pascoe was classified as a permit member, which meant he was attempting to earn a PRCA membership card. Remarkably, the Santa Barbara rodeo was Pascoe’s first time to compete on the PRCA circuit. He earned $1,717, not near the kind of money that athletes earn in the NFL, but it was one big mental boost.
Pascoe also finished in the money at other regional PRCA rodeos, which in turn helped him qualify for the PRCA’s 2017 Permit Members Of the Year Challenge. The Permit Members Challenge was held in Las Vegas at the South Point Equestrian Center on Dec. 7, the same day the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in opened its 10-day run at Las Vegas’ Thomas & Mack Center.
Pascoe secured the overall average title at the Permit Members Challenge after turning in a time of 4.0 seconds, which would have earned prize money at most rodeos, including five of the 10 rounds of the 2017 National Finals Rodeo.
Pascoe said he’s applying the same type of hard work ethic to steer wrestling that he learned while growing up on a ranch near Porterville, Calif., which is about 50 miles north of Bakersfield.
“I grew up working alongside my dad and my brother and a lot of good cowboys,” Pascoe said. “It’s always been a part of my life. Even when I was in New York playing for the Giants, I always tried to keep true to the values I learned when I was a kid growing up and working hard and getting the job done and living right.
“I learned to the value of getting the job done no matter how long it took and staying there until it got done. In football, it meant putting in the time, working hard on the field and staying after practice. In the class room, it meant getting there early or staying extra late to watch extra film. It’s the same way in the rodeo world. You have to put the time in in the practice pen and learn the techniques, so when you get in the rodeo arena, you won’t have to worry about anything. It all becomes muscle memory.”
Desire to win
Pascoe’s wife, Katie, herself a prize winning rodeo competitor, said her husband thrives because he’s goal oriented.
“He sets a goal and really focuses on that goal,” she said. “He’s really good at doing the things that it takes to realize his goal. He has a strong desire to win.”
Four-time NFR steer wrestling qualifier Billy Bugenig, a California cowboy who is one of Pascoe’s traveling partners on the PRCA circuit, said Pascoe works exceptionally hard.
“Bear’s got all of the potential there is, obviously he’s a world-class athlete,” Bugenig said. “He understands the work ethic part of it. He understands in sports what you get out of it is what you put into it. So, he’s ready to wake up in the morning and practice. It’s always what are we going to do to get better.”
Bugenig said Pascoe’s success could help attract more people to rodeo.
“Any time you get somebody who has competed in the NFL and has a Super Bowl ring, people are looking at them anyway,” Bugenig said. “That can bring in kids in when they see somebody they’ve watched in a Super Bowl and now they’re a cowboy. Hopefully, they will want to put their cowboy hat on.”
Pascoe is not the first NFL player who has been involved with pro rodeo. Walt Garrison, a star Dallas Cowboys running back in the 1970s, also was a prize-winning PRCA steer wrestler. Former Minnesota Vikings tight end Jared Allen owned bulls that were part of the Professional Bull Riders circuit. Former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco attempted to ride a bull at a PBR show in 2011. Ochocinco lasted only 1.5 seconds and crossed bull riding off of his bucket list.
But Pascoe has aspirations of making it all the way to the National Finals, the pro rodeo equivalent of the Super Bowl. Pascoe is of rodeo’s biggest stages this weekend. He is competing in The American under in exemption slot, which means he was invited because of celebrity status.
The American’s purse is $2 million, a record payoff for a single performance rodeo. Pascoe is among a group of competitors who conceivably can earn up to $1.1 million.
Randy Bernard, who created The American along with RFD-TV, said Pascoe has the potential to perform well and raise pro rodeo’s profile.
“He’s the real deal,” Bernard said of Pascoe. “I’m not going to put someone in there who doesn’t have a chance. I want to put someone in there who can do it. I think Bear is great for the sport because here’s a guy who played in the NFL. He’s an athlete and he’s got the athleticism. Hopefully, he can pull it off.”