Pickup man Jason Bottoms gets a kick out of working unique rodeo
They are always at the center of attention in the middle of every rodeo arena in which they work, yet they’re almost invisible.
That’s the way it should be for most likely the greatest cowboys at any rodeo. They are pickup men, and their jobs are to ride in and help unhitch every bucking-horse rider from the ends of their eight seconds horseback, but they barely go noticed if all is going well.
Swoop in, release the flank strap to decrease the pressure on the bucker, then pick the cowboy off the back of his mount and ride away. If rodeo were a comic book, it would be just like Superman; before anyone knows what’s going on, the cape and tights are gone, and Clark Kent has returned to the newsroom.
Enter Resistol cowboys Jason Bottoms and Shawn “Too Tall” Calhoun, two of the greatest pickup men going down the road today. Both have been voted to work the National Finals Rodeo multiple times.
Together, they’ve also worked some of the biggest rodeos in the country. From Cheyenne, Wyoming, to Corpus Christi, Texas, they have proven to be good for each other and for rodeo.
“We have done every American since they started it,” said Bottoms, a four-time NFR pickup man from Corsicanna, Texas.
They start out working The American semifinals at Cowtown Coliseum in the legendary Fort Worth (Texas) Stockyards days before the champions are crowned. There are 10 exempt competitors in each event, and the rest of the field of 16 is made up of cowboys and cowgirls that have come through a series of qualifying events. The semifinals distinguishes which six advance to first round of The American, set for Friday, March 4, at Cowtown Coliseum
The exempt participants will battle for the $100,000 first-place prize. The qualifiers are eligible for the side pot, which is typically $1 million. Because no qualifiers earned a championship in 2021, the side pot rolled over and will be worth $2 million this year. The top 10 times and scores from Friday night will advance to the final day of competition, set for Sunday, March 6, at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys.
“That building is awesome,” Bottoms said. “It’s not like the NFR where everybody’s down on top of you. The atmosphere is great, especially where they do it like a football game. It gets pretty exciting.”
Even people that have been involved in the technical side of rodeo understand The American’s importance. Bottoms likes to watch the winners celebrate their big paydays.
“I usually hang around and watch it, because it’s exciting for everybody,” he said. “We’ve got relationships with these guys. The first year when Richie (Champion) won ($1 million) all by himself, that was a big deal. We’ve seen other buddies do well, too.
“It’s neat when you see somebody you know get life-changing money like that.”
Bottoms and Calhoun will be joined at The American by another Resistol superstar member of the event’s personnel:
CODY WEBSTER, bullfighter, Wayne, Oklahoma: Cody Webster was intrigued by bullfighting at a young age. He didn’t seem afraid to stare down bulls or test his athleticism against theirs; if he was scared, he has never shown it. He has been chosen to fight bulls at the NFR each of the past nine years, an honor bestowed on him by the bull riders who vote on the men that protect them. Five years ago, he was part of The American’s festivities as a contestant when the event produced a freestyle bullfight. He returns to the Dallas-Fort Worth area for the real thing this time, his first time in cowboy protection. Webster is the two-time reigning PRCA Bullfighter of the Year and one of the regular bullfighters on the PBR’s Unleash the Beast Tour.