As the professional rodeo world readies to roll into the 49th annual Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, December 6 to 15 in Las Vegas, someone will be noticeably absent. His name is Joe Beaver, but in Vegas he’s just as well-known as “Joe Fabulous.” In 1985—the year ProRodeo’s Super Bowl moved to the Thomas and Mack Center—then young gun Beaver made a huge splash in the sport. That season’s Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Tie-Down Roping and Overall Rookie of the Year won his first of eight world championships. He’s since banked eight world titles— five in tie-down roping and three world all-around championships—and last December won more than any other NFR contestant to capture the 2006 NFR all-around crown. Between the tiedown roping and team roping events, Beaver has 22 finals qualifications under his belt. Is it any wonder they call the Thomas and Mack “The House That Joe Built”?
The guy is flat amazing. He’s won more than any other cowboy in the history of professional rodeo, with PRCA career earnings of $2,872,454. Beaver is taking an injury-forced timeout in 2007 after having hip surgery the week after last year’s NFR. Think about this: In a field of 20-something studs, Beaver—who just turned 42— placed in seven of the 10 tie-down roping rounds. He and his team roping partner, 21-year-old Cole Bigbee, placed in half the rounds in that event. Beaver basically dominated a field of guys half his age—gimping along with the handicap of a serious hip injury all the way. It’s a pretty devastating blow to have to bow out for a year after winning the all-around at the ultimate cowboy contest. No one loves life—or winning— more than Joe Beaver. Losing his dad and mentor, Walter, last fall did nothing but boost Beaver’s lifelong passion for going all out all day, every day.
“If you look at the guys who’ve won a lot throughout rodeo history—Jim Shoulders, Harry Tompkins, Larry Mahan, Phil Lyne, Ty Murray—they all have that extra edge,” said Beaver, who’s also extremely handy as a rodeo commentator in the broadcast booth when he’s out hurt. “It’s that inside killer instinct that just comes to the top when you have to be your best. I think you’re born with it. God gives it to you and says, ‘Here. If you’re tough enough and smart enough to use it, and you’re strong enough to use it when times are tough, it’s all yours.’ In the end, it comes out. And you never lose it. It’s an extra spark inside you that kicks out.
“The drive that keeps me going is that special spark that certain people are hit with. I’m not saying we’re special. But we do have a different view.
It’s just in you. It’s what makes you get out there and work hard. Until it fizzles out, I don’t think you can fight it. But I think you have to be smart enough not to override it when it’s over. When that spark fizzles and it goes, you need to be smart enough to say it’s time to step down.” ProRodeo Hall of Famer Beaver’s got gold buckles in each of the last three decades, and there are more glory days ahead.
“I’ve got a gift,” the Huntsville, Texan, states gratefully. “If you’re lucky enough to have a gift, you should use it until it no longer benefits you or your sport. I’m not done. And until the day comes that I can’t compete at the very top level, you can bet your butt I’ll be out there practicing and trying as hard as is humanly possible. Nobody loves to rope more than me.”