Thursday, Dec. 5, 1996 | 11:59 a.m.
SPECIAL TO THE SUN
Mike Beers has been to the National Finals Rodeo every year since the championship event moved to Las Vegas in 1985. As a matter of fact, he went to a few before that.
But this year, Beers, the 1984 world champion team roper, missed qualifying for the $3.2 million NFR by about $6,000. He finished 19th in the 1996 world team roping heeler standings with $29,144.
"You knew one day sooner or later that you weren't going to make it," said the 13-time NFR qualifier from Powell Butte, Ore. "You just didn't know it was going to be this soon."
But the 38-year-old cowboy has a positive outlook.
"I'm looking forward to next year starting," he said. "I can't wait to re-group and start again. I'm roping with (1995 world champion all-around cowboy) Joe Beaver next year. I'm really looking forward to that."
But Beers isn't the only veteran cowboy who will miss a trip to the Finals. In his event alone, at least two other familiar faces will not be back in Las Vegas this year.
Seven-time world team roping champions Jake Barnes, 37, of Cave Creek, Ariz., and Clay O'Brien Cooper, 35, of Gilbert, Ariz., cut back on their number of rodeos. This will be the first time in 15 years that Barnes and Cooper will not be competing at the NFR.
Calf roper Jerry Jetton, a 13-time NFR qualifier, won't be making the trip to Las Vegas. The 43-year-old cowboy from Stephenville, Texas, also competed in fewer rodeos this season.
Probably the most well-known missing notable is six-time world all-around champion Ty Murray, who won't be competing at the NFR for the second straight year. The 27-year-old cowboy from Stephenville, Texas, returned to competition early this season after rehabilitating from knee surgery on both knees in the summer of 1995. But in May of this year he injured his left shoulder in a bull riding event and has not competed since. However, he will be working as a commentator on the Wrangler World of Rodeo telecast on ESPN.
Others absent from the NFR roster include steer wrestlers Todd Fox, Mike Smith, Todd Boggust and Brad Gleason, who have 27 NFR qualifications among them.
Fox, 34, a 10-year NFR veteran from Marble Falls, Texas, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee at last year's NFR. He expected to miss most of this season to recuperate from surgery he was scheduled to have in January.
Smith, 31, also was injured at the 1995 NFR. The eight-time NFR qualifier tore the medial collateral ligament in his left knee. But Smith, from New Iberia, La., still earned $17,576 this season.
Four-time NFR steer wrestler Boggust, 32, of Paynton, Saskatchewan, finished the regular season ranked 28th with $35,369 -- less than $10,000 away from a qualifying spot.
Five-time NFR qualifier Gleason, 32, of Ennis, Mont., earned about $4,000 less than what he needed to qualify for the NFR. He finished the regular season ranked 21st with $41,704.
Other cowboys who didn't make the NFR cut include bull rider Clint Branger, 32, of Roscoe, Mont., an eight-time NFR qualifier; and six-time NFR saddle bronc riding qualifier Skeeter Thurston, 35, of Nanton, Alberta, formerly of Hyannis, Neb. Thurston is one of several Canadian NFR veteran who didn't finish in the top 15 this year. Canada will be sending its smallest team ever -- only three -- to the NFR.
Johnson to compete
Calf roper Mike Johnson, 32, who was injured while running to a calf during the Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo, Oct. 18-19 in Guthrie, Okla., said he will compete in the NFR.
Doctors believe the 14-time NFR qualifier from Henryetta, Okla., tore the anterior cruciate ligament, the posterior cruciate ligament and cartilage in his right knee during the mishap. He said surgery was not an option before the NFR because the recovery time for the procedure is six to 10 months. So instead, Johnson was fitted for a knee brace and is working on strengthening the muscles surrounding his knee.
Johnson's wife, barrel racer Tacy Lynn Johnson, also is schedule to compete at the NFR. She finished 10th in the world barrel racing standings with $46,216.