Albany - Even if you watch bullriders on T-V, you may not pay much attention to the true heroes in the ring. They're the rodeo clowns, or bullfighters as they prefer to be called. It's their job to keep the riders safe and able to make it to the next rodeo.
They call him the "Kamikaze Kid", although you may just call him crazy. "It's man against beast, the ultimate challenge," says Rob Smets. He's been fighting bulls for years. His neck has been broken three times, and finally he decided he would call it quits, but he just can't get away from the beauty of the beasts. Smets says, "If you've only ever seen it on TV especially, to come to a live event, the electricity you'll feel in the building and you'll be in awe of how athletic the animals are."
"Couldn't sing or dance." Because he lacked talent in those areas, and he has bullfighting in his blood, Blue Jeanes also opted for a piece of the action. "If the stands are full and people are having fun, we're having fun," he says. "If we were all in here just doing this by ourselves, it wouldn't be a lot of fun, so the crowd makes the bullriding. Spectators make it fun."
But it's not all fun and games, they may look silly, but these bullfighters are doing a very important job. "I'm out there to protect the bullrider," says Mark Bennett, "kind of like the secret service for bullriders. I'm going to take the bullet. If there's a bullet to be had, it's going to be me and the bull riders going to walk away and go to the next rodeo."
There's a common misconception that bulls are prodded and mistreated. Truth is, these guys just don't like people. And to keep them from taking it out on the bullrider, these guys get in their faces. It's hard work, and hard on the body. Mark Bennett has had, "Broken bones, stitches, sprains..." But at the end of the day, "It's lots of action, exciting," says Blue Jeanes, and that it's always worth it.
If you want to see the bullfighters and riders you can do that Friday or Saturday night at the Albany Civic Center at 8:00. Tickets start at $12.