The year was hectic all right, often with two rodeos to contend with simultaneously, distance and weather permitting. September came and went, along with Shoulders' old record, and by the time the National Finals in Oklahoma City confronted him, Mahan's second straight All-Around title was secure. All that he needed for $50,000 was about $2,000 in prize money and he had nine nights to get it.
He passed that figure on the eighth go-round, after accumulating a little more than $1,500 earlier. Only a bull and a bareback bronc out of 21 animals had their way with Mahan. But his first horse, in the bareback event, came out of the chute as if it had been hauling ice for the last 30 years. Mahan easily stuck the full eight seconds—Lynda Bird could have gotten married on the critter without too much trouble—and all he got for his effort was 11th place and no dollars and no cents.
But he then drew a saddle bronc called Red Pepper and there was a horse to gladden the hearts of record breakers wherever they may be. Mahan knew he had a good one and he shot the works, leaning way back, rolling his spurs up Red Pepper's neck and then rocking forward with each buck. It was beautiful. It was also worth $387.49, the amount that goes with winning a go-round, and it put Mahan within $96.14 of what he came for.
When the bulls moved from their pens into the chutes, a sense of urgency spread over the arena, as it does at every rodeo. The cowboys, who had been joshing and bantering, became quiet and tight-lipped. You could feel the tension all the way up in the last row.
Mahan's bull was called Hamp. He was black-and-white and he came out spinning hard to his left for five seconds. Suddenly he stopped spinning and leapt almost straight up, coming down stiff-legged. Mahan stayed right with Ol' Hamp, got the eight-second whistle and jumped clear. It was a ride worth fourth place and $96.89. It brought his prize money to $50,000.75 (by the end of the finals: $51,996.37) and the coffee tab was on Larry Mahan.