By ALAN SNEL
He’s the legend behind the National Finals Rodeo, but 77-year-old NFR General Manager Shawn Davis needs more time with his race horses and his grandchildren after 55 years at the NFR.
So, Davis — NFR’s longtime GM and the man instrumental for moving the Super Bowl of rodeos to Las Vegas from Oklahoma City — is phasing out of managing the many layers of logistics behind the 10-day event that brings 170,000 rodeo fans to Thomas and Mack Center every December.
And a familiar name (with a very familiar voice) is accepting the baton to become NFR’s eventual new GM — Boyd Polhamus, a 52-year-old former rodeo competitor who is known for his booming NFR announcer voice inside the arena on the UNLV campus.
“The overall responsibility is intimidating,” Polhamus said in a LVSportsBiz.com interview alongside Davis this morning in Davis’ office tucked in the back of the NFR nerve center in Cox Pavilion, next to Thomas & Mack.
It’s called the Super Bowl of rodeos, but putting on the NFR is actually managing 10 consecutive Super Bowls.
So, acquiring the skills to become general manager is not a one-year learning curve. Polhamus is shadowing Davis every day during this year’s event and will then hang up his NFR announcer mic after the 2017 NFR (he’ll continue to announce other rodeos) to work even closer with Davis in 2018.
Then in 2019, Polhamus will handle the general manager duties with Davis serving as a consultant adviser.
And eventually in 2020, Polhamus will fly solo as GM of an event that attracts the country western lifestyle community from across the United States and creates retail events and watch parties from The D casino-hotel in downtown to many hotels on the Strip to South Point.
The Davis-to-Polhamus transition is NFR history because Davis was there from the beginning of the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. Davis was the former president of the rodeo-sanctioning Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association in the mid-1980s when his deciding vote moved the NFR from Oklahoma City to a new home in Las Vegas.
Not only is Davis phasing out, but the NFR event is losing its signature announcing voice with Polhamus leaving his ring-side announcer chair. The rodeo announcer has a unique role compared to other sports because he’s both a play-by-play voice and analyst at the same time, kind of an Al Michaels/John Madden hybrid sharing his thoughts live with the rodeo crowd.
This year, Polhamus is getting immersed into the details of producing a rodeo of this scope. The depth of the details has astounded Polhamus, who will continue announcing other rodeo events outside NFR.
“I’m attending a lot more early-morning meetings,” Polhamus cracked. “This is such a mammoth event. What frightens me is what I don’t know.”
Then in 2018, Davis will still run the show. But Polhamus will no longer be the NFR announcer and will dive much deeper into the minutiae of managing the 10-day event that has become known for its efficiency of having 120 cowboys and cowgirls compete in seven event categories in two hours.
And in 2019, Polhamus will steer the show production with Davis serving as an advisor before Polhamus goes solo in 2020.
Davis said has thought long and hard about the GM succession plan, and the next big decision will be to select Polhamus’ successor as lead NFR announcer for the 2018 event. Polhamus is considered the preeminent announcer in the rodeo business.
“That’s the bittersweet part of the promotion,” Polhamus said of retiring from the announcing duties at NFR after being the event’s voice since 1989. He’ll continue to be the announcer at 30-40 other rodeos, working 150-200 days a year on that.
Interestingly enough, Davis gave Polhamus his big NFR break back in 1989 when the announcer was a young, lean cowboy hanging out at an NFR rehearsal when the regular announcers were out being photographed and Davis needed a voice for the practice session.
Polhamus stepped in and got his big announcing break.
Now, Polhamus is stepping in again — and this time he will fill the big boots of the veteran Davis as NFR general manager.
“Say a prayer for me,” Polhamus quipped.
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