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George Strait tugs his black Resistol a little tighter on his head. In just seconds, he'll be jostling in the saddle as his horse, Joker, bolts pell-mell into the rodeo arena chasing a steer.
George glances across the chute at his favorite team roping partner -- his son, George Jr., whom George affectionately calls Bubba. The 21-year-old and his horse San are ready. As the "header," George will be aiming his rope for the steer's horns and head; Bubba's loop, as the "heeler," will be going for the steer's churning hooves.
"Go for it, George!" yells one of the fans packed into The Rose Palace in San Antonio, Texas, watching George -- and a slew of champion ropers -- compete in the 20th annual George Strait Team Roping Classic. Some 200 two-man roping teams are pitted against each other and the clock in the mid-March competition.
In a flash, the snorting steer dashes into the arena with George and Bubba in hot pursuit. Red dust billows up from the thundering animals. George whirls his rope above his head and lets the loop fly. He barely misses the steer's bobbing head.
Even though he perfectly snagged the horns earlier in the day, George's disappointment is mirrored in his taut jaw. But it doesn't take long for him to joke about it.
"Aw, man, I was sick," George declares with a grin. "I roped so bad."
His brother, Buddy, adds, "George has really been roping good, too. I know this is his brother saying it, but he really has been roping extremely well."
George busts out in a laugh. "Well, I puked it up here!"
George is being hard on himself. He's actually an excellent roper. Heck, he's a member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. And he's been roping his whole life.
George and brother Buddy are fourth-generation Texans, the sons of John Strait, a junior-high-school math teacher and rancher. On weekends, John would take his sons 40 miles from their home in Pearsall, south of San Antonio, to the family's ranch in Big Wells. "About the time most young men were playing Little League baseball," recalls George, "I was learning to rope and ride."
Fact is, George's skill as a roper and his passion for rodeo action could've easily taken him down a different path. "I would've loved to be a professional rodeo roper," he declares. "Outside my wife, Norma, and my son, Bubba, rodeo is my true love."
Read more about George, his family and the things he loves in life in the current "Newsstand Issue ."