Byline: ERIN TRAUTH
A brawny cowboy clutches a rope taut around his right hand, eyes wide open with a mix of fear and adrenaline. A crowd bellows in the background, many chanting the phrase "eight seconds" over and over again.
The cowboy signals for the chute to open in front of him for his first ride, and suddenly a ton of enraged bull bucks wildly beneath him. All the cowboy can do is raise one hand, hold on tight and try to last eight seconds on the back of one of the most intimidating animals on the planet.
This is the Professional Bull Riders tour at its finest -- and it's riding into action Saturday and Sunday at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena.
"There's really no way to simulate riding a 2,000 pound bull," said Justin McBride, the reigning 2005 PBR World Champion. "You just hope for the best."
Jacksonville is stop No. 9 on the Built Ford Tough Series, considered the major leagues for the sport of professional bull-riding. The top 45 cowboys in the world square off on the biggest, baddest bulls the country has to offer on a coast-to-coast, 31-stop tour. The bull riders compete week after week for individual event titles and for the season-long title of PBR World Champion. Each event awards a minimum of $80,000 in prize money to winning riders.
Riders in PBR are scored by the bull's exhibited difficulty and the rider's ability to match the moves of the bull beneath him with constant control and certain body positions. The rider must also stay on the bull for a full eight seconds to be awarded a score.
McBride is one cowboy ready to hold on -- he's back on the tour and is raring to win in Jacksonville. He tied for first place on last year's tour stop here with Brian Courson.
"If I didn't come back to win, I wouldn't have come back at all," he …