You can have a kid," drawls Denny McCoy, "and when he's born, you can say, 'I'm gonna make him a pro basketball player.' But that doesn't mean he'll be one." McCoy, 52, is behind the wheel of his blue Chevy truck—the one with 300,000 miles and a bug-spattered windshield—preaching with his right hand, pulling up to an Arby's with his left. His cowboy hat hides his eyes. "But with these two kids, it has to be a God-given gift. I've led them as well as I could, but they have been blessed. Really blessed."
McCoy pauses, rolls down the window and spits out a lip-sized wad of tobacco. It has not occurred to him that relating Divinity to one's ability to hang on to a wild steer is sort of funny. Here in Oklahoma, rodeo is serious business. "Jet and Cord," he says, "are special."
This is doctrine in Tupelo (pop. 323), a sleepy town of three stores, four churches and one post office. Jet and Cord McCoy are the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. "They represent something here," says Tony Stevens, Tupelo High's superintendent. "People follow Jet and Cord. We believe in them."
In only their second year on the International Professional Rodeo Association circuit, Jet, 19, and Cord, 18, are dominating a sport that until now had been the province of the 21-and-over set. Cord, the one with fiery red hair and a toothy smile, shocked the rodeo world last year by becoming the first high schooler to win the all-around title at the International Finals Rodeo, the IPRA's championship event. Jet, more reserved, with dark hair and a bowlegged strut, broke his wrist in that tournament (he was on pace to finish second) but still was named the IPRA's Rookie of the Year. More impressive yet, the McCoys are the only cowboys on tour to compete regularly in all of the three toughest events—bull riding, bareback riding and saddle bronc riding.
"Very seldom do you see guys this good, this versatile, this young," says Raymie Neal, 39, an IPRA cowboy from Cordova, Tenn. "They're the future."
At this statement Denny, the father, manager and mentor, rolls his eyes. Future? This is now, baby. Last year, as IPRA rookies, Jet and Cord entered more than 100 pro and high school rodeos, winning a combined $100,000 in prize money. Between them they failed to earn prize money in only 11 competitions. "That," says Denny, "is unheard of." With two months left in '98 IPRA season, which ends Nov. 30, Jet—competing again after his injury—is third in the all-around, with 31,139.64 points, and Cord is fourth, with 28,884.38. They are in the top 10 in all three of their riding events, and, whether their rivals admit it or not, they are the hottest thing on the circuit since starched Wranglers.
This is no shocker to Denny and Janet McCoy, a couple of horse-riding, cattle-raising, barbecue-eating rodeo buffs who spoon-fed the sport to their five children—besides Jet and Cord, sons Justen, 31, and JoRay, 25, and daughter Nikki, 28—from an early age. Justen competed for a while though he didn't enjoy the traveling that it required, but JoRay is a professional saddle bronc rider. "It wasn't like we were forced into it," says Nikki, a teacher in Ada, Okla. "When you grow up in this family, it's just a way of life."
Denny, an Iowan who moved to Oklahoma 30 years ago to attend Oklahoma State, was a second-generation professional cowboy who retired in his mid-20s to marry Janet and work as a rancher. Janet, an Oklahoman, was a nationally ranked barrel racer.
Jet and Cord were shown the way not long after birth. Justen would put the two toddlers, still in diapers, on a pony, which would buck the tots off. "They never cried or anything," says Justen. "They'd fall off, get up and get back on. They were tough kids."
Jet was five when he won his first junior competition; Cord was eight. On the family's 640-acre cattle ranch in Tupelo, the brothers practiced riding a mechanical bull next to the house. As the years went by, they dominated the high school ranks, winning junior title after junior title.